Luke 18:1, 8
Then he told them a parable about the necessity for them to pray always without becoming weary… But when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?”
I have to admit that this last line in the gospel today has caused me… confusion. At first it seems to be out of place. Here Jesus is talking about the need for a consistent prayer, and then he jumps into what I can only assume is an accusation of faithlessness. Fortunately, in the history of the church there have been great saints who have been able to figure out a good meaning for this verse.
St. Augustine wrote: “Our Lord adds this to show, that when faith fails, prayer dies. In order to pray then, we must have faith, and that our faith fail not, we must pray. Faith pours forth prayer, and the pouring forth of the heart in prayer gives steadfastness to faith.” To put it another way: if we have faith we will pray; if we pray our faith will grow stronger; if we are stronger both in prayer and in faith nothing will be kept from us.
This is not BECAUSE we have succeeded in faith, but because we have SUCCEEDED in faith (gotcha); we have aligned ourselves with the will of God. The success we have in faith leads us deeper into the relationship with God and enables our prayer to be more successful because it is prayer that is in line with the will of God.
This is all fine and good, but what does that have to do with that last line of the gospel “but when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?” St. Bede gives us an answer to that. And it is not an answer we should like. “When the Almighty Creator shall appear in the form of the Son of man, so scarce will the elect be, that not so much the cries of the faithful as the apathy of the others will hasten the world’s fall. Our Lord speaks then as it were doubtfully, not that He really is in doubt, but to reprove us…”
How do you hear this warning? Those of you who have family members who have seen fit to walk away from the faith are probably very concerned about what you are hearing here. And you should be! This section of Luke’s Gospel is right at the beginning of a whole series of parables that Luke records, and then he moves into Jesus’ Passion. So this is a section that is about the beginning of the end. Not just of Jesus’ earthly life, but the beginning of the end of earthly life completely.
We look around our society today and there are so many people filled with apathy in regards to so many different things. I believe this is what is causing so much strife in our society today. Because we are not made to live in apathy, but with purpose, we need to find a purpose worthy of how God made us. Obviously, that resides in living a life of faith.
But the world around us does not want to hear about that. But God’s judgment is nonetheless true and exacting. God does not tolerate fools. God does not tolerate being put in second place. God does not tolerate being dismissed for any reason. The fact that some people find it easy to dismiss God is a sign that the time Jesus warns us about with the question at the end of the gospel is right in front of us.
Now, I’m not making any prediction about the end of the world. We have seen these kinds of times often in the history of the church. But we should find ourselves very concerned. Concerned for those we love; concerned for those we hate; concerned for ourselves.
These are the last days. For every one of us. We are drawing closer to our last day. We do not know when that day will be here, or whether it will come for all humanity during our lifetime, or only for ourselves in death. But we need to be ready. We need to be a people of faith. More importantly, we need to be a people of prayer.
To quote St. Augustine again: “in order to pray, we must have faith; and so that our faith does not fail, we must pray.” Otherwise, will the Son of Man find faith on the earth?
Lord Jesus, you have given us the gift of faith and the prayer that accompanies it. Help us as we set our minds and hearts to you to make our prayer full of faith, anticipating that you will answer our prayers.
Align our thoughts and our prayers with your thoughts and will. Give us the courage we need to seek the right prayers, to ask for the right things, to pray fervently with an expectancy based on confidence in your love.
You want us to ask for great things. So Lord I am asking that you heal the relationships of families who have been torn apart by our culture. Heal the hearts of those who have wandered away from the church thinking that they really have no place here. Heal hearts that have grown cold because of apathy. Heal hearts that have grown bitter because of some hurt they have received. Heal hearts that long to be devoted to you. And make all hearts burn with that devotion. Amen.