Jesus uses Contrast to teach us
We are back to the All Access Parable Tour Bus! Luke 18 is our destination today!
In the study of literature, you come across lots of different devices that writers use to express ideas and enhance their writing. Good writers (and public speakers) use these devices to help us understand an intellectual point of view. Sometimes they are used to have an emotional effect. And invariably they improve the flow and pacing of the writing or delivery in public speaking.
In the two parables we are looking at today, we find Jesus using a literary device commonly known as contrast. Jesus takes two persons in each parable and shows the opposition between the two persons. It is not a point-by-point contrast. Rather is it a subject-to-subject contrast. Jesus is trying to heighten the drama and imprint the lesson on our minds by using contrast in these two parables.
And he told them a parable to the effect that they ought always to pray and not lose heart. He said, “In a certain city there was a judge who neither feared God nor respected man. And there was a widow in that city who kept coming to him and saying, ‘Give me justice against my adversary.’ For a while he refused, but afterward he said to himself, ‘Though I neither fear God nor respect man, yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will give her justice, so that she will not beat me down by her continual coming.’ ” And the Lord said, “Hear what the unrighteous judge says. And will not God give justice to his elect, who cry to him day and night? Will he delay long over them? I tell you, he will give justice to them speedily. Nevertheless, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?” (Luke 18:1-8, ESV)
The point is spelled out in the very first verse – pray and not lose heart. Then Jesus uses contrast – the judge/widow to God/us. The widow had a claim that the judge kept rejecting. He finally relented because of her continual harassment. Notice Jesus’ question, “Will he delay?” The contrast is not that God gives in because we pester him. Rather it is the idea that by constant contact with God that we learn how to pray, and that God answers speedily those that are in constant contact. That is what Jesus means by the final question. Will he find faith? Those that have faith are in constant contact with God.
He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous and treated others with contempt: “Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed thus: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.’ But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’ I tell you, this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.” (Luke 18:9-14, ESV)
The contrast is easy to see here – Pharisee and the tax collector. The contrast is not on their respective occupations. Rather the contrast is on their respective attitudes. One is arrogant. One is humble. One lists all the good. One just says I am a sinner. The implied question is which one are you? One went away justified and in a relationship with God. One did not.
In both parables the purpose of the contrast is make you question yourself. Which one am I? What am I doing? What am I thinking?