Jesus was telling them a parable about their need to pray continuously and not to be discouraged. He said, “In a certain city there was a judge who neither feared God nor respected people. In that city there was a widow who kept coming to him, asking, ‘Give me justice in this case against my adversary.’ For a while he refused but finally said to himself, ‘I don’t fear God or respect people, but I will give this widow justice because she keeps bothering me. Otherwise, there will be no end to her coming here and embarrassing me.’ ” The Lord said, “Listen to what the unjust judge says. Won’t God provide justice to his chosen people who cry out to him day and night? Will he be slow to help them? I tell you, he will give them justice quickly. But when the Human One comes, will he find faithfulness on earth?”
This is one of those stories that seems to be self explanatory. But, given the context, it’s not as clear as we once thought.
The context for this story actually starts in the previous chapter. And, for the record, we would have known that if the lectionary hadn’t left out the last half of that chapter. As we saw from last week’s lesson and reflection, Jesus was demonstrating what G_d’s Realm looks like when it’s fully realized “on earth as in heaven.” Those on the fringes are being welcomed in—the outcast has been made part of the family.
In the left out verses (20ff), the question of G_d’s Realm is front and center. The Pharisees asked Jesus when G_d’s promised Realm would come (verse 20). Why would they ask that question? As we’ve noted before, Jesus’ stories can be understood as lessons about what he’s been doing. In this way, the question of the Pharisees fits quite well. “If G_d’s Realm is coming into our world as you claim,” they ask, “then where is it?” Jesus answers by saying that they are blind to what’s really going on. That they are thinking and looking for G_d’s Realm the way other natural realms operate. Therefore, they can’t see that G_d’s Realm is “already among [them]” (verse 21).
Jesus then turns to his disciples (verse 22) and picks up a seemingly different topic—the supposed “Second Coming.” However, it’s tied directly to his previous comments (which, in my mind, is why Luke included it!). He starts talking to them about his “appear[ing] on his day” (verse 24) and compares the “days of the Human One” (verses 26ff) with the judgements of Noah’s time and Lot’s time. Some mistakenly suppose that Jesus is talking about the “rapture,” but he’s not. He talking about the coming judgement against Israel—the soon coming war with Rome. In the examples he gives, the people “taken” during Noah’s and Lot’s time are the people “taken” by the “flood” and “fire and sulphur” of G_d’s judgement. The disciples, shocked at what they’re hearing, ask, “Where, Lord?” He replies, “The vultures (properly, “eagles”) gather wherever there’s a dead body.” Another coded message that refers to the Roman army (their shields had the Roman eagle emblazoned on them). In other words, the disciples understood that Jesus was talking about something they and their companions would experience. Pointing out the “eagle” that was on the shield of a nearby Roman soldier, made the point all too clear.
With all of this as the backdrop, we can see how the reading for today takes a different twist. Jesus is still talking to the disciples (“them”). He’s telling them to continue to cry out for justice and how they shouldn’t give up in the midst of their persecution. During the first century, the first followers of Jesus were heavily persecuted. At first, this persecution came from the hands of the Jews (see Luke 21.16). Later on (Luke 21.5ff), Jesus will tell them more details about the coming judgment.
Furthermore, John uses poetic language to indicate that this exact scenario was being played out during that first generation of followers:
Revelation 6.9-11: When he opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar those who had been slaughtered on account of the word of God and the witness they had given. They cried out with a loud voice, “Holy and true Master, how long will you wait before you pass judgment? How long before you require justice for our blood, which was shed by those who live on earth?” Each of them was given a white robe, and they were told to rest a little longer, until their fellow servants and brothers and sisters—who were about to be killed as they were—were finished.
Jesus then ties this passage back to his statements from Luke 17.20ff with the last sentence. That is, when judgement falls, will there be anyone who has remained faithful to him and what G_d has been doing through him?
Does this mean, therefore, that there’s no application for us in this passage? Of course not! I think the message of faithfulness is an important one. But we need to keep in mind the context of the passage. Some of them have specific instructions for those first followers. And while the majority of this passage, and the previous one, is directed specifically to those first followers, the idea of remaining faith to Christ is central to the teaching of the New Testament. The point is that no matter what’s happening to us, what we’re going through, we must continue to cry out to Yahweh, the G_d who rescues people and brings justice and healing.
In the Love of the Three in One,
Br. Jack+, LC