Luke 11:5-8, CSV
“He also said to them, “Suppose one of you has a friend and goes to him at midnight and says to him, ‘Friend, lend me three loaves of bread, 6 because a friend of mine on a journey has come to me, and I don’t have anything to offer him.’ 7 Then he will answer from inside and say, ‘Don’t bother me! The door is already locked, and my children and I have gone to bed. I can’t get up to give you anything.’
8 I tell you, even though he won’t get up and give him anything because he is his friend, yet because of his friend’s shameless boldness, he will get up and give him as much as he needs.”
This parable is known by some as “the Importunate Neighbor.” That’s an excellent description. Importunate is defined as being persistent, especially to the point of annoyance or intrusion. It’s tenacious and stubborn–not giving up even when being ignored. That describes what’s happening here.
What proceeds this parable is Luke’s version of the Lord’s prayer, which the disciples requested. They wanted to understand the methods and mechanics of praying–perhaps the Pharisee’s prayers weren’t quite up to snuff–they wanted more; and they insisted that Jesus instruct them. They wanted to do it right.
A typical Jewish home had sleeping quarters (one room!) located on a raised platform. A ladder was used to access that level (which could be crowded, sometimes two to a bed.) Often their livestock were brought inside. And when it was time to get up, everyone got up. That explains the homeowner’s reluctance to give bread to his neighbor. To get up, light a lamp, wasn’t a solitary affair.
He’s obviously unenthusiastic to make an effort.
The word used here to explain the neighbor actions is ἀναίδεια “anaídeia,” which is only ever used here–it’s translated as impudence, shamelessness, audacity or “chutzpah.” It’s a Greek word that explains the knocker’s rudeness. He won’t stop. He knocks and pounds until he gets his bread. Not to have bread for his guest is unheard of, it violates the unwritten law of Jewish hospitality.
This is part of Jesus’ view on prayer. It means we must be inappropriate sometimes–even to the point were we are being rude.
Immediately following this parable (the very next thought) are the following instructions:
“So I say to you, ask, and it will be given to you. Seek, and you will find. Knock, and the door will be opened to you. 10 For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.”
Perhaps it’s this intensity that’s lacking.
We “pray” but don’t insist. We desire but don’t demand. Maybe it takes a certain shamelessness to make prayer work. Jesus emphasizes a necessary component to praying God’s way. It’s never automatic, a simple phrase or two that moves the father’s heart, and loosens his hand. In Jesus’ teaching, prayer means effort.
“There is neither encouragement nor room in Bible religion for feeble desires, listless efforts, lazy attitudes; all must be strenuous, urgent, ardent. Flamed desires, impassioned, unwearied insistence delight heaven. God would have His children incorrigibly in earnest and persistently bold in their efforts. Heaven is too busy to listen to half-hearted prayers or to respond to pop-calls. Our whole being must be in our praying.”
Art by Eugène Burnand