When Jesus appeared to Paul on the road to Damascus, the words he used were rather metaphor than parable, but exhibit the same genius for using simple physical imagery to convey truths that go deep into the heart. Like a ripple that spreads out to the very edges of a lake, the phrase fills the mind with more wisdom and wonder the more one thinks about it. Here is the story, from Acts chapter 9:
1And Saul, yet breathing out threatenings and slaughter against the disciples of the Lord, went unto the high priest,
2And desired of him letters to Damascus to the synagogues, that if he found any of this way, whether they were men or women, he might bring them bound unto Jerusalem.
3And as he journeyed, he came near Damascus: and suddenly there shined round about him a light from heaven:
4And he fell to the earth, and heard a voice saying unto him, Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou me?
5And he said, Who art thou, Lord? And the Lord said, I am Jesus whom thou persecutest: it is hard for thee to kick against the pricks.
6And he trembling and astonished said, Lord, what wilt thou have me to do? And the Lord said unto him, Arise, and go into the city, and it shall be told thee what thou must do.
7And the men which journeyed with him stood speechless, hearing a voice, but seeing no man.
8And Saul arose from the earth; and when his eyes were opened, he saw no man: but they led him by the hand, and brought him into Damascus.
9And he was three days without sight, and neither did eat nor drink.
10And there was a certain disciple at Damascus, named Ananias; and to him said the Lord in a vision, Ananias. And he said, Behold, I am here, Lord.
11And the Lord said unto him, Arise, and go into the street which is called Straight, and enquire in the house of Judas for one called Saul, of Tarsus: for, behold, he prayeth,
12And hath seen in a vision a man named Ananias coming in, and putting his hand on him, that he might receive his sight.
13Then Ananias answered, Lord, I have heard by many of this man, how much evil he hath done to thy saints at Jerusalem:
14And here he hath authority from the chief priests to bind all that call on thy name.
15But the Lord said unto him, Go thy way: for he is a chosen vessel unto me, to bear my name before the Gentiles, and kings, and the children of Israel:
16For I will shew him how great things he must suffer for my name's sake.
17And Ananias went his way, and entered into the house; and putting his hands on him said, Brother Saul, the Lord, even Jesus, that appeared unto thee in the way as thou camest, hath sent me, that thou mightest receive thy sight, and be filled with the Holy Ghost.
18And immediately there fell from his eyes as it had been scales: and he received sight forthwith, and arose, and was baptized.
19And when he had received meat, he was strengthened. Then was Saul certain days with the disciples which were at Damascus.
20And straightway he preached Christ in the synagogues, that he is the Son of God.
The narrator here is Luke, and the style informative but rather artless. Certainly the prose does not distract the reader from the events described with its own eloquence of poetry. Of course, these events and the whole of Paul's life reflect the meaning of the vision in a way that invites the reader to think about it more deeply. Jesus apparently says nothing by way of persuasion other than that phrase: "It is hard for thee to kick against the pricks."
Perhaps Jesus said more and it did not make its way into the account. If Acts was really written by Luke, the author would have known Paul first-hand, but Paul himself may not have remembered everything. Certainly, at key moments in my own life, when crucial conversations took place, my memory never suffices to reproduce whole conversations. Generally only the key phrases linger in my mind, and those are probably edited to be more apt than they really were, with the stumblings of human thinking and mis-speaking smoothed away and the situation rendered more ideal than it was. Of course, many Christian faithful believe that the writing and compilation of the Bible was a historical process protected by the Holy Spirit, which might imply that the text should be more accurate than my recollection of scenes from, say, my own casual memories. Even without appeal to any supernatural intervention after the vision itself, it seems likely that Jesus spoke those words to Paul, but it would not reduce the accuracy of the text-- which describes the lives of many people over many years in a few dozen pages and so is necessarily condensed to the point of telegraphic-- to suggest that Jesus may have said more than was written, which might help to account for the transformative effect of the vision on Paul. In any case, that phrase-- "It is hard for thee to kick against the pricks"-- seems to be what Paul remembered.
It is a violent metaphor. To think about it is painful. And yet it is not even a reproach. It is for Paul's own sake, not for that of Jesus Himself nor for that of the persecuted believers, that Jesus asks him to change. If we unpack the metaphor a bit more, the "kicking" seems to mean persecution but what is meant by the "pricks?" If the "pricks" are the church, it is significant that they are iron: hence the futility of kicking them. Neither Saul (who became Paul) nor Nero and Diocletian nor Muhammad nor Stalin could destroy the church. But it seems to me that Paul came later to see the Jewish law as "the pricks," and his youthful pharisaism a futile kicking against them, from which the Lord's call freed him. All his writings are infused with a sense of joy and liberation in Christ to which the phrase by which Jesus called him seems to be the key.
Since Paul understood Jesus, one wants to ask Did Paul feel what he was doing to be "kicking against the pricks?" Did he feel the pain and perversity of it? If so, why was he doing it? And yet we see all around us careerists or addicts in pursuit of obsessions that are both wicked and futile. The drunk knows that the next drink, the politician knows that the next office, the conqueror knows that the next city stormed, will not quell the demon within that drives him to pursue it. How many of us kick against the pricks, and in how many different ways? I cannot seem to do justice even to the thoughts in my own mind about the phrase, let alone to the phrase itself, but I find it to be a marvelous expression of divine wisdom and love.