“And he told them a parable to the effect that they ought always to pray and not lose heart.” (Luke 18:1)
Jesus was the grand storyteller who scattered seeds of truth on the inquisitive and indifferent as he traversed the countryside. He aimed for a harvest of believers with the faith of good soil to receive his words and yield a hundredfold harvest. Some of his obscure parables were complex, and he would explain their meanings only to his disciples in order to clear away any uncertainty. But other parables held meanings as plain as the color of course grain: here is a pattern for how I want you to pray; this is what humility looks like; see how the Father’s all-encompassing love is measured; this is what the Kingdom of God is all about.
In the days right before he entered Jerusalem in triumph on the young colt, he told his followers the story of the hard-hearted judge who was annoyed with the persistent widow’s constant demand for justice. The ungodly judge finally granted the widow her request, not because he felt compassion for her, but because he wanted to protect himself from her complaints (see Luke 18:2-6).
Jesus contrasted the wicked judge with the loving Heavenly Father who cares deeply for his own and responds when they beg him for deliverance. “And will not God give justice to his elect, who cry to him day and night? Will he delay long over them? I tell you, he will give justice to them speedily” (Luke 18:7-8). Jesus encouraged his listeners to keep these truths uppermost in their minds: remember to pray; pray some more; never give up praying. Your Father is just and good. He hears and will respond. Don’t be discouraged by the delay, believing your Father is preoccupied or unconcerned. Persist. Push forward. Keep bringing your requests to your good and gracious God. He will answer your cry.
Jesus followed up this lesson with an encore performance of storytelling: “He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and treated others with contempt” (Luke 18:9). In this next one, two men were praying in the temple. One was a self-righteous Pharisee, the other a tax-collector distraught by his sins. Jesus made a clear distinction between the two men by warning his listeners not to think too much of themselves or elevate their position above others they considered less worthy. Don’t you dare, Jesus told them. God values humility and despises pride “for everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but he who humbles himself will be exalted” (Luke 18:14).
Jesus spoke the language of the common man using simple metaphors, painting colorful pictures with descriptive words so the average listener could easily internalize the truth he wanted to convey. He lived the message of the parables before he taught them – he exemplified humility, boldly chastised those consumed with pretentious pride, and practiced continuous, unrelenting prayer.
Christ embodied these truths in living color, and then passed them on through vivid stories for us to integrate the beauty, truth, and power of his Word, one parable at a time.
Elizabeth Karram Mitchell