Stories Jesus told with women in them
The Parable of the Persistent Widow Luke 18:1-8
So let’s read our story, first, and then talk about this intriguing example Jesus used for describing effective prayer:
The Parable of the Persistent Widow
18 Then Jesus told his disciples a parable to show them that they should always pray and not give up. 2 He said: “In a certain town there was a judge who neither feared God nor cared what people thought. 3 And there was a widow in that town who kept coming to him with the plea, ‘Grant me justice against my adversary.’
4 “For some time he refused. But finally he said to himself, ‘Even though I don’t fear God or care what people think, 5 yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will see that she gets justice, so that she won’t eventually come and attack me!’”
6 And the Lord said, “Listen to what the unjust judge says. 7 And will not God bring about justice for his chosen ones, who cry out to him day and night? Will he keep putting them off? 8 I tell you, he will see that they get justice, and quickly. However, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth?”
Jesus was telling a parable, which is not the same thing as metaphor or allegory. Here’s the difference:
Allegory—A story, poem, or picture that can be interpreted to reveal a hidden meaning, typically a moral or political one. For example, “Pilgrim’s Progress” was written as an allegory.
Here’s where people can get confused about parables. Jesus did not mean for the widow to represent every believer, and for the unjust judge to represent God. That comparison immediately breaks down! But, since we are used to allegories, we can unwittingly treat a parable like one.
Analogy—A comparison between two things, typically for the purpose of explanation or clarification. It can also be a correspondence or partial similarity, or a thing that is comparable to something else in significant respects. in logic, analogy becomes a process of arguing from similarity in known respects, to similarity in other respects.
This one is trickier, isn’t it? It’s, like, halfway between a parable and an allegory. The allegory wants to—in ALL RESPECTS—connect the symbol with the reality. The analogy acknowledges there isn’t direct and complete crossover, but there is enough for the one to describe, and perhaps even define, the other.
This is still too strong a connection between the objects in the story, and even the story itself, and the point, or truth, the story is designed to impart, when the story is a parable.
Fable—A short story, typically with animals as characters, conveying a moral. It can also include a supernatural aspect, incorporating elements of myth and legend.
We’re getting closer, with this idea, but still not there. The Greeks were famous for their fables, which generally taught on good moral values, ethics, and good character. But fables are fictitious in their very nature, not at all trying to draw from anything in real life.
Epigram—A pithy saying or remark expressing an idea in a clever and amusing way. It can also be a short poem, especially a satirical one, having a witty or ingenious ending. Jesus often used epigrams in His teaching, such as, “If asked for bread, would a father give his child a stone?” Jesus was standing on the shore of Lake Galilee when He said this, and all along the shore were rounded, sandy-hued stones, the same size, shape, and color as barley loaves.
An example, You could maaaaybe say an epigram drawn from the Persistent Widow parable could be “If an unjust judge issues justice, what do you think our good God gives?”
Metaphor—A figure of speech in which a word or phrase is applied to an object or action to which it is not literally applicable. A metaphor can also be a thing regarded as representative or symbolic of something else, especially something abstract.
For example, if we were to draw a metaphor from Jesus’ story, we might say something like, “I was a persistent widow when I prayed about that thing.”
Simile—A figure of speech involving the comparison of one thing with another thing of a different kind, used to make a description more emphatic or vivid.
For example, if we were to draw a simile from Jesus’ story, we might say, “effective prayer is like the persistent widow.”
Parable—A simple story, taken from ordinary life, used to illustrate a moral or spiritual lesson, told in both the Old and New Testaments.
Jesus told parables to be understood, and He told them to regular people, so He drew from their lives. Jesus' original audience would have immediately recognized the comparisons and points Jesus was making. For you and me to get the same depth of understanding, we need to understand what the culture and customs were of that original audience. Otherwise, we may not get what Jesus was saying—we may even draw wrong conclusions and stray far from where Jesus was pointing.
Consider these examples:
- Did you know why it’s a bad idea to put new wine in an old wineskin? When’s the last time you tried to economize in that way?
- Did you know what the dangers were on the road to Jericho, specifically?
- How familiar are you with the parables the rabbis told and retold? Did you know Jesus took many of those parables and put His own twist on them?
- How aware are you of all the Old Testament allusions and parables Jesus referred to in His own parables?
Exactly! And I’m just skimming the surface on all this. In order for you and me to really grasp what Jesus was saying, and how He was saying it, we’ve got to get a handle on the culture, customs, lifestyle, mindset, education, and on and on, of the people Jesus was telling these stories to, and for.
Parables also come in all shapes and sizes. Some of them may contain some allegory, some analogy, some similes, metaphors, and/or epigrams. Some are very simple and short, and have only one point to make. Others are pretty complex, and have, maybe, a main point, and some attendant points. Most parables actually have three points.
Parables often also had shades of meaning, too. For example, think about the Good Samaritan parable. How would it hit you if you were a priest, listening in the audience? How about if you happened to be Samaritan? What if you had just been mugged?
And—here’s the big kicker—parables’ primary purpose was not to teach truth, although they did that very well. Their primary purpose was to provoke a response. As one author put it, “Parables jolt people into seeing things in a new way, bringing them to a point of decision and action.”* I think the only thing we really have like that today would be a joke, with a punchline. That feeling, when you “get” the joke, you’re caught off guard, you’re astonished, it’s unexpected, but it really works, and you burst out laughing.
You know how tired that makes you feel inside, when the person next to you isn’t laughing, they just look sort of blank and puzzled, and they lean in, asking, “I don’t get it. Why was that funny?” And you have to explain the whole thing…
Parables weren’t actually designed for interpreting and explaining. The reason why we do it, is because we’re 2,000 years and 10,000 miles different than the people who originally listened to them.
Next post we’ll lay the groundwork for Jesus’ story, so we can get the fuller impact and implications of what He was saying.
Definitions taken from dictionary.com
All passages taken from the New International Version (NIV) Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® Copyright ©1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.
* (Marshall & Tasker in New Bible Dictionary: Parables)