How many of us give readily to a panhandler on the street? If we give anything at all, it is usually reluctant and meager.
Now let me ask, how many of us give readily and generously to someone we love?
Our relationship with the other person makes a difference to how we respond.
In the previous post, Jesus responds to the request, “Lord, teach us to pray …” (“A request that will take courage”). He provides the disciples with a few words to speak that are rich in their significance to all aspects of life.
Without pause, the Lord’s teaching flows into two parables, or at least ‘storied’ content (Luke 11:5-13). Each of these conclude with an unadorned truth-statement about our relationship with the Father.
The first of these parables is about a friend’s response to a friend’s request; the second about a father’s response to a son’s request. In the context of prayer, both illustrations portray our relationship with the One to whom we pray.
To enrich our prayer lives, let’s unpack each of these parables.
Friend to friend
This parable (11:5-10) is often misunderstood. Take a moment to read these verses.
The lesson we usually take from this parable is to persist in our requests; do not give up until you get what you want. This understanding appears to be confirmed by 11:9-10 – “ask … seek … knock,” but there are at least three grave difficulties with this approach.
One such difficulty is theological. The friend in the house gave an answer. In essence, the answer was “no” (11:7). If God says “no” to our request, are we supposed to pester God so implacably that he finally capitulates and gives us what we want? This portrays God as reluctant and turns prayer into a ridiculous contest of wills.
A second difficulty is linguistic. Unfortunately, some good translations of the Bible appear to confirm this distorted idea of prayer by translating the Greek word anaideia in 11:8 as “persistence” (e.g., NKJ, NASB, NET).
The word anaideia only appears once in the Bible, so we do not have other biblical texts to inform us of its meaning. However, this word was used in Early Christian and other literature. The respected Bauer Greek-English dictionary (BDAG, 3rd edition) states this word means “lack of sensitivity to what is proper, carelessness about the good opinion of others, shamelessness, …”
This Greek word does not carry the sense of persistence, rather it means shamelessness. Thus, the ESV translates anaideia as “impudence” which is a sort of cheekiness, perhaps even rudeness; the NIV’s “boldness” is somewhat borderline. Both these translations are focusing on the petitioner. The NEB is closest when it uses “shameless.”
A third difficulty is perceptual. By this, I mean that we usually follow a well-worn path, even if it goes the wrong way.
We should ask, "To whom does 'shameless' refer?" Is it the person asking outside (the petitioner), or the person in the house?
Let’s take another look at this parable (11:5-10).
First, Jesus’ parable paints a hypothetical situation that would never have happened in his culture. Kenneth Bailey is a scholar highly knowledgeable of Middle-Eastern culture, both ancient and modern. In Poet and Peasant (p. 119), Bailey points to the way in which the parable is introduced (“suppose one of you has a friend”), then poses a hypothetical question. He writes:
The question can be paraphrased, “Can you imagine having a guest and going to a neighbor to borrow bread and the neighbor offers ridiculous excuses about a locked door and sleeping children?” The Middle Eastern listener responds, “No, I cannot imagine such a thing!”
Second, Bailey then proposes that the subject throughout verse 7 is the same person – that is, the sleeper inside the house. Instead of following the well-worn path, read verse 8 as if it also refers to the man in the house. We don’t want to “trip” over anameia, so I’ll translate it as “shameless.” I paraphrase verse 8 as:
I tell you, even though the sleeper inside will not get up and give to the petitioner outside because the sleeper inside is his friend, yet because the sleeper inside wants to be shameless [that is, he wants to avoid shame] the sleeper inside will rise and give the petitioner outside what he needs.
This reading of verse 8 is the better way of understanding the parable, theologically, linguistically, and perceptually.
Jesus is teaching that the One to whom we pray is God, our Father, portrayed by the “friend inside the house.” Despite the nature and timing of our request, the Father will answer because of his honor. As such, we are assured that our prayers are heard and will be answered – so, ask, seek, knock.
Father and son
Luke 11:5-10 assures me that my prayer will be heard and answered, but it leaves me with the question “How will the prayer be answered?”
Luke 11:11-13 answers that question.
A father’s heart does not allow him to give "gifts" to his children that are deceitful or harmful. Jesus states that “you … know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!” (11:13).
In a parallel passage, Matthew writes “how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!” (Matthew 7:11). Luke substitutes “the Holy Spirit” for Matthew’s “good gifts” – what can we take away from this difference?
Luke writes much about the Holy Spirit in his two volumes (Luke-Acts). Luke later writes of the fulfillment of this parable's promise in Acts 1:8; 2:1-4; and elsewhere.
The giving of the Holy Spirit is God himself being given to His followers – this is the intimate, indwelling presence of God the Spirit. Is there any relationship that could be fuller, closer, or richer? Is there anything that could be better than this?
These two parables are about the relationship of the Father with followers of Jesus. As His sons and daughters, we are assured, in no uncertain terms, that God, our Father, hears our prayers and answers with the most extravagant good.
Will this not change how you pray?
Contact me, and let me know what you're thinking?
Photo credit: Chris Yarzab on Visualhunt.com / CC BY
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