Jesus and Food – The Parable of the Friend at Midnight

Jesus and Food – The Parable of the Friend at Midnight

Jesus and Food – The Parable of the Friend at Midnight.

(Please read Luke 11:5-8.)

THE CONTEXT. 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 HOST. a. 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.

b. 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.

c. 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.

d. 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.

e. 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. a. 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.

b. 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.

c. Eventually, to his credit, he 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 THOUGHTS. a. If the host in the story received everything he needed from a grouchy neighbor in the middle of the night who didn’t really like him, how much more will the loving Father provide what you need?

b. 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 unresponsive, 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.

c. This parable is also a great snapshot of what Jesus, the Great Intercessor, does for us in our travels. We are the friend at midnight approaching Jesus the host, asking for bread. He wants our needs to be addressed, so He intercedes for us, by going to the Father, by bending the ear of the neighbor-Father, to get what is needed for us, His friends. What a merciful and humble God we serve. Let us not be shy about approaching Jesus, the ever wakeful host, who will do what is necessary to intercede for us, to have our needs met.