Ah friends! I mean, who else can you turn to in your hour of need? Who do you call when your car decides that the middle of the night would be an excellent time not to start and get you home? Even if it feels like an imposition, you can call a friend. They have your back. Right? They are the first ones you think of when life slips sideways. You may not want to be a burden, but you can’t really imagine talking to anyone else. So, you call; you ask; you lay out your struggles; you impose. And you do this with confidence because you have a bond that transcends minor inconveniences. You believe you can trust in that bond; that friendship – to be there when the need arises. Even if the timing is all wrong.
Luke 11:5-8 is a parable about friendship and prayer. We often miss the “friend” part of the parable because we jump to the prayer part. But these two concepts go hand in hand in this parable. Jesus begins the prayer with “Which one of you . . .” This often gets translates, “Suppose . . .” Yet, this was a somewhat common way for Jesus to begin a parable. Which one of you fathers . . . (11:11; cf. 14:28; 15:4; 17:7). This puts the listener into the parable. Which one of you, who are listening to this right now, YOU have a friend. And when Jesus begins this way, there is an implied question: does this scenario seem feasible to you?
The scenario is that you have a friend and you have a problem. Another friend has shown up unexpectedly and you don’t have any bread. At this time, and in this part of the world, hospitality was more than a social regulation – it was a religious duty. Making sure that your visiting friends are well fed was tantamount to being a faithful servant of God. Yes, it is the middle of the night and not at all a convenient time to ask a favor. But Jesus’ listeners understood the urgency even if we do not. This man would bring shame to himself and his family if he is unable to be hospitable. So, he risks the imposition. After all, he is approaching the house of a friend.
At the door, he relays the need. Picture him out there speaking as loudly quietly as he could. He may be willing to impose on his friend, but not on his friend’s neighbors. And here is the thing, the “which one of you” has put the listener into the parable. They could see themselves doing this, fully expecting a friend to get out of bed and loan them some bread. Verse seven comes as a shock then. To hear his friend say “do not go on causing trouble for me” would have been like a slap in the face. And its not that his reasons don’t hold some weight. Doors back then were not easy to unlock, and it would have been a noisy affair. Most families lived and slept in the same room. But these obstacles can not compare to the need to be hospitable; to helping a friend in need. Proverbs 3:28 instructs that you should not send a neighbor away empty handed if you have it to give. How much more a friend?
Verse 8 is difficult to say the least. Because of this verse, most take this to be a parable about persistent prayer. But nowhere are we told that the person seeking bread was persistent. We only see him at the door, politely stating his case and asking for bread, once. And there is the problem with the word not meaning persistent. It means “shameless” and is a negative word. Without dredging up all of the arguments because I simply do not have the space, let me tell you what I think seems most likely. Jesus is presenting a scenario that seems very unlikely to his listeners. They cannot imagine a friend behaving this way. You can impose on a friend and expect help, especially when your honor and piety is at risk. Maybe Jesus ends this discussion by saying, even if, in this scenario friendship breaks down, shame will motivate the man inside the house to get up and give his friend bread. After contemplating the reality of facing the town tomorrow, he knows he cannot just go back to sleep. His honor and the honor of his family is on the line. How much more honorable is God? You can approach God as a friend who is honorable. He will do the right thing. When you ask God to give you this day your daily bread, you ask as a friend in need. Will God see your request as an imposition? Will he gripe and complain about the late hour? Friends don’t. Approach as a friend then. God loves you. Ask, plead, seek. This is not about a selfish demand on God. That’s not what friendship is. This is an acknowledgment that when need comes for a surprise visit, the one you think of first to turn to is God. If it doesn’t seem feasible that a friend would turn you away because of minor obstacles, then why does it seem likely that God would. Approach as a friend.