#013: God is the Friend at Midnight
The Seventh Sunday after Pentecost, or the Sixth Sunday after Trinity (Proper 12)
Readings: Gen 18:20-33; Ps 138; Luke 11:1-13
So many sermons have been preached about what is called the ‘Lord’s Prayer’—or rather the ‘Apostles’ Prayer’ from Luke 11:1-4. It is an all too familiar section. But I want to focus your attention on the last part of the passage appointed for this day, specifically, vv. 4-13.
There is a parable that builds on the prayer Jesus teaches his disciples.
In this parable, he asks his disciples to imagine—to draw a mental image—of a man—a host—who receives a guest at an uncomfortable time of midnight. As if receiving guests in the midnight darkness was not enough, it was not the host’s day to go shopping for foodstuff. He has no food in the house.
In the moment of sheer embarrassment, and the unimaginable dread of being a terrible host, he goes to his friend whom he thinks might help to salvage the situation. From his friend, he needs three loaves of bread. “…a friend of mine has stopped here while on a journey, and I have nothing to set before him” (v. 6).
But the friend is already asleep and does not want to be bothered. Besides, the man’s kids are deep asleep, and the door has long been closed. Yet the embarrassed host will continue pounding on the door until the friend gets up and gives him whatever he needs.
Let’s pause here. Parables, you see, like to oscillate between images. The first image: sleep. This sacrament (symbol) of death is one we all share. It is a state in which all our mental, physical, and emotional faculties have been momentarily suspended. The fact that the host is asleep—or engaged in a sacramental death—has serious implications for this parable.
If it is true that Jesus uses the image of the friend to point to God as the answerer of prayer, then this is a dead God. He is, in that moment, dead in his Son. If the friend is sacramentally dead, then the host’s request—the image of prayer in the parable—becomes an invitation into the death of God’s Son.
The second image: getting up. The verb here for getting up is anastas from anistanai (to raise, to rise) and egeirein (to raise, to rouse) are used all over the New Testament for resurrection. If Jesus, in prayer, invites us into his death, then in prayer he raises from that death in himself.
To ‘ask’, ‘knock’ and ‘seek’ is to take our deaths and place them into the death of God for the sole purpose of resurrection. The need for the three loaves of bread is really a yearning for Life; the acceptance that a life outside of the self-giving of God’s Son—the bread of life—is a life not worth living. Indeed, Jesus himself says “For the bread of God is the one who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world” (John 6:33). Those who come to him, he says “I am the bread of life. The one who comes to me will never go hungry, and the one who believes in me will never be thirsty” (Jn 6:35). And what is to come to Jesus other than sliding into his death and then climbing out of it by way of the only device that he alone knows how to operate—resurrection?
The third image: anaideia (ἀναίδεια). In your bible, this word is translated as ‘persistence’, yet there is no indication that anaideia in Greek means that. This is an interpretive and translative choice the translators make based on their semantic reading of verse 6 where the host is persistent in his knocking.
But away from the grammatical jargon. According to the BGAD, anaideia means “a lack of sensitivity to what is proper; carelessness about the good opinion of others; shamelessness, impertinence, impudence, ignoring of convention.” What the lexicon tells us is that the host, in seeking bread at midnight was being inconsiderate to his friend. This behaviour highlighted his sensitivity to the situation, and it was downright unconventional. This was a shameless man.
Let us look at verse 8 again “I tell you, even though the man inside will not get up (anastas) and give him anything because he is his friend, yet because of the first man’s shamelessness he will get up (egertheis) and give him whatever he needs.” Jesus points out that the only reason the friend gets up (resurrects) from his death to offer bread (himself) is because of the host’s shamelessness (anaideian).
People who are reasonable do not go about knocking on doors at midnight to ask for food to feed their guests. They are so preoccupied with how they are perceived that they will not try to soil that image. They would not want to be seen as inconsiderate and thoughtless beggars. Therefore, knocking at someone’s door at the midnight hour is a loud confession of inadequacy. It is a form of death to self.
Why would the friend respond to shamelessness? Because the host comes in weakness, frailty, defeat, shame, and ultimately death to anything reasonable, prudent, or even sensitive. His knock on the door, in addition to his seeking, and ultimately his asking are a confession that is already dead. The Good News to his predicament however is that he lays his death into the safest of deaths—the death of God in Jesus.
The point of his prayer, therefore, is that the host is resurrected together with Christ to a life hidden in Christ. The open door as answered prayer signifies a passage into the life of God in Jesus which by faith becomes our life. What becomes shameless and unreasonable, then, is the admission that a life without God is not worth living. It’s a death we can never rise out of.
If we who are wedded to reasonableness and keeping up appearances can give good gifts to our children, what about God, who in his Son brings corpses to life? What about him who is the resurrection and the life, won't he save you in your time of need, even when everyone curses you for your insensitivity and unreasonableness?
You see, what the world rejects and runs from, he embraces. He is life to our deaths, and resurrection in our resurrection. Take your death to him in prayer.
In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit,