In Luke 18:1-8 we have the first of a pair of parables about prayer. In this case it is the persistent widow and the unjust judge. I am not going to talk about how to preach it, but rather think about some of the implications of the passage on us as preachers.
Here are three things that matter:
1. Prayer. This was a parable Jesus told to encourage people to pray and not give up. Simple enough. We know that persistence in prayer is a biblical idea. But for many of us, we don’t live with the pressures of survival and injustice that might nudge us to more persistent prayer. To be honest many of us live in the top 5-10 percent of the world’s wealthiest and the danger is that our comfort undermines our awareness of our need to pray. What’s more, as those involved in leadership and ministry we can easily let our prayer lives drift because of the constant demands on our time, ever-beeping technology, etc. Remember Acts 6:4 – church leadership, like the apostles, is primarily about the Word and prayer. We need to pray persistently.
2. View of God. This matters massively. Jesus used a totally ungodly judge to prove his point, then amplified his point with the character of God. Sadly, though, many think God is a lot like the judge in the story, only less persuadable. Our view of God is the most important thing that can be said about us. And the pressures of ministry, the struggles of interpersonal conflict, or even apparently unanswered prayer can secretly sour our view of God, even while we still preach good truth on Sundays. This parable says that your view of God really matters.
3. View of time. Following on from point 2, many of us can easily get so caught up in the present that we lose the eschatological edge that should cut through every situation we face. Jesus is coming back. Through busy lives, unhelpful “baby out with bathwater” theological reactions to sensational teaching, and a lack of attention to Scripture, we can easily start to think that today is as predictable as yesterday, and that there is no radically different tomorrow to influence how we live and how we pray. But there is a different today that comes from living in light of that tomorrow that will come when Jesus returns. Will we remain faithful: trusting and praying for situations that seem so unjust, and looking for his coming?
There’s plenty more that could be added, please do so in the comments below!
Thinking about the parable of the two builders at the end of Luke 6, yesterday we thought about the point of the story (that wisdom is in the doing of what Jesus said), and that Jesus said when, not if. That is, trouble to test our lives is coming. Here are two more reflections for us:
3. We are not exempt from the “hear and do” teaching. All Christians are prone to fall short of the “do” step. Preachers are especially prone to this error. We can so easily think it is enough to hear, to read, to know, to understand, even to believe … but Jesus said that we need to actually do what he says. This is true in two respects:
- It is true as a preacher. We need to be those who hear Jesus and put into practice what Jesus preached. It is frightening to get up close to some big-name speakers and discover that their spiritual immaturity has been pandered to because of their status. It is sad to discover some who hold positions of spiritual influence have gaping flaws in their character and would rather excuse themselves than seek to grow in those areas.
- It is true for our preaching. What kind of sermons are we building? It is a problem if our sermons are being built late on Saturday and early on Sunday (I know I have been guilty of this for various legitimate and less legitimate reasons!) Even if we start several days earlier, when do we have time to do what the passage teaches? Could it be that we read, we study, we understand, we believe, and then we preach a sermon built directly on the ground without a foundation because we have not done the doing part? Our sermons will stand up to testing if they have first been tested “under applied conditions” in real life.
4. Let Jesus motivate you.
- There is motivation in the words Jesus spoke on several levels. It is encouraging to us in those areas where we are actively obeying even though it is not easy, and we don’t see automatic fruit. It is a warning that we all need, that disobedience may not yield instant consequences, but the house will eventually collapse if it is built on hearing only. It is an explanation for some who find themselves picking through rubble because of past choices. There is lots of motivation in the words Jesus spoke.
- There is also motivation to be found in the Jesus who spoke the words. We can drop into the passage at a parable and hear the instruction, but miss the voice that is speaking. This is the same Jesus who was pursuing the people, inviting them to follow him, to be with him, to see who he was, to discover his love for his Father, his compassion for hurting people, and his love for his own. Four verses at the end of Luke 6 can pack quite a punch, but the book of Luke as a whole invites us to put ourselves completely under the influence of Jesus, the one who loved us and came to seek and to save that which was lost. Parables are not just good stories, they are stories spoken by a good person.
Next week I will offer some preacher reflections on another parable…
Yesterday I preached on the two builders parable that Jesus used to finish up the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7) or the Sermon on the Plain (Luke 6). It struck me that there are some helpful points for preachers in that story. I’m not going to write about how to preach the parable, but lessons from the parable that may be applicable to us. In fact, over the next few weeks I’ll be preaching through several of Jesus’ parables and so may try to offer some points for preachers in light of each parable.
The parable is very simple. Two men, two houses, potentially identical in every visible respect, but different in one very significant way: the foundation. The first man (Luke 6:48) dug down until he got to rock upon which he made the foundation. The second man just built his house on top of the ground (Luke 6:49). I have absolutely no building experience, and yet I know that the second man was crazy to build the way he did. I have been living for years, and yet I do the “crazy option” with alarming regularity.
Here are a few things for us to ponder:
1. What was the point? Just like the Sunday School song, we can easily miss the point of a very easy passage to understand. Jesus is not pointing to himself as the rock on which we must build our lives. That may be true truth, but it is not the truth of this passage. The point of the story is that the wise builder is the one who hears Jesus and does what he hears. Is there an area of obedience that is missing in your life right now?
2. Jesus did not say “if” but “when” … when the flood comes, when the stream bursts against the house. We can easily fall into a modified prosperity misunderstanding, just like the Sunday School song: the blessings will come down as the prayers go up! Nice, but not always true. Jesus said “when.” Jesus said that in this world we will have trouble. As preachers we need to prepare people for the real stuff of life, and we need to live our lives with awareness that trouble will hit us too. Will we stand firm, or will we stand in a pile of rubble when trouble hits? That depends, according to Jesus, on our doing what he teaches.
Tomorrow I will complete the list with two more reflections.
Peter has extended comments on this post.
When we come to interpreting the narratives in the Gospels, we are faced with a couple of potential difficulties. I’ll call it the double challenge of more than one:
1. More than one “author” of the parables. Our goal in interpretation is to grasp the author’s intended meaning. But which one? There’s Jesus telling the story in the first place, around AD30, in Aramaic, somewhere in Galilee or Judea. What did Jesus intend for those original hearers to grasp and learn? But then there’s Luke, for example, retelling the story, around thirty or more years later, in Greek, to a reader somewhere in the Greek speaking world. Primarily our concern is with what Jesus intended, but we’d be naïve to think that Luke’s intent was unimportant. Luke did not struggle to focus, and thereby put together a random gospel. No, he sequences his material with precision and skill. We see this when different gospel writers frame the same content in a different sequence of material. But that is another challenge again.
Next time I’ll give the other half of the challenge, the other “more than one!”