The doorbell rang. We were all upstairs and tucked away, asleep. The street we live on was quiet as usual at these times, so, to say the least, this “ding…..dong” was unexpected. Then the bell rang a few more times. “What in the world!? Who could it possibly be at this hour demanding we answer?” It was our friends from Florida. They arrived early. We knew they were coming but we thought the plan was for them to arrive the following afternoon. Apparently, they decided to save some money rather than spending extra money on a hotel…. Now, all of us are up. Down the stairs we go… in pajamas, to greet our friends and help them settle in for the night.
The parable of the Friend At Midnight follows the teaching of the Lord’s prayer in Luke 11. We see two friends. One is visiting and the other looks reluctant to greet him, but eventually will. Yet, are we supposed to see God as a friend who is disturbed in the middle of the night by the incessant ringing of a doorbell? And why is Jesus portraying the other friend as persistent?
Many studies tell us that Jesus has in mind a typical peasant man who will be asleep with his entire family beside him. Their front door was quite large and wasn’t the most convenient for a tired man to open at this hour. So, when the knock comes the entire family will be woken if the man gets up to greet his friend. However, the knocking friend is a part of that culture. He knows how this works. He knows that it would be shameful for his friend not to greet him and welcome him properly, with food if he was hungry, with bedding, etc. It’s well documented that Middle Eastern cultural rules dictate the behavior of the village in these situations. Shame would damage the reputation upon the village if a visiting friend were to be rejected in such a circumstance, and the village would be very unhappy with anyone who did the rejecting.
Is Jesus saying we’re supposed to see God as a friend who is reluctant to get out of bed if we show up in the middle of the night, ringing His doorbell? Is God to be thought of as a man debating whether or not he might bring shame upon his village and damage their reputation as well as his? I don’t think so. Here’s why: The parable Jesus uses is meant to portray the fact that even though the sleeping friend doesn’t want to get up, because of the village’s integrity and his own…he will get up, waking his family, and take care of his visiting friend. The point that will be emphasized is this, though: God isn’t reluctant at all, nor is He motivated by fear of dishonoring Himself or His community. God would be as one extremely delighted to greet his friend visiting at midnight.
So, why is Jesus portraying the visiting friend as persistent? Are we supposed to be persistent about something? Yes. However, this answer will require an explanation of the context. Remember, this parable in Luke 11:1-13 is sandwiched in between the teachings of the Lord’s prayer and Jesus’ exhortations to seek the will of God, along with Jesus’ reminder of the typical nature of fathers. For certain, we are to see the parable of the Friend At Midnight in connection with the Lord’s prayer. So, let’s address this. We are to be persistent in prayer. That’s for sure. We are to expect God to be extremely delighted to answer. That’s for sure also. However, are we to understand this parable of the Friend At Midnight as a lesson about being disciplined to pray in general? Let’s think this through.
Luke tells us that one of Jesus’ disciples asked Jesus to teach the other disciples to pray like John taught his disciples to pray. What kind of prayer was John the Baptist teaching his disciples? All of the disciples would have grown up praying and would continue to have a discipline of prayer. Prayer wasn’t a new and unusual thing for the disciples. John was teaching his disciples something different. This is the same kind of prayer Jesus would teach and use this parable and other teachings to attempt to provide clarity.
John the Baptist had a distinct role compared to Israel’s prophets. John was preparing Israel for the climax of its long story, since its birth as a nation. John was introducing the nation’s final and most incredible King. This king would be greater than David and Solomon combined. This king would also be a prophet like Moses, but still more significant. Descriptions like these are reserved for God, aren’t they? Exactly! John was preparing Israel to meet her God. This is why John, though esteemed as the greatest born of women, is recorded as preaching that Jesus is more powerful and greater than he. The roles of John and Jesus are being revealed in the end of Israel’s story, which is very important to the meaning of this prayer.
The prayer and the parable teach the disciples and urge them to be confident about what God will do for Israel. God is extremely delighted to greet Israel in the last hour of the day. This is the time when God is not slumbering, tucked away in a dreamy state, but is alert, expecting the arrival of Israel to join Him. This is the time when God is coming to Israel as their King. He will become the King the nation has always longed for. He is bringing justice and mercy, forgiveness and redemption…and especially deliverance from bondage. This is that time that Daniel spoke of, that time when the kingdom of YHWH would be established as the kingdom above all other kingdoms of the earth. The bestial kingdoms that have oppressed and enslaved Israel since the days of Assyria and Babylon (also Medes and Persians, Greeks, and now Romans) will now be crushed by the Messiah’s kingdom. However, this kingdom looks much like the kingdom of God at the time of Israel’s birth, and deliverance from Egypt. Israel will come out as winners but only because God has won. Israel will need to rely on sustenance from God for the new journey that they’re about to embark upon. Israel will look like a nation that blesses others instead of a nation that tramples others. Israel will look like a nation of those who’re weak, humbled, rejected and persecuted. They’ll look like losers to the surrounding nations but God will see them as conquerors. Israel will receive God’s Spirit and be led about by the Spirit as in the days of the wilderness. Israel will begin God’s new creation in the world and the prayer of “Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven” will be realized through God’s good news of His kingdom.