This is an invitation to journey through the parables. This will be a series that runs over the course of many issues. Please click here for all the articles in the Power In Parable series.
Since at least one-third of the “red letter” words of Jesus in the Bible are parables, there must be a reason why this is such an effective way to communicate!
Also called “illustrations,” “word pictures,” or even “teaching moments,” parables allow a powerful truth to be zinged home to the listeners’ hearts with a poignant example, imprinting that truth forever. Jesus was masterful at binding the truth of His teachings to attentive hearts in three ways: example, instruction, and parable.
Teaching in parable was a typical form of rabbinical instruction in the first century. Many rabbis, both before and after Jesus, used this method successfully. The Talmud (teachings and opinions of thousands of rabbis concerning the Torah, gathered from ancient oral scholarship and compiled around 200 AD)
is full of parables. Biblical parables describe, through the drama of the story, the nature of God the Father and human responses to His love and character.
Jesus grew up hearing parables that illustrated God’s character. Parables were commonly taught in synagogues and among Jewish disciples. The Hebrew mindset is known to appreciate rich imagery and to be comfortable with Biblical concepts of the heart. Conveying truth through the visual and imaginative vehicle of parable is very effective.
always begins where the listener is. A parable defines something difficult to understand by using an example of something well-known. The story always catches the listener unaware. At first a parable might seem like a slice of life from the ordinary world one lives in, but then a shift develops in the plot of the story. The ordinary is transformed by a surprising twist. In this way, a God-consciousness penetrates the commonplace, so God’s character is revealed.
A Biblical parable contains a single, important message, in contrast to the multiple messages that might be found in an allegory or a fable which were also popular in Jesus’ time.
Because the Gospel parables relate to the everyday life of the first century listener, we moderns need to be careful not to misinterpret their message according to our present standards. In order to better understand Jesus and the way He reveals the character of the Father, we must understand His first century setting and put ourselves in His story, the way He told it. Otherwise, we are tempted to distort His image of the Father according to our own lens, both personally and culturally.
It is very exciting to look at Jesus’ parables in this way, putting yourself in His time, sitting at His feet, listening with your heart. His parables contain humor and very colorful word pictures. He always got His listeners actively involved as any good teacher using parable will do. He was a master at telling a good story.
Jesus often told two parables back to back when emphasizing an important teaching. This month we are exploring one of two stories He gave His disciples about how to pray. His important point in both is: Focus on the One to whom you pray!
When Jesus’ disciples asked Him to teach them how to pray, He gave them “The Lord’s Prayer.” (Matthew 6:9) But are you aware He preceded His prayer example
with a chastisement for being too obvious when they prayed
? He warned them not to be too showy in prayer and not to be too verbose and repetitive. He encouraged them to look up and outside of themselves and to focus on God alone, not on what others thought, did, or expected.
In Luke’s account of Jesus’ giving the “The Lord’s Prayer,” He told the disciples a parable to imprint His emphasis about prayer on their hearts. His stories are brilliantly told; they contain both humor and pathos. They are mini-dramas, and they stir our emotions when we identify with the characters. Listening as disciples, we may discover that we, too, have somewhat distorted God’s character, what He expects of us, and why prayer might be difficult for us and seemingly ineffective.
Look at The Parable of the Despicable Friend in Luke 11:5-8.
Read it aloud! This is the way it’s meant to be shared.
The story is about two friends who live in a small first century Jewish village, much like Capernaum. Today, you can walk among the foundations of ancient Capernaum on the Sea of Galilee. It gives you much insight into the life described in Jesus’ parable. Peter’s house is only six steps from the home of Jairus and other nameless residents. All of the homes are only about thirty steps from the synagogue and a few yards from the main road. During one of my visits, I stepped off these distances and was amazed at the proximity one dwelling had to another. Life was close-lived, with little privacy, and everyone in the village had a sense of family as well as community.
In all of first century Israel, the obligation of hospitality was highly valued and even an unwritten requirement for the whole village. The custom and etiquette for the day was if someone asked for food or shelter, you would offer it to them without reservation. A visitor to one family was considered the guest of the whole village. A simple meal, especially bread, the essential part of every meal, must be prepared for a visitor.
In Jesus’ story, the “despicable friend” heard his neighbor’s voice outside his door around midnight. The neighbor wouldn’t dare knock loudly because that would cause undue alarm to the whole village. Remember, they were all so close to one another that everyone could hear everything. The neighbor was recognized by his voice. He explained to his friend that an unexpected guest had just arrived, and he had nothing to feed him. He requested three loaves of left-over bread, not very much. If you have ever made flat bread, tortillas, or pita, you know this is a very simple kind of loaf. It is made from a thin batter of flour and water over a hot fire, optionally adding a little olive oil and salt if you have it. The neighbor was not asking for a full meal, just the barest minimum of hospitality.
Jesus began the story with, “Suppose one of you has a friend, and he goes to him at midnight and he says….”
He already successfully drew them into the story. This was their life. They identify. What would they expect to happen?
They would expect the friend to open his door for his neighbor and give him some bread, or whatever he might have for a simple meal for the visitor. Anyone would do this without question. But in the parable, Jesus gave His listeners the twist: The friend says, “Don’t bother me. The door is already locked, and my children are with me in bed. I can’t get up and give you anything.”
Every listener would be outraged because this was unacceptable behavior. It was selfish and inhospitable. You just didn’t act that way, no matter how inconvenient.
Once, while ministering in the old city of Jerusalem, Conlee and I received an impromptu request to go to the modest home of an Israeli family in crisis to pray for a serious need. They were extremely distressed and felt they were in immediate physical danger. However, before their situation could be discussed or we could pray, we honored the ancient ritual of being served a small glass of juice and a single cracker. For them, it was a vital beginning. We ate, thanked them, they nodded their approval, and only then did they open their hearts with their need for prayer.
Jesus’ listeners would have already come to a conclusion. What would they do? They would pound on the door with determination, boldness, tenacity and persistence! They would be appalled at the friend’s behavior. It was inexcusable. Everyone in the village would then know what happened.
Jesus affirmed their logical conclusion: “I tell you, though he will not get up and give him the bread because he is his friend, yet because of the man’s persistence he will get up and give as much as he needs.”
Then Jesus went on to say, “Keep asking and it will be given to you; keep seeking and you will find; keep knocking and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks the door will be opened.”
After hearing Jesus’ parable, you are left to contemplate this about prayer:
Have I ever felt that praying to God is like pounding on a door He doesn’t want to open?
Do I get angry?
Do I get frustrated?
Do I give up?
Jesus’ message is clear:
God is NOT like the despicable friend!
Keep on praying!
Keep your eyes fixed on God!
Questions to Ponder and Discuss
- What do you find is the most difficult part of praying?
- In your experience, what percentage of your praying involves asking God for something? What else is included in your prayer times?
- Would you be willing to ask Jesus the same question that His disciples asked? “Lord, teach me to pray.”
- Allow Him to give you a fresh example of how prayer can be more meaningful, perhaps even revolutionary for you. Write what He shows you in your Listening Prayer Journal and share a portion of His inspiration with someone else.
- What insights did you receive from the “Parable of The Despicable Friend” that you had not seen before?
- In what ways are you like the neighbor?
- In what ways are you different?
- Have you ever pictured God like the despicable friend?
- Write in your Listening Prayer Journal the characteristics of God that became obvious to you in this exercise.