Is Jesus tying faith to our persistence?
Gospel Reading: Luke 18:1-8
For Sunday, Oct. 17, 2010: Year C - Ordinary 29
I beseech you therefore brethren and sister by the mercy of God, to hold on a minute. Back up a little bit. The Gospel text for this week is very good. There is plenty of meat chew on (or tofurkey if you prefer). But somewhere between Week 28 and Week 29 the world ends. The Lectionariers kind of left that part out.
Just in Time for Halloween
The pericope between the Healing of the Ten Lepers and the Parable of the Persistent Widow starts with Jesus being addressed, almost casually, “Once Jesus was asked by the Pharisee when the kingdom of God was coming.” It ends with the creepy, just-in-time-for-Halloween, “Where the corpse is, there the vultures will gather.”
In between the corpses and the questions, Jesus tells his listeners that it could be just a matter of days before lightning will flash, just as in that days of Noah, and a flood will come and destroy them all. And like the day Lot left Sodom, it will rain fire and sulfur from heaven and destroy them all. This seems like, maybe, some important contextual information?!?
In the Face of Doom
In this week’s reading, Jesus is trying to encourage his disciples in the face of impending doom. He tells them a parable about the need to pray always and not to lose heart. The message turns out to be more about persistence in prayer then about comfort. Both the parable and Jesus’ interpretation seems to be covering the same ground he did in Chapter 11 with the parable of the friend at night.
So why don’t we say we already talked about this stuff and tear into all the great stuff that comes before it. A lot of really interesting and hard questions could be asked about people disappearing from their beds at night and the corpses and the vultures. Why not preach on Luke 17:20-37 instead? Or at least try and tie the two pericopes together.
The Hardest Question
If we must stick with the lectionary, here is my hardest question: Is Jesus tying faith to our persistence? In the Healing of the Ten Lepers, Jesus ties faith to gratitude, but persistence and gratitude are both actions initiated by the individual. Given my particular theological slant, I have a hard time seeing faith as the result of the action of an individual and not the sole action of God. So, is Jesus really saying that persistent prayer equals faith and that faith will save me from being snatched away—or being left behind?
Russell Rathbun is a preacher at House of Mercy in St. Paul, Minnesota, the author of Midrash on the Juanitos (Cathedral Hill Press, 2010) and the curator of The Hardest Question.