“Will There be Faith on Earth? – Fr. Bob’s Homily for Sunday, October 16, 2022

“When the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?”  It seems a bit of a strange question for Jesus to ask at the end of today’s gospel. What kind of faith is Jesus talking about? The kind of faith shown by the widow in his parable about the unjust judge, the faith to keep on plugging away, bugging the judge until he gives in and gives her the justice she is seeking? Are we meant to understand from Jesus’ parable  that God is like that unjust judge, and that we have to keep on bugging him before he finally agrees to our prayer requests? .Of course not, however many Catholics do believe that is meant to be the point of the parable. But consider: Jesus says that this judge neither fears God nor respects any human being. If the judge is meant to represent God, then what are we saying – that God does not fear himself? – which is an absurdity. Or that God has nothing but contempt for human beings? – again absurd, since Jesus has spent his three years of public ministry, showing over and over again that God has total love for us, his creation, and wants to spend eternity with us, every one of us.

The point Jesus is making is that if an evil human can eventually be worn down by a widow’s persistent plea for justice, how much more will an all-good God be concerned to answer our prayers for a more just world to be brought about? .So what kind of faith is Jesus asking for when he returns at the end of time ? If we look carefully at the context of Jesus’ words, we find that Jesus is referring to the end times, the end of the world, the return of Jesus in his Second Coming, the resurrection of the dead, the final judgement, eternal life. He is talking specifically about the moment at the end of all things when Jesus will appear in all his glory to usher in the kingdom of God in all its fullness. 

Jesus is saying that, when he does appear at the end of time to bring about the fullness of all things, will he find anyone still left, believing for, and waiting expectantly for, his return? It has been over 2000 years since Jesus departed this earth, telling his disciples that he would return one day, though the date of that return was a secret. We know, from St Paul’s earliest letters, that the Christian communities fully expected that Jesus would return very quickly. It led to all kinds of responses, covered by Paul in his letter to the Thessalonians. People in that community stopped working, because what was the point since all work was meaningless, if Jesus was coming back any day. As a result, they stopped being busy, but became instead “busybodies”, in Paul’s own words, interfering in other people’s lives, and not doing anything to earn the food they demanded to receive. (2 Thessalonians 3: 10- 12). Paul is very terse with this kind of person: “Anyone unwilling to work should not eat”, he commands them. “Brothers and sisters”, he goes on to say, “never tire of doing what is right “.

I would say that, today, hardly anyone in our world is even thinking about Christ’s return at the end of time, although it is an article of Catholic Christian belief. Let’s be honest, brothers and sisters. How many of us are giving any thought to the reality that, at some point in human history, Christ will return, bringing human history to a conclusion and bringing in the kingdom of heaven? Do you give any thought to this, do I?  The Church tries to keep us focused on this future event. Our Advent season is about preparing, not just for Christ’s first coming 2000 years ago at Christmas. It is also preparing for Christ’s second coming at the end of time. Our second reading today, from Paul’s second letter to Timothy, focusses on Christ’s second appearing at the end of time and the kingdom of God that he will bring about. The problem is that we, as Church here in the West, are very comfortable with our life-style and are only focusing on making our last years on life as comfortable as possible. Whereas people in the East, facing warfare in Ukraine, and possible famine and drought in Africa, and persecution for Christians in Asia, are much more focused on seeing an end to these conditions, which they associate with the return of Christ at the end of time.

St Peter is addressing the situation in the West when he says: “First of all, you must understand that in the last days, scoffers will come, scoffing and saying: ”Where is the promise of his coming? For ever since our ancestors died, all things continue as they were from the beginning of creation.” (2 Peter 3: 3-4) St Peter answers this attack by saying that “The Lord is not slow about fulfilling his promise, but is being patient with you, not wanting any to perish, but all to come to repentance” (2 Peter 3: 9) . Let me put this challenge in another form. How many of you are concerned about the way the world is ordered presently, with the rich and the powerful able to command world forces, to keep themselves in a great measure of comfort and the majority of people in situations of famine and destitution? How many of us are concerned about this situation of a lack of justice enough to seek to bring about a change in the world order? Do we “hunger and thirst for righteousness“, in the words of Jesus in Matthew 5:6, or are we simply blasé about the world situation, since we are doing ok? Do we really want to see a world in which God presents a world in which we see “an eternal and universal kingdom, a kingdom of truth and life, a kingdom of holiness and grace, a kingdom of justice, love and peace”? If we are too comfortable in our present life, such that we are not really bothered if God brings about a total reversal in the order of things or not, we will not be besieging God in prayer to hasten the day when he sends his Son, Jesus, to end the reign of evil, and bring in the triumph of good.  Our petition in the Lord’s Prayer, the “Our Father” that “your kingdom come” will be weak and selfish, since all we want is for things to continue as they are, because we are doing ok. 

If we do care, if we do want to see a change in the present world order, such that the poor get justice, that the wicked are punished, if we are in despair that human efforts can ever bring this state of affairs about, then we will turn to God in persistent prayer, like Moses in our first reading, like the widow in our gospel. There is a reality that we must truly face, about the way in which changes for the good happen in this world. The reality is this: we cannot change things on our own, through our own human efforts; but equally, God will not change things on His own, through His own efforts. God looks to us to collaborate with Him. In our first reading, Moses keeps on interceding throughout the battle, raising the staff, or banner of the Lord, helped by the efforts of Aaron and Hur. So long as Moses keeps on interceding in prayer, the battle goes with Joshua and the Israelites. The moment that Moses starts to tire and weaken in his intercession, then the battle goes against Joshua and Israel. The moment you and I stop bothering about the state of the world, give up praying to God to bring in his kingdom of justice and truth and love, then we weaken the arm of the Lord. The final appearing of the Lord Jesus is delayed. We have to keep going through the turmoil of our present times. Because we simply don’t care enough for things to change, because we fool ourselves into believing that we cannot do anything about world affairs, we forget the lessons of Scripture and history. God will not do it on His own; we cannot do it on our own. We have to participate with God in bringing about His kingdom, which means we have to care enough about the state of the world to try everything we can to bring about change, in accord with God’s will. This means, for instance, that every election, such as the one going on in our municipality and in our school trustees, requires us to ask God how we should vote, so that we collaborate with him in choosing those who will take on positions of power and influence. If we simply decide to go with which candidate will carry out our will, without consulting the Lord, we can find ourselves working against God to bring about His kingdom of justice, truth and love.

The second letter of Peter, which I mentioned earlier, says that we can “hasten the day of the Lord” (2 Peter 3:12). In other words, we can bring about the kingdom of God, a kingdom of justice, truth and love in this world, if we will co-operate with God in praying persistently , the words of the “Our Father “- “thy kingdom come “. Do we want God to bring in His kingdom, where true justice reigns, where good is rewarded and evil punished, where our children and grandchildren come to faith in Jesus and eternal life with him in heaven? Or are we not really bothered, so long as our lives are free from trouble, and we exist in comfort and peace? The choice does not rest with God, to do whatever He wants, one way or another. The choice rests with us, with you and me – how much do we really care about the future state of our world, of our children and grandchildren, and how much prayer and fasting are we willing to put into bringing this about?