Summary: God answers prayers so that we might express and encourage our faith.
Jesus teaches us today by parable, “an earthly story with a heavenly meaning.” Our English word derives from the Greek, para-bolae,, which itself consists of two words, para- meaning “beside” and -ballo meaning “throw or cast.” A parable is, literally, a story thrown or cast beside real life to explain it.
C. H. Dodd (Oxford Professor), The Parables of the Kingdom, 1935: “At its simplest the parable is a metaphor or simile drawn from nature or common life, arresting the hearer by its vividness or strangeness, and leaving the mind in sufficient doubt about its precise application to tease it into active thought.”
I believe Professor Dodd is correct — Jesus is not giving a simplistic answer for our bumper stickers. He is teasing out deeper reflection on prayer and perseverance.
I would make one further preliminary observation before reading our text. Sometimes people wonder about the propriety of illustrations and stories in sermons. There may be the feeling that a “mature” congregation should want preaching and teaching which is detailed and doctrinal, more like an academic lecture than an appeal to the heart. There is even a clever slogan to illustrate the danger of illustrating sermons — they are called, “skyscraper sermons,” one story on top of another.
There is, definitely, the danger of telling stories instead of teaching the Bible. But, I believe it is imperative to illustrate in order to preach biblically, to preach as Jesus did. Madeleine L’Engle once observed: “Jesus was not a theologian; he was God who told stories.”
Three Proverbs confirm to me the wisdom of carefully illustrating my teaching.
Proverbs 16.21: “…sweetness of speech increases persuasiveness.”
Proverbs 16.23: “The heart of the wise makes his speech judicious and adds persuasiveness to his lips.”
Proverbs 25.15: “…a soft tongue will break a bone.”
Once upon a time, Truth went about the streets as naked as the day he was born. As a result, no one would let him in their homes. When people saw him, they fled.
One day as Truth wandered sadly about town, he came upon Parable, dressed in splendid clothes of beautiful colors.
Parable, seeing Truth, said, “Tell me, neighbor, what makes you look so sad?” Truth replied bitterly, “Ah, brother, things are bad. I am old and so no one wants to know me.”
Parable responded, “People don’t run away from you because you are old. I, too, am old. Very old. But the older I get, the better I am liked. I’ll tell you a secret: everyone likes things disguised and prettied up a bit. Let me lend you some of my clothes, and the very people who pushed you aside will invite you into their homes and be glad of your company.”
Truth dressed in clothing borrowed from Parable. And from that time on, Truth and Parable have gone hand in hand together and everyone loves them.” (From Yiddish Folktales, edited by Beatrice Silverinan Weinreich.)
Jesus’ parables and wise use of sermon illustrations do not discount the necessity of the Holy Spirit as the principle cause of a sinner believing truth. Instead, just as God uses truth to convict and convert, so he is pleased to use a soft tongue, sweetness of speech and judicious words to clothe truth with persuasiveness. May he give me grace to do so for your sake, and the sake of the Gospel. [Read Luke 18.1-8. Pray.]