This Sunday is the 29th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Lectionary Cycle C. Today is the final post on the parable of the unjust judge and the persistent widow. Today we hear Jesus: 7 Will not God then secure the rights of his chosen ones who call out to him day and night? Will he be slow to answer them? 8 I tell you, he will see to it that justice is done for them speedily. But when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?”
Jesus’ comments make clear the intended parallels: from an unjust judge to God; from the widow to God’s elect. The term “his chosen ones” (hoi eklektoi), used in Luke-Acts only here, echoes texts such as Isa. 42:1; 43:20; 65:9, 15, 22; Ps. 105:6, 43 (cf. Sir. 47:22), which uses the term “chosen” in a context that emphasizes election to serve Yahweh (also refers to Deut. 4:37; 7:7; 1 Chron. 16:13; Ps. 77:31; 88:3).
The expression “call out to him day and night” echoes Anna, the widow prophetess who prayed in the Temple “night and day” – anticipates the widows in 1 Tim 5:5 who also pray “night and day.” This parable echoes 17:22-37 wherein the faithful of God, the “chosen ones” will be the objects of unjust actions in an unjust world. Both are called to faithful constancy – as demonstrated by the widow
Having begun with a question from the Pharisees about the eschatological timetable (17:20-21), Jesus has changed the framework from when? And where? To the basic question – how will disciples respond in the face of the promised, certain coming of the fullness of the reign of God? What sort of faith will be found on earth? Will it be the faith that seeks justice?
…will He find faith on earth? – There is an interpretive path which emphasizes – and rightly so – that the question of whether Jesus will find faith is tied to a failure of persistence of prayer and belief in the face of our own expectations about what Jesus should be doing and about delays in the coming of the reign of God. Certainly one purpose of the parable is to encourage the disciples to call out to God “day and night” and to do so without ceasing.
What is interesting about this verse is that it is the only place in Luke that says (in the Greek) “the faith.” In all other places the word “faith” appears without an accompanying article. This has led many commentators to consider faith as having an “endpoint” of wholeness or completion. A faith that progresses towards maturity, completion, wholeness or some other term that admits of “stages” of faith might be described as a faith that is much more than just believing the correct things in our mind. You can believe all the right things and still be in bondage. You can believe all the right things and still be miserable. You can believe all the right things and still be relatively unchanged. Believing a set of claims to be true has very little transforming power. The same general comments could be made substituting “prayer” for “faith.”
The widow of the parable could be a faithful person, but remain passive. “I will stay home, away from the judge, and pray to God that the judge gives me justice.” Yet there is something transformative about the faith experience of the widow – something that compels her to act outside the script that society would force upon her as a widow. She in engaged in the quest for justice. The widow of the parable possesses faith, but it is a faith that seeks justice. One can rightly speculate that “the faith” that Jesus seeks is “belief that seeks justice.”
Many apologists use the Letter of James as a battleground for “faith vs. works” and the role each plays in salvation. “22 Be doers of the word and not hearers only, deluding yourselves. 23 For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks at his own face in a mirror. 24 He sees himself, then goes off and promptly forgets what he looked like. 25 But the one who peers into the perfect law of freedom and perseveres, and is not a hearer who forgets but a doer who acts, such a one shall be blessed in what he does.” (James 1:22-25)
If one continues to read James one should notice that much of the works that James writes about are matters of justice, or said another way, working to establish God’s reign in this world, in this time. James speaks of the oppression of the poor, the failure of the community to provide even the most basic of necessities: “If a brother or sister has nothing to wear and has no food for the day,
16 and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, keep warm, and eat well,” but you do not give them the necessities of the body, what good is it? So also faith of itself, if it does not have works, is dead.” (James 2:15-17)
We should not let the meaning of this parable be restrained to “persistence in prayer” even as true as that is. The parable exists within the context of the coming of the Reign of God which is not only a matter of faith, but also of justice. When the Son of Man comes, will He find a faith that seeks God’s justice?
Image Credit: Братья Белоусовы (Палех), Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons. Modified to include both parts of a larger plata.