There are the ‘difficult sayings’ of Jesus and then there are the verses like Luke 18:8 where Jesus seems wistful to the point of despair as he seems to wonder if, when he returns, he will find a world much different from 1st Century Palestine.
He seems to carry, in that foreboding phrase, a sense that his work, his ministry and his sacrifice, the world might not be transformed or restored and, might in fact revert back to the entrenched religious bureaucracy, based on exclusion, which defined the spiritual climate of his time.
Could he have imagined a future, much like his present, where Scriptures were used to justify oppression and exploitation?
Where the Word of God, neglected, truncated or parsed obsessively, was used, not to release or restore, but to isolate, segregate and paralyze?
He might have wondered, in one of his most weak and most human moments, whether his life and sacrifice was even worth it.
It’s easy to get the impression from the letters of Paul (and many churches) that the primary purpose of Christianity is to create ‘good’ people – content and comfortable, reliably solid citizens with good hygiene in every way – especially their theology.
Life among actual humans is vastly more messy and complicated, and Paul, though justly acknowledged for his lawyerly expositions on theology, is most famous for his chapter on love (1 Corinthians chapter 13) where he explores, in almost child-like wonder, the power and place of love in a life of faith.
Love, according to Paul, is far deeper and real, more enduring and more alive than any theology or sacrifice, or even religious ‘gift’ or feeling.
If love is absent, Paul clearly affirms, nothing else matters.
And this, I am convinced, is what Jesus will be ‘looking for’ when he returns.
When Jesus says ‘will he find faith?’ I don’t think he means a distilled, rarified theology expensively and labouriesly acquired from the best seminaries.
I do think he means the full and durable faith – or love in action – available to any of us; of any age or education, class, color or ethnicity.
As one reads the Gospels, especially the words of Jesus, one comes to an alarming conclusion; Jesus is not coming back to gather up all the ‘good’ people. He will be looking for unpolished, sometimes ragged and not always perfect ‘faith’. This was/is the point of most of the parables; Jesus is looking for the lost coin, lost sheep and prodigal son among us.
Jesus says clearly that he did not come for the righteous (Luke 5:32, Mark 2:17) and emphasizes that came ‘to seek and save the lost’(Luke 19:10).
He will be looking for those who act on their faith through their love for him – and each other.
In fact, as many of us know, somewhere in the background, this is how real ‘Christians’ are – or at least should be – known in the world – by their love for one another.
Jesus knows that when he returns he will find religion, he knows he will find legalism; he knows he will find the neglect, hypocrisy and avoidance of Divine laws along with religiously justified violations of human dignity that have dogged humanity since the beginning.
But will He find faith?
I wonder too.
Morf Morford considers himself a free-range Christian who is convinced that God expects far more of us than we can ever imagine, but somehow thinks God knows more than we do. To pay his bills, he’s been a teacher for adults (including those in his local county jail) in a variety of setting including Tribal colleges, vocational schools and at the university level in the People’s Republic of China. Within an academic context, he also writes an irreverent ESL blog and for the Burnside Writers Collective. As he’s getting older, he finds himself less tolerant of pettiness and dairy products.