29th Sunday of the Year
“But when the Son of Man returns, will he find faith on the earth?“
This question that Jesus poses at the end of today’s Gospel may sound almost like an interruption or sudden shift in his thought which, at first glance, may seem to have little or nothing to do with what precedes, that is, with the parable of the persistent woman who finally gets justice from a corrupt judge. It appears to be a statement having to do with the end of the world, whether there will be any faith left on the earth at that time. But has this question anything to do with the parable that he has just presented which clearly is teaching us about perseverance in prayer here and now, in this time?
What exactly is Jesus doing, then, by suddenly introducing this eschatological subject of a possible massive loss of faith at the end of time at the end of this parable – does it have any possible relevance to what he has just been trying to teach about persistence in prayer and asking God for justice?
This Gospel passage appears as we are approaching the end of the Church’s liturgical year, and it’s quite fitting that the Gospels will now be turning to issues like the end of time, the final judgement, and things like that. However, Jesus was not speaking these words about faith nor Luke recounting these words with our 20th Century liturgical calendar in mind. Nonetheless, there seems no denying that the final words of today’s Gospel about faithlessness do have a reference to the end of time and the final judgement. For Jesus refers this question about faith on the earth to his second coming – “when the Son of Man comes” – which is clearly a reference to his coming for the final judgement. The question, then, is will he find faith on the earth when he comes to judge the living and the dead?
But referring this question’s relevance strictly to the end of time seems jarring and seems to make it incomprehensible why he should place this question right after this parable, and why the Church today chooses to include this question after this parable, since the Gospel could have ended without it without too much notice. So the fact that the Church chose to include this line with the parable certainly suggests that the Church herself sees some relation of this question about faith to the lesson of perseverance in the parable Jesus has presented in this Gospel.
This parable clearly has to do with Jesus’ teaching about prayer, in this case the prayer of petition, and specifically here a petition for justice. Justice is one of the things people do and should pray for, especially when they have been wronged, or we see others gravely wronged. And so people pray for God to bring about the justice they can’t gain for themselves. This prayer in fact is an important means for avoiding our temptations to take the law into out own hands at times, which often leads to further injustice and social lawlessness.
The parable also teaches us about the importance of persevering in our prayers and not giving up, as if we do not firmly believe that God is just and will in the end establish justice in this world. The words “believe” and “in the end” are critical here for understanding this teaching of Jesus. The woman only gets justice from this dishonest judge because she perseveres, she keeps coming to him with her petition, which he sees as an unending “bothering” of him unless he gives her what she asks for, that is, justice. The point is obvious and Jesus is very straightforward here in explaining this point. If a dishonest judge gives justice because the woman “bothers” him with constant petitions, “Will not God then secure the rights of his chosen ones
who call out to him day and night?
There are two basic points here, then, which teach the necessity to have faith in order to pray properly, the firm conviction of faith that God requires us to pray often and without ceasing – to persevere – for great goods like justice, which we hope to receive from Him, and the conviction of faith that God is a God of justice who does not allow injustice to triumph forever, the conviction of faith that sooner or later, in this world or in the next, justice will be rendered by God, that God will restore the order of justice in his creation. We must not underestimate just how important these two truths of faith are for personal holiness and for social harmony and peace in this world.
One simply does not pray fruitfully without perseverance, not persevere in prayer without faith, without the deep faith that God always hears our prayers, and requires us, for our own good, for our own growth in holiness, to persevere in prayer. Often people will pray briefly, but without much faith, when calamity strikes – recall how filled our churches were right after Sept. 11, 2001. But such prayer is always short lived without a deep faith, because prayer in such times can simply be an emotional response to a tragedy or terrible violence, and no emotionally driven acts, including prayers, persist very long.
Likewise one will not persevere in prayer for justice unless one has a deep faith in God as a God who hates iniquity and loves justice as well as a firm belief that God always hears the cry of the poor and the victims of injustice in this world and will correct this injustice in his good time, either in this life or the life to come. If we are to persist in prayer in such situations we must firmly believe that God will in truth restore justice in his own way, either through actually helping people to restore the balance of justice in this world or by punishing the unrepentant perpetrators of injustice in eternity, and personally compensating the victims of this injustice by a greater reward in His Kingdom.
Nothing in this faith denies the mercy of God, for if doers of injustice repent in this life, God will always show them his mercy by a forgiveness that entails their doing their best to compensate their victims, and in so far as they cannot fully compensate their victims, as in the case of murder, even mass murder, God will again show his great mercy by producing his own greater compensation to their victims. But justice will not be ignored by God’s mercy; indeed it will be more wonderfully assured by God’s mercy.
If we believe that God wants us to pray perseveringly for justice in this world, not just for ourselves, but for all mankind, and if we truly believe that God is a God of justice as well as mercy, and that God will surely restore justice sooner or later, in his own way, by his justice and mercy, then I will surely learn to pray with persistence and trust God, and not resort to violence, just as the woman continued to barrage the unjust judge until she got her justice at last.
So, when Jesus asks whether there will be faith when he returns, he is simply asking whether there will still be prayer of the kind in the parable, and He is asking us all whether we really believe that God will bring justice to those who ask him in this way. This is not at all unrelated to the parable, then, that Jesus has spoken in this instant. For without faith, man will not continue to pray and will not entrust to God the final resolution of injustice, which is never in our power to fully accomplish in this world. Indeed, there are many injustices that only God’s mercy can compensate, and thus restore justice. When we see people “getting away” with injustices in this world, do we really think that in the end this injustice will not be rectified by God? It will surely be rectified by his just punishment for the unrepentant sinner and by his merciful reward for victims who never themselves received real justice in this world and yet trusted in God rather than taking matters into their own hands, as we can be so tempted to do when even the public authority fails us in such matters.
Praying for justice is a true Christian path of justice. We must pray and pray without ceasing for justice’ And in cases where we ourselves do not have the just and peaceful means for attaining justice, we must entrust the pursuit of justice to God given legitimate public authority, and to God where that public authority fails. Public authorities have, by God’s will, the duty and right to take care of the common good, including the order of justice, in this world. Where these institutions fail, we must continue to pray and entrust to God the final restoration of the whole order of justice when Jesus returns in glory. That faith not only keeps us praying, but keeps us from taking justice into our own private hands and violating the law of God by a self-appointment as God’s vindicator. That is the terrible and reprehensible error of all brutal revolutionaries and terrorists in this world, that we must avoid, and we will avoid it, if we pray with perseverance and believe in what we are praying for, God’s justice in God’s good time.