Will the Son of Man Find Faith?
Text: Luke 18:1-8
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Jacob, son of Isaac, son of Abraham, was worried. He had gotten word that his brother Esau, from whom he had stolen the inheritance, was coming to meet him and that he had 400 men with him. In Jacob’s mind, that could only mean something bad. So he sent his family, wives, children, servants, and everything his family owned, across the river Jabbok. Now he had nothing but silence as he sat by the stream alone. But suddenly a man appeared out of nowhere and began to fight and wrestle with Jacob. It was a struggle that would put anything in the Olympics to shame. The match went until the sun crested the horizon. It began to dawn on Jacob that this was no ordinary man. Clearly he was something else than mortal. But in the desperation of this seemingly never-ending fight, there was no way to know whether this combatant was God, an angel, a demon, or the devil. But he wouldn’t let go, not until he knew who it was that was fighting him.
When the man saw that Jacob wasn’t letting up, he touched the socket of Jacob’s hip and that mere touch alone was enough to put his hip out of joint. The mysterious man said, “Let me go, for day has broken.” But Jacob wouldn’t give up that easily. “I will not let you go unless you bless me.” He had fought for it, he had an injury now that he suspected he would have the rest of his life (and he was right). He’d get some benefit, some blessing out of this.
The man asked, “What is your name?” “Jacob,” he answered. The man proclaimed, “Your name shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel, for you have striven with God and with men, and have prevailed.” So Jacob asked, “Please tell me your name.” He had to know who this was. But the man simply answered the question with a question, “Why is that you ask my name?” It should have been obvious from receiving a new name that this was the One who gives all things their names, their very natures. Then, to remove all doubt, he blessed Jacob.
Often it feels like that with God, doesn’t it? For us, Jacob’s offspring by faith, it can feel like we’re in a wrestling match with God. We’re striving with Him. We’re getting questions answered with more questions. Things pile up in life and it seems like it’s one long test—a string of endless tasks, constant feelings of pressure. Something bad happens and we wrestle with doubt, darkness, worry. We have our questions that we strive with—where is God in all this? What could His will possibly be? How long until He does something? Why can’t the doctors, or God, cure this? Will we always be so financially strapped? Why does every little thing feel like it has to be a struggle? We wrestle and strive with God, with His will, with our worries and questions and suspicions, and sometimes we can’t tell if we’re struggling against the light or the dark, God or the devil. It can seem overwhelming, especially when the fight goes on for what feels like forever.
Jesus knows these feelings—He knows them better than any from His own struggles in the Garden of Gethsemane—and so He gives us a parable today. It’s often called the parable of the persistent widow. I think it could easily be called the parable of the relentless widow. In it Jesus tells us about a judge who neither fears God nor respects man. He doesn’t care about any kind of divine punishment or reward in the afterlife, nor does he think that his fellow man can really do anything to him, so he issues verdicts based only on what he sees fit. But there’s a widow in that city who keeps coming to him, demanding, “Give me justice against my adversary.” She’s in a prolonged legal battle, and being a widow she has limited means, so she’s going right to the judge. She’s the first voice he hears calling when he leaves his house in the morning. She dogs him through the marketplace. She waits for him after he leaves his job of hearing court cases all day, making the same request, over and over and over. For a while he refused. What did he care? But eventually he says to himself, “I don’t fear God or respect men, but this widow is going to wear me down and damage my image with her relentless request.” He’ll do anything to get her out of his hair and save face in the community—even grant what she’s constantly asking.
Now of course, with parables there’s always some interpretation or explanation that’s needed. Jesus tells this parable to His disciples so that they would always be encouraged to pray and never lose heart. What Jesus is doing in this parable is arguing from the lesser to the greater. If a judge who doesn’t fear God or respect men—not an especially good character—if such a man is willing to grant the persistent widow what she wants simply because he’s tired of hearing her and afraid of his public image being damaged, then surely the compassionate, just, and loving God—who’s of infinitely better virtue than the judge—surely our heavenly Father will hear and grant what His children ask Him for. If a lousy judge will do it, then certainly a perfect Lord will.
That sounds great, doesn’t it? Just keep praying, just keep asking, and your prayers will be granted. But there is a rather ominous statement at the end of this parable. Jesus says, “Nevertheless, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?”
Remember that faith, even when it’s backed by such strong promises, is never easy. For us frail mortals, it’s easy for our faith to be eroded. God’s answer takes too long, or so we think. It seems like we’ll never get what we pray for. Things don’t seem to get any better. They might even seem worse. So we start to think that may be we have to take matters into our own hands, like Jacob did when he tricked all those people throughout his life, his brother included. That’s just doubt. That’s unfaith whispering that you have do all the work from below because you’re not sure God is doing His job up above. You’re not happy with His timetable and would rather the universe bend to your ludicrous schedule. That’s where faith wears down. So Jesus asks, “When the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?”
By God’s grace—and God’s grace alone—He will. We confess that the Holy Spirit keeps us with Jesus Christ in the one true faith, as we say in the Creed. He repeats His promises over and over again in the readings from the lectern, in the sermons from the pulpit, from the pages of our devotions, in words of encouragement from fellow believers. And He does even more. Out of mercy, to strengthen and reinforce our faith, He grants our prayers. Every time we pray the Lord’s Prayer, God grants it immediately. Listen closely to what we pray for and then realize how He’s granting it. He hears our prayers in the service—pay very close attention to the prayers we have coming up, right after the sermon and as we get ready for the Sacrament. And for those prayers, He has three answers: “Yes,” “Yes, but later,” and “I have something better for you.” So, for instance, we might not get the immediate miraculous healing we’re praying for, but we do learn patience as the Lord has healing for us later. Or, we may have the absolute best and fullest healing waiting for us at the end, when Christ returns and restores us to the perfection we were always meant to have in both body and soul.
He grants these prayers to preserve our faith and to glorify His name, to bring others to the light of His compassion and love. So when the Son of Man comes back to the earth, He will find faith—because He Himself has protected and nurtured it—as we’re waiting in joyful and expectant faith for the fulfillment of all His promises and all we’ve prayed for. So don’t lose heart. Keep praying. Keep trusting. Keep asking—no matter what it is. Your heavenly Father is interested in your prayers and in keeping your faith strong. Ask, and it shall be given to you, according to His perfect wisdom. In the name of Jesus, through whom we pray. Amen.