Luke 11:5-8 “Which of you who has a friend will go to him at midnight and say to him, ‘Friend, lend me three loaves; for a friend of mine has arrived on a journey, and I have nothing to set before him’; 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?’ I tell you, though he will not get up and give him anything because he is his friend, yet because of his importunity he will rise and give him whatever he needs.
Luke 18:2-8 “In a certain city there was a judge who neither feared God nor regarded man; and there was a widow in that city who kept coming to him and saying, ‘Vindicate me against my adversary.’ For a while he refused; but afterward he said to himself, ‘Though I neither fear God nor regard man, yet because this widow bothers me, I will vindicate her, or she will wear me out by her continual coming.'” And the Lord said, “Hear what the unrighteous judge says. And will not God vindicate his elect, who cry to him day and night? Will he delay long over them? I tell you, he will vindicate them speedily. Nevertheless, when the Son of man comes, will he find faith on earth?”
I have been going back and forth on these two parables, whether to treat them as one or individually. I finally came to the decision that even though they are told far apart in Luke they are too similar to be treated on their own. The settings are different, but the stories are the same, both are about prayer, and both are also about persistence.
Right before the first parable Jesus just taught his disciples how to pray (the Our Father), then he continues on telling them to be persistent in their prayers. We are no different today, how many of us pray for something once or twice then, not getting the answer we desire, give up and say, “well, He must not be listening” or “it must not be His will”? Jesus uses two common activities to point out how persistence pays off.
The first parable is about hospitality. We don’t understand the importance of hospitality today, especially in America. If someone were to come knocking at our door at 2am asking for a loaf of bread to give to someone else’s guest we would probably launch into a tirade filled with expletives. In Middle Eastern culture, to this day, nothing is more important than showing hospitality, even to strangers. To have someone show up on your doorstep and have nothing to give him to eat or drink is an insult graver than little else. Jesus’ listeners knew this, and knew that the sin was twofold: on the man for not having anything to share with a guest, and on the neighbor for not being willing to share openly with a neighbor in need. The implication to the people was that if they came knocking at the door of God and He did not respond then He was as guilty of sin as was the neighbor – unheard of! But, the responsibility to pester God about something we truly need is ours, and if we fail to do that then we have no ground to blame God for not responding to our prayers.
But, there is another point here, and that is of the man who is asking for the bread. He is not asking his neighbor for the winning numbers to the lottery, for his car to start on the next turn of the key, or to be able to afford the latest iPhone. He is asking for something vitally important, something that to not have would bring dishonor to him, and would force another to go hungry. This is a real need, not a trivial request. It is important that what we ask of in prayer is something that is truly worthy of a request to the creator of the universe. And that is the point of the Our Father that he just taught to his followers, asking God to provide for us our “daily bread” – our real and true needs.
The second parable is teaching us the same lesson. Here is a widow who wants something so bad that she will not give up. She keeps pestering the judge, who’s responsibility is to hear her case, until he finally decides to give her what she wants just to get rid of her. He doesn’t just hear her case, he rules in her favor so that she doesn’t come back again (no double jeopardy back then). Again, Jesus is telling us to have faith and be persistent in our petitions to God. I like how he ends this parable, though not usually included in the reading of the parable in church, it is his last comment before moving onto a different topic:
Luke 18:8 “Nevertheless, when the Son of man comes, will he find faith on earth?“
Will He find a faithful, persistent people, or a people who have given up at the first obstacle? Well?