The Friend at Midnight (Luke 11.5-8)

➡ Average Reading Time: 3 minutes

Avoidance of Shame

There are three distinct teachings on prayer in Luke 11.1-13. First, Jesus teaches his disciples a model prayer (Luke 11.1-4). Second, he shares a parable often called the “Friend at Midnight” (Luke 11.5-8). Third, he tells yet another parable concerning prayer which is often placed as a part of the first parable but seems best to be seen as a different parable because it carries a different meaning.
 

This interpretation of the first of these parables turns on the translation of the word anaideia. When it is properly understood, the parable makes sense and has a different meaning from that usually seen in popular interpretations.

The parable opens with a question expecting an emphatic negative answer. The question can be paraphrased: Can you imagine having a guest and going to a neighbor to borrow bread, and the neighbor offering several ridiculous excuses about a locked door and sleeping children? The listener from the ancient Middle East would respond, “No, I cannot imagine such a thing!”

Contemporary exegetical literature is full of references to the need to travel by night because of the heat. This is true in certain desert areas, but it was not customary in Palestine. The arrival of a friend at midnight is unusual.

When a friend did arrive unexpectedly, he was not simply a guest of the individual to whose house he had come. He was a guest of the whole community.

When a friend did arrive unexpectedly, he was not simply a guest of the individual to whose house he had come. He was a guest of the whole community. In going to his neighbor, the host is asking the sleeper to fulfill his duty to the guest of the village. With this background in mind, verse 7 should become clearer. In verses 5 through 7 we have the question which expects the negative answer. Remember, Jesus is saying, “Can you imagine having a friend and going to him with the request to help you entertain a guest, and then he offers silly excuses about sleeping and a barred door?” “No!,” would be the reply.

The word anaideia usually means shamelessness (a negative quality), but it is translated in most Bibles today by persistence. The negative meaning of the Greek word certainly raises a problem in the interpretation. Is it shameless for the believer to take his request to God in prayer? Surely not! To make sense of the parable, the Church apparently felt it necessary to turn this negative word into a positive word, and by the twelfth century, the shift had occurred.

What then is the solution? Another translation of the word is possible. It could be translated as “avoidance of shame”. Most people read this parable and think that the sleeper finally gave in to the persistence of the host who was making the request. This is an unfortunate reading of the text. The qualities of verse 8 are the qualities of the sleeper, not the host. If the sleeper refused the request of anything so humble as a loaf of bread, the host would continue his rounds, cursing the stinginess of the sleeper who would not get up even to fulfill his duty. The story would be all over the village by morning. The sleeper would be met with cries of shame everywhere he went. Keep in mind if he had not given the bread, he would have brought shame on the entire community as well as himself. Therefore, because of his desire for the avoidance of shame, he would rise and grant whatever the borrower asked.

What does this teach us, if it does not teach us persistence in prayer? I believe it can teach us two things. First, it teaches us something about the character of God. He will answer prayer because of his integrity. Everything was against the host getting his request answered. It was night. His neighbor was in bed. His children were asleep. This made the request awkward but not impossible. Therefore, because of the neighbor’s integrity—his avoidance of shame—he graciously replied. Our cultural presuppositions in the last half of the twentieth century tend to make us uneasy about seeing the preservation of honor as a virtue that is appropriate to God. Given the importance of this concept in the Eastern value system, it would be surprising if Jesus did not use such a quality as a prime virtue for the Father.

Second, this parable teaches us that we can be assured of an answer. If you are confident that you will have your needs met when you go to a neighbor’s house.

Copy Protected by Chetan's WP-Copyprotect.

Read Me First

 

Throughout these sessions, I have used the word ecclesia (singular) for the usual word church and ecclesiae (plural) to indicate a church in a particular geographic place, i.e., the ecclesiae at Corinth, meaning the whole of the many smaller ecclesia that met in homes in Corinth. This is to distinguish between the Institutional Church model (IC) and ecclesia that meet in cities and towns around the world. The ecclesiae written about by the authors of the Second Testament were not the same as what the “church” has become over the years of its existence. Usually, but not always, folks think of a church as a place where they go to a building and set in rows of pews and listen to music and sometimes sing and listen to sermons by a pastor or senior pastor. The ecclesiae of the Second Testament time did not invoke this model.

 

I have discovered over the years that if you want to try and change minds about something special, you have to venture out and reword it in order to grasp a foothold for a new refreshed understanding of the idea presented by the word. Such is the case between "church" and "ecclesia."

 

Happy Reading!

Read Me Second

 

Referenced verses in the text of this study are not used to prove some point of view. They are merely markers where the subject matter is referenced by other books and authors. To gain a larger view of each quote, a serious student of the Holy Writ would take the time to view the reference and see what the background is. The background provides tracks on which the meaning of a text rides. So knowing the context of a referenced passage would help the reader to gain a more thorough understanding of an author than just the words quoted and marked by a verse number that was not a part of the original author's text, which as you might remember was performed on the text in a random fashion many years later.

 

Happy Reading!

Read Me Third

 

The verses that are referenced in these sessions are not meant to prove a point. They are simply pointers to where the idea being written about may have a correlation. In order to see if they accomplish the thesis presented by the original author, a student should read, at a minimum, the chapter in which the verse is found as well as trying to ascertain what the original author may have meant to say to the original audience.

 

Of course, this is a lot of work but it is beneficial work. If one does not understand what the author meant when it was written and the audience could not have understood by what was written, then the words on the page can mean anything that a present reader may assign as a meaning, thus distorting what God was inspiring for the original writer to write to the original audience to hear.

A great and recent book by N.T. Wright and Michael F. Bird entitled The New Testament in Its World would be a wonderful addition to your reading helps.

 

Happy Reading!

Jesus Followers

 

There are many synonyms to use for the word believer, which is the most common word for a person who has "converted" to follow Jesus. I have chosen "Jesus follower(s) or follower(s) of Jesus instead of the word believer in these presentations to allow the reader an opportunity to move away from the idea of believer which conjures up the possible thought of "ascent" to a set of doctrines that have been assembled by different groups over the centuries and show up in this day and age as a set of statements posted on web sites and other written material. These sets of beliefs are suggested by many as the ones that one should ascent to so that upon death the one who assents can go to heaven, i.e., just believe and you are good to go. Jesus followers/followers of Jesus suggest an action that one should take. Remember, Jesus told his disciples to follow him. Yes, belief is important, but one must move beyond belief to action.

 

(See "Discipleship" Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels. 182-188.)

Jesus Followers

 

There are many synonyms to use for the word believer, which is the most common word for a person who has "converted" to follow Jesus. I have chosen "Jesus follower(s) or follower(s) of Jesus instead of the word believer in these presentations to allow the reader an opportunity to move away from the idea of believer which conjures up the possible thought of "ascent" to a set of doctrines that have been assembled by different groups over the centuries and show up in this day and age as a set of statements posted on web sites and other written material. These sets of beliefs are suggested by many as the ones that one should ascent to so that upon death the one who assents can go to heaven, i.e., just believe and you are good to go. Jesus followers/followers of Jesus suggest an action that one should take. Remember, Jesus told his disciples to follow him. Yes, belief is important, but one must move beyond belief to action.

 

(See "Discipleship" Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels. 182-188.)