Parables as Imagination 4

Imagine a world — at Jesus’ invitation — where God is good, where God’s people come to him with their requests, and where God responds to them. Imagine a world where God is good, where God is gracious, where God wants to respond to the needs of his people. Imagine a world where God trust God and so go to him with their needs.

The Parable of the Friend at Midnight (Luke 11:5-8; after the jump), which is sometimes read to mean that God answers in order to avoid his name being besmirched or at other times as one that teaches that persistence pays in prayers, but Klyne Snodgrass (Stories With Intent: A Comprehensive Guide to the Parables of Jesus) is not alone in showing that the crucial word (anaideia) does not mean that. The meaning of this parable does not hinge on our being like the knocker or God being like the sleeper.

Instead, this parable is about a God who is dramatically unlike that sleeper who got up only because of the prayer’s boldness. The parable doesn’t teach us to be bolder and if we are God will eventually give in; it doesn’t teach rudeness. Nor does it teach that God is like that sleeper. Instead, it is clever Jewish irony and a fortiori logic: if fathers act like this and eventually give in to rude neighbors, how much more will the good God, the Father, respond in grace. That is why the next set of teachings, which in my view function as the nimshal (the interpretation), focus on God being so much better than human fathers.

So, let us learn to re-imagine our world and learn to re-imagine it as a world shaped and governed by a good God, the Father, who loves us, who cares for us, and wants to provide for us. Let us go to that God.

What does a world look like when this parable shapes us?

11:5 Then he said to them, “Suppose one of you has a friend, and you go to him at midnight and say to him, ‘Friend, lend me three loaves of bread, 11:6 because a friend of mine has stopped here while on a journey, and I have nothing to set before him.’ 11:7 Then he will reply from inside, ‘Do not bother me. The door is already shut, and my children and I are in bed. I cannot get up and give you anything.’ 11:8 I tell you, even though the man inside will not get up and give him anything because he is his friend, yet because of the first man’s sheer persistence he will get up and give him whatever he needs.

11:9 “So I tell you: Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you. 11:10 For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened. 11:11 What father among you, if your son asks for a fish, will give him a snake instead of a fish? 11:12 Or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? 11:13 If you then, although you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!”

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  • Brian s

    I agree wholeheartedly with this analysis, but I would add one thing. I do think it teaches that we ought to be a little more ‘shameless’ in our praying. We often approach God in such a way that it seems we are embarrassed to ask for something that seem trivial or unwarranted.

  • I need to reimagine God as a good father. But I always thought this set of verses was about prayer. Am I off base? It’s more about the character of God?

  • KentonS

    I was just listening to a sermon on this very text about an hour ago. In the sermon it said that we got this one all wrong. It’s not about prayer, it’s about us and how we deal with the poor and the hungry and the sojourner. I think he got it right. In the world of the ancient (and modern) Jews, it was important to treat strangers with dignity, because God would often visit disguised as the stranger. So God isn’t the one in bed getting annoyed at us knocking at the door, God is the one knocking at the door. Are we annoyed? Sermon from 6/2.

  • Marshall

    I thought you were going to say that God is the one arriving from a journey, so this is like the parable of the wise and foolish virgins … the “shamelessness” is the man’s failure to have something to give the traveller; he should have gone hungry himself to keep something by. What are his alternatives? He could tell the traveller, sorry, you must go hungry. Or, he can humiliate himself by waking up his neighbor. Then the sleeper gets up, not to show favoritism to a friend but to remove it from the world: the traveller is provided for as he should be.

    In this interpretation, the sleeper is like God. We mess up and get caught short, but when we go to him in repentance, he will act to erase our shame.

  • KentonS

    Or I might not have been paying close enough attention as it was early, and maybe God was the first traveler.

    I guess ultimately I have a problem with having to “nag” a stingy God. It’s not the picture Jesus paints for us.