July 30, 2010

From the Editor Emeritus / John F. Fink

Jesus’ parables: Several parables about prayers

John F. Fink(Ninth in a series of columns)

Two parables in Luke’s Gospel, although separated by seven chapters, teach us about the necessity for persistence in prayer.

In Luke 11:5-8, Jesus told his listeners to suppose that one of them had a friend to whom he went at midnight and asked for three loaves of bread because another friend had just arrived. The friend answered, “Don’t bother me. I’m already in bed” (Lk 11:7). Jesus said that, if the man wouldn’t get up to give him the loaves because of their friendship, he would do so because of his friend’s persistence.

I don’t know about you, but I’ve always felt sorry for the friend in bed. The guy came at midnight! Couldn’t he at least wait until morning? And what kind of a friend is it who would be persistent in his request—or is it a demand—for bread?

Rules of hospitality in Palestine during Jesus’ time prescribed that, when a guest arrived, no matter when or whether he was hungry, he would be served a meal. And meals required bread because it was used for dipping food from a common bowl. So it was normal to ask a neighbor for bread under these circumstances. (However, three loaves still seems excessive to me. And what about the thoughtlessness of the man who arrived at such a late hour expecting a meal?)

After telling that parable, Jesus went on to say, “Ask and you will receive; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you” (Lk 11:9; also Mt 7:7-11). God wants to give good things to us because he loves us, but we must ask for what we want and be persistent about it.

Luke returned to that theme in Chapter 18:1-8, when he had Jesus telling the parable of the persistent widow. Somehow she ran afoul of an arrogant judge “who neither feared God nor respected any human being” (Lk 18:2). We aren’t told how he became a judge, but that’s beside the point. The widow kept pestering him to render a just judgment against her adversary. Eventually, the judge decided that he had better do so, not because it was what judges are supposed to do, but because of her persistence.

Jesus told his disciples this parable to demonstrate “the necessity for them to pray always without becoming weary” (Lk 18:1). Although God certainly is not like the unjust judge—he will be quicker about bringing about justice—perhaps he won’t answer our prayers as quickly as we would like him to. We must not give up. We must be persistent and pray without becoming weary.

Luke followed up this parable with the familiar one about the Pharisee and the tax collector praying in the temple (Lk 18:9-14). The Pharisee thanked God that he was so righteous and mentioned all the great things he did. The tax collector simply beat his breast and prayed, “God, be merciful to me a sinner” (Lk 18:13). The Pharisee exalted himself while the tax collector humbled himself. We dare not be like the Pharisee. †

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