A Peculiar Ending

As I noted in yesterday’s post, this parable of the unjust judge or the persistent widow is a troublesome one, and it is made all the more convoluted by a rather peculiar ending.  Jesus, having told this parable and laid out a “how much more” or “how much different” or “how much better” argument for God’s willingness to give justice to those who ask for it, brings it to a close with a) a difficult conjunction and b) a strange exhortation.  Here it is in context:

And the Lord said, “Listen to what the unjust judge says. And will not God grant justice to his chosen ones who cry to him day and night? Will he delay long in helping them? I tell you, he will quickly grant justice to them. And yet, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?”

The Greek for this phrase includes a word “ara” that is “an untranslatable interrogative participle implying anxiety or impatience.”  What does this desire to find faith at the parousia (eschaton, end times) tell us about the difficult stuff we’ve just heard from Jesus?

Again, context helps.  Thanks to the way somebody set up chapters and verses in Scripture – that weren’t there to begin with, mind you – and thanks also to the way the Lectionary necessarily breaks the Bible up in to reasonable bite-size chunks, Luke 18:1-8 is set up at an isolated interaction between Jesus and his disciples.  What we miss out on, however, is how these verses are setup by a question from the Pharisees back in chapter 17, verse 20, “One day the Pharisees asked Jesus, “When will the Kingdom of God come?” (NLT)

Jesus spends the next seventeen verses discussing the end times (in a way that gives rapture theology enthusiasts way too much to build upon).  It is in the midst of that context, “when will the Kingdom of God come?” that Jesus tells his disciples about their need to keep praying and not to lose heart.  It in the midst of this mini-apocalyptic vision that Jesus wonders aloud, “when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth?”

The delayed parousia was a huge issue for the early church, one that we can’t really seem to understand 2,000 years of waiting down the road, but the fact of the matter is that Jesus’ disciples and the early Church that developed out of their witness, fully expected Jesus to return within their lifetimes.  There were those among them who were severely disappointed that the Son of Man hadn’t descended upon the clouds with victory and majesty.  There were real questions about the whole thing as the first generation of disciples died off.  As Luke put his gospel to parchment, there was a real concern as to whether when Jesus did finally return, would there be any faith left?

Like yesterday, these are difficult questions for the people of the late 1st century, but I’m still scratching my head about what it means for us today?  What causes our faith to waver, if not the fact that Jesus still hasn’t returned?  What is it that holds us back from living into the kingdom today?  When the Son of Man [finally] comes, will he find faith on the earth?