How Much More: Resistant Neighbor or Inscrutable God?

How Much More: Resistant Neighbor or Inscrutable God?

How Much More: Resistant Neighbor or Inscrutable God?

“And Jesus told them a story… ‘Suppose one of you has a friend; and you go to him in the middle of the night and call out to him, ‘Friend, lend me three loaves of bread, because a friend of mine who has been traveling has just arrived at my house, and I have nothing for him to eat.’ The man inside the house may answer, ‘Don’t bother me! The door is latched, my children are asleep in bed, and I can’t get up to give you anything!’ Jesus continues the story by saying, ‘I tell you, even if this man won’t get out of bed because the other man is his friend, yet because of this man’s shameless persistence he will get up and give him as much as he needs.’ And so it is with prayer.” (Luke 11:5-8).

It is fascinating that the teacher Jesus we find in the gospels nonetheless remained in the historic flow of Jewish tradition. He taught and preached and demonstrated and told His stories in ways that were accepted in rabbinic circles. Jesus taught like a Jew, He argued like a Jew, He reasoned like a Jew.

One classic method of rabbinic teaching was called the “Kal v’Chomer (pronounced as it looks, except the c is silent).” This was a commonly used strategy of reasoning and persuasion used throughout the Hebrew Bible and Jewish tradition. Breaking down that Hebrew phrase, “kal” means “Of course, obviously Yes.” And “v’chomer” means “all the more so.” The Hebrew understating of this teaching strategy can be described in many ways: light to heavy; lesser to greater; simple to complex; minor to major; lenient to strict. The kal v’chomer is a strictly logical process used everywhere in Jewish culture, from the courtrooms to the corner conversations to the synagogues. It is used by a speaker when he or she wants the listener to logically arrive at an inescapable conclusion. If is obviously true, then it stands to reason that B is true as well. This process is often spoken of as the “How much more” argument. If A is commonly accepted, then how much more is it likely that B should be accepted as well?

Like all effective rabbis, Jesus used this traditional strategy of argument when He read the room and believed that His audience was up to a logical argument. He would say, ‘If something is true in a minor matter, then how much more true will this major matter be?’ Jesus made successful use of Kal v’Chomer in His public ministry. ‘If this is obviously good, then that must be good as well.’ This is a commonsense type of reasoning that Jesus used many times in His speaking. There are at least eight different times He used this ‘lesser to greater’ approach to persuasion. In fact, because St. Paul loved to use this type of argument, and was probably taught it by the Master Rabbi Gamaliel, the New Testament has well over twenty different passages that include Kal v’Chomer reasoning.

The Parable of the Friend at Midnight. (Luke 11:5-8). The disciples have just finished asking Jesus about prayer, so that is the hot topic during this conversation. The Lord responded with a version of the Lord’s Prayer, and then He told this parable. After offering this homespun story, Jesus continued with more teaching about prayer.

THE IMPLIED  Kal v’Chomer. If the host in the story received everything he needed from a grouchy, resistant neighbor in the middle of the night who didn’t really like him, how much more will the loving Father provide what you need?

THE HOST. He was not put out by his midnight traveling friend. It was commonplace to travel at night because of the daytime heat. Friends who were traveling would often arrive in the middle of the night. It wasn’t unreasonable. Unfortunately, the host was caught without food in the house. Since hospitality was a central virtue in that culture, the host was morally obligated to provide a meal for his guest, regardless of the time or situation. Hospitality was seen as a communal virtue, not just an individual one. It was a matter of the honor of the community to care for guests, a group responsibility. So people in a village would always be borrowing and sharing to offer hospitality to a guest. It would be unthinkable, shameful, not to do so. So it was expected and not all that unreasonable for the host to go to a neighbor to borrow some food in the interest of hospitality. For the neighbor to refuse would bring shame upon him in the community. Notice the host called out to the neighbor, he didn’t knock on the door. In the village, neighbors called out, while strangers knocked on the door. The host called out so it wouldn’t frighten the neighbor. It is insulting to offer a guest a partial loaf of bread, if that’s all he had. It was rabbinic custom to have 3 full loafs of bread with a guest: 1 loaf for the host, 1 loaf for the guest, and 1 loaf for “the angel of the table.”

THE SLEEPER. He appeared irritated at the host’s request, which would have puzzled the audience listening to the story. This initial refusal would have been unthinkable. What was he thinking, the audience would ask. Chances are good that the neighbor didn’t like the host. Otherwise, he would have been more agreeable, more generous, more magnanimous at the request. The sleeper offered meager excuses. They would have been seen as silly, almost comical, by the audience. The door bolt isn’t exactly heavy lifting, and the kids can just go back to sleep. The sleeper simply didn’t want to be bothered, and his excuses would have been seen as humorous, in light of the understood importance of neighborly hospitality. Eventually, to his credit, the resistant neighbor changed his mind and offered to provide whatever the host needed for the guest. It appears the host asked once, and persistently waited for the neighbor to do his duty, to keep from being shamed in the community. It’s clear the sleeper didn’t fulfill the request out of friendship, but because the host wasn’t about to take ‘no’ for an answer. The sleeper also didn’t want to face the community the next day when word got around. The sleeper’s honor was at stake, and he finally came through.

THE HOST. He was finally rewarded for his persistence, for his boldness in the night, and for insistently waiting for the neighbor to meet his community obligation.

JESUS. He followed up this parable on prayer with a teaching. He said to ask, seek, and knock in prayer if you want some divine attention. The Greek words are in present tense, so what Jesus said was, “Keep on asking, keep on seeking, keep on knocking.” Be persistent, don’t give up. Don’t be afraid of being bothersome, or irritating, or unreasonable with the Lord. God is patiently unflappable and understanding. However, God is also inscrutable. His ways are not our ways, and He knows what we don’t know. But even if He seems to be playing hard to get, keep your eyes on the prize. Keep on asking. Keeping on seeking. Keep on knocking.

FINAL THOUGHT. This parable provides a wonderful picture of intercession. The host wasn’t asking for something for himself. He went out to find bread for a friend. He wanted the needs of the midnight friend to be met. And the neighbor gave him whatever was needed. When you pray for a friend, you are the host going to neighbor-God with a request for what the friend needs, and God will supply it. What a privilege. This is an aspect of burden-bearing that can be invigorating, confusing and mysterious. There are times when neighbor-God appears to be resistant or unresponsive, a grouchy neighbor in the middle of the night being awakened out of a deep sleep, and doesn’t answer our calls outside His house. Often, God seems to be in a different universe, no less a different house in the same neighborhood. Be patient, be persistent, be faithful. And remember that the ornery neighbor eventually answered the call. How much more likely it is that our merciful heavenly Father will answer your calls to Him!