20 Oct 2013
“‘When the Son of Man comes, will He find faith on earth?’” (Luke 18:8) (+)
Last Saturday Sharon and I were hanging around Fenway Park as they were getting ready for game-one against the Tigers. We went to lunch at a Kenmore Square restaurant. I like to sit at the bar rather than a table. While we were sitting there, we started up a conversation with a guy at the corner of the bar. Come to find out he is the proud owner of the two front row seats right next to the Red Sox dugout. He was on the waiting list for those tickets for 20 years. He had season tickets throughout those two decades in the same field-box seat area so that he could keep inching closer to the front row and the dug out. The guy who owned those tickets before him had them for 50 years before he finally gave them up, but our guy didn’t quit or complain because he felt the pay-off was worth the wait.
Last Friday Sharon and I went to see The Million Dollar Quartet in Boston’s Theater District. After the show we stopped at Legal Seafoods in the Prudential Center for a late dinner. Again we sat at the bar. It’s about 10:00PM and across the way in the Prudential Center Mall is a Game Stop store. It’s 10:00 at night! From our seats in the restaurant we could see all of these people lined-up, going into the store politely one after the other. One comes out, one goes in. They hand over their money and they get some sort of ticket that allows them to hang out in the hallway of the mall for another two hours so that they can get back into line to actually pick-up some brand new video game. A mother and her young son come in to the restaurant and sit down beside us. I found out from her that the game was Pokémon. I thought that died years ago. But here were parents with children, teenagers and 20 and 30 somethings lining up and then waiting until midnight to get their hands on this new game. They waited and didn’t complain all because they felt the pay-off was worth the wait.
And then there’s Jesus … who has to sadly wonder out loud at the end of today’s reading: “‘But when the Son of Man comes, will He find faith on earth?’” I’m not going to take this story down the conventional path of the priest complaining that people make time for so many other things but not for church. Instead, I want to try and look at this from the perspective of Jesus. And since I’m in no position to say what’s on His mind, I’d like to share with you the story of the prophet Hosea. He loved his wife, but his wife was not as in love with him. She proved unfaithful. According to the Law, Hosea could have had her punished and even killed, but the prophet loved her. Hosea took his wife back, but it seems that she again proved unfaithful.
In this state of emotional anguish, the prophet heard God’s calling. As surprising as it may sound, the emotional wreckage that filled Hosea’s heart and soul was what opened Hosea to God’s self-revelation. I don’t think we’re all that accustomed to thinking about God in terms of a broken-hearted lover. All-powerful, now that sounds like God, but a comparison with a jilted lover can make us feel uncomfortable. Maybe this revelation was and is so strange that only a broken person like Hosea could hear God’s own plea over all of our preaching about God. “What shall I do with you, O Ephraim?” says the Lord to His prophet. “What shall I do with you, O Judah? Your love is like a morning cloud, like the dew that goes away early.” (6:4) And just like the prophet, God does not seek punishment. Rather, He yearns for reconciliation: “[But] how can I give you up, Ephraim? How can I hand you over, O Israel? … My heart recoils within me. My compassion grows warm and tender. I will not execute my fierce anger.” (11:8-9a)
I think Hosea’s revelation of God can help us to better understand why Jesus says what He says today. I think we’re seeing Jesus tormented by fears that His message and ministry may be forgotten. I don’t want to complicate the story, but Jesus’ question is located between His second and final Passion predictions. He knows His time is short. He is preparing to give everything He possibly can to and for us on the cross. His commitment to us never waivers, not even in the face of torture and death, but Jesus must still ask out loud, “Will [I] find faith on earth?” He is the broken-hearted God revealed in Hosea’s emotional anguish. His question emerges from the deepest recesses of the soul. He’s really wondering if what He’s doing will matter, will it last, will people care. This is why I can’t just complain from the pulpit about people finding time for other things, but not for this. The real question has to be why.
With that said, let’s listen again to what we heard from Second Timothy: “Remain faithful to what you have learned and believed.” (3:14) Where’s the who? Where did Jesus go in that statement? Why are there already backward glances to where Jesus was instead of seeing where Jesus is? Already by the later writings of the New Testament it’s turning into a faith about Jesus not faith in Jesus. It’s turning into someone else’s faith and not our own. And if today this is still the best we can do as church, then shame on us, and no wonder people aren’t as excited by church as they are by baseball and videogames. In Hosea’s day, the Temple continued its liturgy, but God said to the prophet: “The more they incensed, the more they sinned against me.” (4:7) The more they boxed their faith between walls of a building, the less they cared about me in their lives. God became the practice of professionals and stopped being a personal God. And it broke God’s heart.
Jesus had to wonder out loud, “Will [I] find faith on earth?” That’s up to us and whether we can make this time together our special chance to connect with Christ, not because of obligation or damnation, not because what others have told us, but because we have built a real relationship with Him and we feel Him here. Let us pray that we can have faith in Christ like He has in us. This we ask in His name. Amen. (+)
Fr. Randolph Calvo