Thursday, October 17, 2019

Parable Of Contrast

It's tempting to think of parables as if they are riddles to be solved. "If only we can figure out what character represents God and what character represents us," we say to ourselves, "then we can understand what Jesus really meant." Sometimes that works. Sometimes parables are designed to give us a clear and straightforward glimpse at who God is and what our relationship with God is like. The parable of the sower seems to fit a fairly strict structure--so much so that the gospel writers even include Jesus' own interpretation of it. But most parables, including the one we have this Sunday, are better read not as mysteries to be solved but as impression pieces--stories designed to have an impact on us without giving the whole picture.

If you try to read the parable of the unjust judge in order to figure out how the characters relate to us and to God, you'll be disappointed. "There was a judge who neither feared God nor had respect for people," Jesus begins. Right from the start, we should know that this isn't a story about God. In fact, the judge is portrayed for us as the opposite of God and of godly people. The judge refused to give relief to the poor widow but, because she harassed him, he finally gave in: "Though I have no fear of God and no respect for anyone, yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will grant her justice, so that she may not wear me out by continually coming." Let the reader clearly understand: the judge is NOT God.

So why do so many preachers use this parable to describe prayer as something we must offer over and over and over again in order that we might wear God down and convince God to grant our request? Part of the problem comes right at the beginning of the parable, when Luke offers this introductory editorial comment: "Jesus told his disciples a parable about their need to pray always and not to lose heart." Jesus didn't say that. Luke did. It's Luke's interpretation of the story that follows. What is the meaning? Why did Jesus tell this parable? In order that people would pray always and not lose heart. In fact, that's a helpful comment. It's nice to know what Luke understood to be Jesus' purpose in telling this parable. But, again, why do preachers try to get that point across by making the judge like God?

The judge isn't like God. The judge isn't anything like God. Jesus has set up a parable that hinges on the "how much more" or "on the other hand" logic. If a judge who does not fear God and has no respect for people is willing to grant the request of the woman, isn't it reasonable to expect God, the always-faithful, always-loving, always-merciful one, to grant the requests of God's people? Yes, we are called to pray always but not because God must be convinced to act. We pray because God is eager to act on our behalf. We pray without losing hope because, unlike the unjust judge, God has promised to help us because God is God. In the end, the result is the same: pray always without losing heart. But it's a very different thing to engage those prayers expecting an outcome because of our confidence in God instead of our confidence in our own persistence.

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