Saturday, October 19, 2013

Got faith?

As Christians ("Christian" being a word that has taken on too many negative connotations in our day), that is, followers of Jesus Christ, our "weapon," if you will, is not the sword, but prayer. The opening lines of Casting Crowns' song "Jesus, Friend of Sinners," with which I have been quite (entirely too?) taken with recently, states this well: "Jesus, friend of sinners, we have strayed so far away/We cut down people in your name but the sword was never ours to swing." We do not pray for God to destroy our enemies, real or perceived, but to convert, that is, to change them, beginning with changing our hearts towards them. Is this not the substance of Jesus' teaching: "love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your heavenly Father, for he makes his sun rise on the bad and the good, and causes rain to fall on the just and the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what recompense will you have? Do not the tax collectors do the same?" (Matt 5:44-46)

As we sing in our Psalm response for this Twenty-ninth Sunday in Ordinary Time, "Our help is from the Lord, who made heaven and earth" (Ps 121:2). We obtain God's help, as we learn from Jesus' parable in our Gospel for today, through constant prayer, calling on God "day and night" (Luke 18:7).

Unlike ancient Israel in our reading from Exodus in which they enjoin battle upon the Amalekites, "our struggle is not with flesh and blood but with the principalities, with the powers, with the world rulers of this present darkness, with the evil spirits in the heavens" (Eph 6:12). And so, we are to "put on the armor of God, that [we] may be able to resist on the evil day" (Eph 6:13). Therefore, "our sword is the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God" (Eph 6:17).

In our reading from 2 Timothy the recipient of letter, Timothy, is exhorted to remain faithful to what he has learned and believed from the Scriptures he has been taught from the time he was an infant. The "Scriptures" referred to here are the Jewish Scriptures, those we call the "Old Testament." The usefulness of Scripture derives from the fact that they are the "inspired by God" (2 Tim 3:16). The Greek word used for this English phrase is theopneustos, which literally means "God-breathed." The one who has received God's word is to be "persistent" in proclaiming it "whether it is convenient or inconvenient."

God is faithful. God will do what He has promised. One could effectively argue that this is the overarching "lesson" of Scripture: God will accomplish His purposes in His way, which is usually surprising. Hence, as Jesus tells His listeners in today's Gospel, "Will not God then secure the rights of his chosen ones who call out to him day and night? Will he be slow to answer them?" He then answers His own rhetorical question: "I tell you, he will see to it that justice is done for them speedily" (Luke 18:7-8).

Our Gospel passage today ends with a question that Jesus poses and does not answer, at least not directly: "But when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?"

In the overall context of St. Luke's Gospel, what constitutes this "faith" Jesus asks about finding on earth when He returns is laid out until the end of chapter 18, beginning with the parable about the Pharisee and the tax collector. Next, He teaches about the requirement to become like children if we are to inherit God's kingdom. After that, Jesus has an encounter with the rich young man, who goes away sad after Jesus told him to sell everything he had, give it to the poor, and come follow Him. This prompts Jesus to teach about how difficult it is for a wealthy person to enter God's kingdom. Appropriately, Jesus, for the third time in Luke's orderly account, predicts His passion, death, and resurrection. Of course, believing that He is risen is the sine qua non of Christian faith. Faith is not its own object (i.e., faith in faith), but faith in Christ, in God, who is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

Finally, to cap His teaching on what it means to have the faith He hopes to find, Jesus heals the blind beggar, who persists in calling out to Him despite being told by some of those accompanying Jesus to shut up. Approaching the blind beggar, Jesus asks him straight up, "What do you want me to do for you?" Without missing a beat, the blind man says, "Lord, please let me see." Jesus said in reply, "Have sight; your faith has saved you."

All of these are constitutive of this "faith" (in Greek pistis) Jesus wonders about finding when He returns in glory. Throughout this chapter, Jesus sets about providing evidence for faith (what Aristotle called pisteis, which are basically evidences for pistis, or, faith). Jesus does this both through His teaching and His actions.

In his Wednesday General Audience this week, Pope Francis, after explaining just how the Church is apostolic (i.e., that it has a "constitutive" historical "bond" with the 12 chosen by Jesus and that, like them, the Church is sent "to continue the mission of Christ in history"), he insisted that praying is the first task of the Apostle. "The second task, according the Holy Father, "is to proclaim the Gospel." Therefore, "All of us, if we would be apostles, must ask ourselves: 'Do I pray for the salvation of the world, and proclaim the Gospel?'" I am sure, judging from his other daily homilies, Pope Francis meant proclaiming the Gospel in deed and, then, in word. He insisted, "This is the Apostolic Church."

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