I am partial to the Gospel according to Luke. I think his writing is good at telling the story and leaving room for the hearer to work though the implications of it all. Some of the most memorable parables – the Good Samaritan, the Prodigal Son, Lazarus and the Rich Man, and more are all unique to Luke’s gospel. Also, Luke is particular about his choice of words and phrases – the small nuances of language find their place in his telling of Jesus’ story.
Today we have one of those small curiosities of language: But when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth? (Luke 18:8). What the Greek actually says is not “find faith” but “find the faith.” It is the only place in all of Luke’s gospel he uses this phrase. In fact, it is the only place in all the New Testament. Maybe it’s nothing, but then again, as he often does, maybe Luke is trying to tell us something in this small parable of the persistent widow and the unjust judge.
As do many parables, there is a stark contrast between the two main characters. The unjust judge knows what he is supposed to do. Scripture is filled with admonitions for judges to be the defender of justice for the people just like this widow as well as the orphan, stranger and alien among us. And yet the judge is not faithful to his role and not faithful to God.
The widow knows that she is to take her case before the judge, but what is it about the faith she possesses that compels her to return time and time again. She does not despair, she does not give up, and she does not take the practical advice – “Hey, forget it…he’s powerful and is never going to give you what you need.” She has the faith.
I wonder if Luke’s nuance of language here is meant to get us to think about faith. To ask what is the difference between faith and “the faith.” Hmm…good question. Let me tell you a story.
The spring rains did not come and the summer heat was worse than it had ever been. All the fields in the area were parched, dusty, and brown. Our livelihood, our way of life, was wilting away. Most mornings we would search the sky for any sign of relief, for a hint of rain on the horizon. Days turned into arid weeks and soon became months. Everywhere faithful people prayed.
The ministers, priest and rabbi of our local churches announced that there would be a special service to pray for rain on the following Saturday. They asked that everyone bring an object of their faith. So come Saturday morning we all gathered in the town square. People came with anxious faces and hopeful hearts. Looking around you could see the Bibles, Book of Prayers, crosses, crucifixes, pictures of Jesus – and you could tell the Catholic because of their rosaries.
And so we prayed. We prayed a mighty prayer of praises for God, praises for His divine protection, and petitions for rain. We sang, prayed some more, and heard the minister proclaim our faith in Jesus. And then we prayed some more. Just as the hour of prayer was concluding, and as if by some divine cue, a soft rain began to fall. Cheers swept the crowd as they held their treasured objects high in gratitude and praise. The Pentecostals were shouting out their Hallelujahs with arms raised in ecstasy. The Catholics even got excited and were waving their rosaries, whipping them around in a frenzy.
But one symbol of faith seemed to overshadow all the others; one person had brought an umbrella.
All the people gathered were faithful, but the one person… the one person had the faith. The faith that does not know the time or place, but knows the need, and so prays, trusting that in the future God will provide. The kind that Jesus hopes to find when he returns.
What is the need we face? Do you maintain an active list of that which you pray for? I don’t mean, “Yeah, I have some things I pray about.” I mean do you have a list. I don’t mean, if asked to recall your list you could list a couple of things. I mean do you have a list. Myself I am not prone to list making, but I do for prayer. It is my umbrella. I am always surprised how long the list can be. For me, the list is a daily reminder – not only to be persistent in prayer, but to be reminded I do not know the place or time or manner in which God will provide an answer to prayer – I only know the need and trust in the future God provides.
And prayers do get answered – sometimes the way I wanted and sometimes in ways that are surprising. And sometimes along the way, the prayers change because I am able, through prayer, to see the need differently. As the need changes, the list changes. As the prayers are answered, the list grows shorter. As the days go by, the needs grow. And again I reminded I do not know the place or time or manner in which God will provide an answer to prayer – I only know the need and trust in the future God provides.
The faith God calls us to is not simply rooted in today. It is rooted also in a tomorrow when God’s kingdom on earth draws a little closer, become a little clearer, and is filled with a people of the faith when Jesus returns. We are called to be people of the faith. Who are people that show up with the umbrella. Maybe it rains today, maybe it doesn’t. But it will surely rain.