Parables | Parable of the Persistent Neighbor | Luke 11:1-13
Topic: Gospel Passage: Luke 11:1–11:13
Call To Worship
Psalm 145: 1-16
I will exalt you, my God the King; I will praise your name for ever and ever. Every day I will praise you and extol your name for ever and ever.
Great is the Lord and most worthy of praise; his greatness no one can fathom. One generation commends your works to another; they tell of your mighty acts. They speak of the glorious splendor of your majesty — and I will meditate on your wonderful works. They tell of the power of your awesome works — and I will proclaim your great deeds. They celebrate your abundant goodness and joyfully sing of your righteousness.
The Lord is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and rich in love.
The Lord is good to all; he has compassion on all he has made. All your works praise you, Lord; your faithful people extol you. They tell of the glory of your kingdom and speak of your might, so that all people may know of your mighty acts and the glorious splendor of your kingdom. Your kingdom is an everlasting kingdom, and your dominion endures through all generations.
The Lord is trustworthy in all he promises and faithful in all he does. The Lord upholds all who fall and lifts up all who are bowed down. The eyes of all look to you, and you give them their food at the proper time. You open your hand and satisfy the desires of every living thing.
Thank you for gathering with us this day, whether it be inside this building or online. In whichever way we come together, we come to be built up by those truths which God knows we need to hear. I am so grateful that it is God who has brought you here, that we are in His plan at this moment as we are at every moment of every day when we trust Jesus. That out there are people who will take away from what I say the truth God purposes for them to hear.
Today, we continue in the short series on the Parables of Jesus and we will be in Luke 11 and what is commonly known as the Parable of the Persistent Neighbor. The questions of “What is a parable?” and “Why did Jesus use parables to teach” have been discussed before. Briefly though, Jesus told simple, earthly stories, stories rooted in earthly events that anyone could understand, on that level. But he told them to illustrate truths about God’s coming kingdom, a kingdom that in most part God’s chosen people had rejected. To those who had not rejected the Father and His Son, the meaning of the story was discernable as told, or later through his patient explaining. For the rest, the meaning was lost or its truth perverted. Their eyes could not see. Their ears could not hear. Their hardened hearts could not yield.
Let’s go to the Gospel of Luke, chapter 11 verses 1-13
1 Now Jesus was praying in a certain place, and when he finished, one of his disciples said to him, “Lord, teach us to pray, as John taught his disciples.” 2 And he said to them, “When you pray, say:
“Father, hallowed be your name.
Your kingdom come.
3 Give us each day our daily bread,
4 and forgive us our sins,
for we ourselves forgive everyone who is indebted to us.
And lead us not into temptation.”
5 And he said to them, “Which of you who has a friend will go to him at midnight and say to him, ‘Friend, lend me three loaves, 6 for a friend of mine has arrived on a journey, and I have nothing to set before him’; 7 and he will answer from within, ‘Do not bother me; the door is now shut, and my children are with me in bed. I cannot get up and give you anything’? 8 I tell you, though he will not get up and give him anything because he is his friend, yet because of his impudence he will rise and give him whatever he needs. 9 And I tell you, ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. 10 For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened. 11 What father among you, if his son asks for a fish, will instead of a fish give him a serpent; 12 or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? 13 If you then, who 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!”
This passage found only in Luke is accepted as one of Jesus teaching on the importance of prayer and the need to be persistent in prayer. Many view it as a companion parable to one later in Luke 18 regarding the persistent widow and the unjust judge. In fact, many commentaries and books on parables focus exclusively upon that one and skip over Luke 11 entirely.
Did you know that Luke is correctly credited with writing nearly 30% of the new testament? More than any other author, including Paul. Luke was likely a well-educated man. Paul refers to his co-laborer as the “beloved physician” in Colossians 4:14. Luke’s stated goal in writing his Gospel was “having followed all things closely for some time past, to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, that you may have certainty concerning the things you have been taught.”
Many credit Luke with providing us with the most compelling account of the “humanity” of Jesus, whereas Matthew’s account is said to reveal his sovereign prophecy fulfilling kingship, Mark’s the suffering servant, and in John’s his divinity. As if somehow we could know the totality by dissection, by studying Jesus under multiple lenses focused separately on his kingship, his suffering, his humanity, and his divine nature. Jesus was at once ALWAYS fully God and fully man and at times we are given insights into each of these natures but never to bring disunity or promote a modalistic view of the Triunified God
It is true, though, that Luke’s Gospel brings into sharp focus Jesus’ prayer life. At least twenty times, Luke records our Lord in prayer, teaching on prayer, or exhorting others to pray – more than the other gospel accounts combined. And several of the parables related in the gospel deal with prayer, including our passage today.
11 Now Jesus was praying in a certain place, and when he finished, one of his disciples said to him, “Lord, teach us to pray, as John taught his disciples.”
Nowhere in the Bible is there a direct reference to the prayers or form of prayer which John taught his disciples. However we might extrapolate an answer from what we read in the gospels of Luke, Matthew, and Mark
First, Luke 5:33 where we find the Pharisees criticizing Jesus and his disciples.
“The disciples of John fast often and offer prayers, and so do the disciples of the Pharisees, but yours eat and drink.”
Next lets look at Mark 2:18
“Now John's disciples and the Pharisees were fasting. And people came and said to him, “Why do John's disciples and the disciples of the Pharisees fast, but your disciples do not fast?”
Finally, from Matthew 9:14
“Then the disciples of John came to him, saying, “Why do we and the Pharisees fast, but your disciples do not fast?”
It seems that the Pharisees and John’s disciples hung out together, and possibly shared similar views and practices around prayer and fasting. So interesting. Yet we know that Jesus had strong views regarding prayer and fasting, views that he shared openly, if only one had ears to hear. Turn to Matthew 6 verses 1-7 and also verses 16-18
6 “Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them, for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven.
2 “Thus, when you give to the needy, sound no trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may be praised by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. 3 But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, 4 so that your giving may be in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you. 5 “And when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites. For they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. 6 But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you. 7 “And when you pray, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do, for they think that they will be heard for their many words. 8 Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.
16 “And when you fast, do not look gloomy like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces that their fasting may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. 17 But when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, 18 that your fasting may not be seen by others but by your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.
This was Jesus turning the religiosity of the Pharisees upside down. They strut, they preen like peacocks in front of all seeking their own honor, seeking the worship of others for themselves. They are living their best lives now for they have no reward stored up in heaven.
Back to Luke 11
“Lord, teach us to pray . . .”
And he did, as he had done many months prior during his Sermon on the Mount. But on this day, the prayer was much more spare, unadorned of even the few flourishes we find in the earlier version of the Disciples Prayer. In form, very nearly an outline, it has the urgency of one who knows his time draws nigh. Before it was “Pray then like this”. Now the message is “Say:
Father, hallowed be your name.
Your Kingdom come.
Give us each day our daily bread,
and forgive us our sins,
for we ourselves forgive everyone who is indebted to us.
And lead us not into temptation.”
Acknowledge that God is Holy. The One who is high and lifted up, who inhabits eternity, whose very name is Holy.
Acknowledge the Kingship of God. Eagerly anticipate, no, yearn for the time when He will establish his Kingdom. Seek ye first the kingdom of God
Daily, acknowledge your absolute reliance on His good provision. Ask Abba Father for what he already knows you need but ever be mindful that you must persevere, asking daily knowing that daily you sin and daily must repent and daily seek his merciful forgiveness. And because he is infinitely merciful in forgiving your sins, you must forgive others those small injustices done to you.
Acknowledge you are weak and unable to conquer sin on your own. Live each day in confident reliance of his mercy.
Jesus continues, pursuing their hearts that they might understand. Yes these are the words, the what of it. Hear now the why and how. And as is his way, he begins with a question, which was his preferred way to begin teaching or answer a question. I read that in the New Testament, Jesus asks a question over 300 times. Over 180 times when asked a question, he responded with a question which often turned the conversation onto a seemingly different track but actually got right to the heart of the unbelief of the asker and provided an opportunity for growth in the truth. The Pharisees ask if its lawful to divorce a wife for any reason? Dudes, you guys read the Scriptures? The winds howl and the waves crash against the boat. Those in the boat ask “Don’t you care that we are about to die?” Of what are you afraid? Uh, maybe the wind and waves
5 And he said to them, “Which of you who has a friend will go to him at midnight and say to him, ‘Friend, lend me three loaves, 6 for a friend of mine has arrived on a journey, and I have nothing to set before him’; 7 and he will answer from within, ‘Do not bother me; the door is now shut, and my children are with me in bed. I cannot get up and give you anything’?
In our parable this question is rooted in the daily subsistance reality of early first century peasants. Life was a zero-sum game. The land was limited and fully allocated. In the best of times, it could only produce so much grain or grapes or figs. The perception of limited good was their reality. There was no way to make the pie bigger. More land, more crops, more wealth, more honor would come only if another, likely a relative but at least a friend, had less of the pie, had less land, fewer crops, greater poverty and suffered shame. Instead they shared mutually in the meagerness of life. When one suffered harm it reflected on the village, when one went for lack of anything, they all shared the shame. Extending hospitality took on central importance. Withholding hospitality was the ultimate source of shame.
Let’s break this down for a moment, to provide context.
“Which of you who has a friend will go to him at midnight . . . and he will answer from within, ‘Do not bother me;”.
This question is akin to “Is it even possible?” or “Can you imagine?”. It was asked and answered. We would call it a rhetorical question. For those peasants there was only one possible answer “No, we cannot conceive of a neighbor who would not grant such an urgent request!” And why is that? Shame.
Which brings us to Jesus’ point which he drives home in a “from the lesser to the greater” approach.
8 I tell you, though he will not get up and give him anything because he is his friend, yet because of his impudence he will rise and give him whatever he needs.
Impudence. In the Greek, Anaideia. It appears only once in the New Testament in Luke 11:8. Most often, the word has been translated “persistence” so that the passage reads “because of his persistence”. Hence the common interpretation of the passage – be persistent in your prayers, which is often and quite easily linked to the later statement “ask and you shall receive”. So the neighbor who must provide hospitable and tasty meal to his late arriving friend but has nothing in the pantry runs across the street in his nightgown and wraps on the door until his neighbor rolls out of bed and gives him what he wants. Mission accomplished- shame avoided. But there are a couple of problems here.
First, Luke’s first readers of his gospel, educated maybe even well-heeled nobility – recall who Luke addressed his account to – most excellent Theophilus – likely would make a connection. Anaideia was the Greek goddess of ruthlessness, shamelessness and unforgiveness. Her BFF was Hybris, goddess of insolence, violence, and outrageous behavior. Now Annie may have been persistently ruthless, shameless and unforgiving, but I’m pretty sure that would not have been the take-away for Luke’s intended audience.
Second, though most Bible translations place a somewhat positive slant on the word, rendering it as persistence, boldness, importunity (persistence on steroids), shameless (boldness turned up to 10), in fact, it seems that Christian expositors stood on an island in their handling of the word. The Thesaurus Linguae Graecae Founded in 1972 (TLG ) has collected and digitized most literary texts written in Greek from Homer to the fall of Byzantium in AD 1453. Its goal is to create a comprehensive digital library of Greek literature from antiquity to the present era. Uniformly over 258 separate occurrences in the TLG database, anaideia is associated with a negative concept. In reality, the most accurate synonym is not persistence, but disgrace. So, the first neighbor receives a guest, goes to the cupboard and finds it bare. In disgrace, he slinks across the street, knocks timidly until his neighbor throws open the door, berates him for being a horrible host, and in disgust, tosses three loaves of bread at him, leaving him to return in complete humiliation to his home and guest. Except this doesn’t work at all.
Thanks to the TLG we now have the proper understanding of the word as an expression of a negative attitude. We just have the em-PHA-sis on the wrong sy-LA-ble. Read the account again;
5 And he said to them, “Which of you who has a friend will go to him at midnight and say to him, ‘Friend, lend me three loaves, 6 for a friend of mine has arrived on a journey, and I have nothing to set before him’; 7 and he will answer from within, ‘Do not bother me; the door is now shut, and my children are with me in bed. I cannot get up and give you anything’? 8 I tell you, though he will not get up and give him anything because he is his friend, yet because of his shamelessness he will rise and give him whatever he needs.
The neighbor who at the inconvenient time of midnight is in his one-room subsistence home with his family along with the goats, cows, & chickens will not get up because of friendship (and they most certainly are friends). So why does Jesus say he gets up? Because the guy at his front door keeps shamelessly, persistently knocking? Wrong sy-LA-ble! No. Jesus’ earthly story doesn’t depict someone persistently knock-knock-knocking at the door. Look. It doesn’t even say he knocks at all! We assume that because first century peasant houses seldom had doorbells and we would ring the doorbell. He may have been calling quietly through the small gap in the wall, a Pinterest worthy feature which you would want if your home housed goats and cows and chickens. Trust me. Hearing a friend’s voice, the man inside would know it was a friend calling and not some unseen, unknown threatening at his door.
The grumpy, sleepy neighbor gets up because he knows he has the wherewithal to answer the petitioner’s urgent request for hospitality, and to avoid the shame upon himself and the shame it would bring to the entire village, he arises and gives his neighbor-friend all that he needs.
And this is what perfectly sets up the lesser-to-greater comparison Jesus wants the listeners to grasp. This sleepy, selfish neighbor is not an allegorical representation of God. He is the very real representation of the reality of the zero-sum life which those who heard the parable lived. They would expect him to respond just as he did in the parable, not out of love or concern for others but for the very reason Jesus provides, his desire to preserve his dignity and shamelessness, to avoid disgrace.
We will come back to verses 9 and 10 in a moment. First, lets look at 11-13
11 What father among you, if his son asks for a fish, will instead of a fish give him a serpent; 12 or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? 13 If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give . . .
With these words, the parable’s lesson of lesser-to-greater is complete. If the shamelessness of the neighbor will motivate good works, if loving parents nonetheless steeped in sin can give good gifts, how much more God, who is holy and will establish His holy kingdom, how much more will He sustain us in our need, shower mercy upon his children when they repent, and make their feet stand firm on a broad and smooth path by the power of His Spirit?
So what to make of it? Does the parable address prayer? Certainly. It opens with Jesus in prayer. Jesus voices the form of if not the exact words of a prayer to the disciples, one which will reach to God in Heaven. Does it teach persistence in prayer? Yes, but not in the way I first understood it. Jesus certainly tells us to be in prayer daily, for our daily needs, which for you and me can change from day to day. He gives us the assurance that God listens for our prayers in verses 9 and 10.
Ask, which is properly understood as Keep asking, and it will be given to you. James tells us that we do not have because we do not ask. Why should we have to ask if in fact God is sovereign, omniscient, and omnipotent? Has he fallen asleep on us? Did he wind the perpetual clock and set it on the mantle to run on its own, does his plan have gaps, can he not get ‘er done?
We are to ask, to pray, first because God commands it. Even the Son was instructed to ask for that which God purposed from eternity past, to put everything under the Son’s authority.
The Lord said to me, “You are my Son;
today I have begotten you.
8 Ask of me, and I will make the nations your heritage,
That means something if you are a child of God, brought into his family because you believe you are a sinner, that Christ came as a man, lived the perfect life you can’t live, died the death you deserve, and rose again victorious over sin and death as your savior. Only then will you have communion with God because
the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous, and his ears are open to their prayer. But the face of the Lord is against those who do evil.
Prayer is the tool God uses to change us, change our hearts. Again James tells us that we ask but do not receive because we ask wrongly. Lord, won’t you buy me a Mercedes Benz? Our heart is centered on us, not God because our life is centered on us. Our prayers are centered on us. We are the heroes of our prayers. I heard it asked “If God heard and answered all your prayers, would anyone’s life be changed but yours?”
Seek, which is properly understood as Keep seeking. At the conclusion of Matthew 6, Jesus teaches
”31 Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ 32 For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. 33 But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.”
Knock, yes keep knocking. Actively press into God and His will for your life. Relent, repent, confess, accept his mercy toward you in the person of Jesus Christ through the power of His Spirit. They wait for us to come with contrite hearts, when they joyfully open the door and admit us into His presence.
The LORD your God is in your midst,
a mighty one who will save;
he will rejoice over you with gladness;
he will quiet you by his love;
he will exult over you with loud singing.
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