July 24, 2022
Sunday Between July 24 and July 30 Inclusive
Proper 12, Ordinary Time 17
Read the passage at the bottom of this post: Luke 11:1-13, The Message or Luke 11:1-13, The New Revised Standard Version (NRSV).
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At first glance, this seems like a straightforward teaching about prayer. But the concluding verses emphasize that God can be trusted to uphold God's honour - and therefore, we can trust God to give us what we truly need for life.
Verse 1. Isn't it interesting that even Jesus prays? Takes time to be with God.
His followers, however, seem more preoccupied with inter-group rivalry / status with John the Baptist. Sort of like, "The church down the street has ... What's wrong with you that we don't have ...? Why don't you ...?"
But as usual, Jesus patiently responds to his followers.
Verses 2 to 4. (And compare / contrast with Matthew 6:9-13 which is closer to the prayer we use.)
Bruce Malina and Richard Rohrbaugh comment (Page 272, see footnote below.) on "hallowed be your name:"
The English word "hallow" means to sanctify, make holy, make sacred, ... to set someone or something apart.
With the command here in the passive voice, God is commanded to "hallow" his person, his status as God (his "name," his reputation / honour), i.e. to act, and thus reveal himself to be the God he is, to make known his ... personage.
(Comments in parentheses are mine.)
What follows are 4 things God can then do in order to demonstrate the honour of his reputation, his name: Come, Give, Forgive, and Protect:
- "Your kingdom come" is the whole meal deal. This asks for an end to life on earth as it is, an end to all oppression, injustice, and unrighteousness, and instead for God's realm to replace all earthly rulers and rules.
- "Give us each day our daily bread" may be a reference to the manna, the bread from heaven, that was provided enough for each day during the 40 years in the wilderness between the time of fleeing slavery in Egypt and entering the promised land. (See Exodus 16.) And it may be a reference to the feast yet to come in the future life to come. But it most certainly addresses the very real and present concern of Jesus' followers - to have enough to eat that day.
- "Forgive us our sins ..." is kind of boldly stated - "for we ourselves forgive!" Frankly, I'm hoping God will have a higher standard of forgiveness than anything I have been able to realize.
- "Do not bring us to the time of trial" requests that we ourselves do not have to face the direct testing by Satan as Jesus did at the start of his ministry. (See Luke 4:1-13.)
For a complete look at my notes, "Why They Killed the One Who Taught Us to Call God Dada / Mama," on The Lord's Prayer click here
Verses 5 to 8. The parable and teaching here compare by way of negative contrast what can be expected from an earthly friend and a heavenly Father.
The social obligation to be a good host - even if unexpected and in the middle of the night is a paramount duty. Failing to do this would bring public dishonour on one's self, one's family, and even one's village. Therefore the sleepy friend's refusal is one of shocking shamelessness.
Malina and Rohrbaugh (See page 272f, footnote below.) say the NRSV's "persistence" would be better translated as "shamelessness," the negative quality of lacking sensitivity (a sense of shame) to one's public honor status.
This change in translation shifts who is referenced by the "his." "His persistence" refers to the friend who comes calling in the night. "His shamelessness" refers to the friend whose first response is "Do not bother me."
However, as Malina and Rohrbaugh go on to comment:
the petitioner threatens to expose the POTENTIAL shamelessness of the sleeper. By morning the entire village would know of his refusal to provide hospitality. He thus gives in to avoid public exposure as a shameless person.
(Page 273. My emphasis added.)
Avoiding public exposure as a shameless person is exactly what a properly shameful person does!
So, even though his initial response was shameless; his reluctant getting up and giving what is needed is indeed a return to a properly shameful response; a proper sensitivity to his public honour.
But in my not-so-humble-opinion, using "shamelessness" as the translation confuses things because if the friend were truly shameless he would have stayed in bed!
And so, I think it is preferable to condense all of this line of argument by using "shamefulness" in the translation, because it is finally shamefulness that causes the sleeping friend to get up and do what public honour requires of him.
So that Verse 8 would now read:
I tell you, even though he will not get up and give him anything because he is his friend, at least because of his shamefulness he will get up and give him whatever he needs.
This shifts the moral of the story from the "persistence" of the petitioner to the character of the one being petitioned. That is, because of his concern for his reputation, for his honour, for his "name," he will give the bread that is asked for and not because of the persistence of his friend.
I know some who carry a heavy burden that their prayers were not answered because they believe they failed to be persistent enough. But this interpretation turns God into a miserly, hard-hearted "friend" who won't give what is asked for until we have sufficiently begged and pleaded. Who needs a God like that?
The whole point of this lesson is not so much that we should persist in prayer, but that we should be constant in prayer precisely because God is always eager to generously provide us with everything we need. (Though we should also be aware that from God's perspective, what we need may not be what we are praying for.)
Verses 9 to 13. Jesus then elaborates on this. We should so trust God that if we ask, seek, or knock, God will respond. But note the important shift in Verse 13:
how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him?
Up till this point who has said anything about asking for the Holy Spirit? Up till now, it's all been about bread and forgiveness and not being tested and asking and seeking and knocking.
But now all of a sudden it's about the Holy Spirit.
What are we to make of this? Luke offers no further comment.
I'm thinking back to Luke 4:1-13 where Jesus, "full of the Holy Spirit returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the wilderness."
It is the Spirit that helps Jesus endure the 40 days of fasting and the 3 testings by Satan - including the one about satisfying his hunger by turning stones into bread.
So I'm thinking that what Jesus is saying is that whatever the concrete specifics of our prayers may be, the crucial thing is to pray that our hearts be aligned with God's heart, and that what we seek as the "answer" to our needs be inwardly formed by the Holy Spirit - that we come to see our needs as the Holy Spirit sees our needs.
Note: Historical background information is primarily from Bruce Malina and Richard Rohrbaugh, Social Science Commentary on the Synoptic Gospels, pages 271-273; and the writings of Amy-Jill Levine, et. al. See link below.
Luke 11:1-13 (NRSV)
1 He was praying in a certain place, and after he had finished, one of his disciples said to him, "Lord, teach us to pray, as John taught his disciples." 2 He said to them, "When you pray, say:
Father, hallowed be your name.
Your kingdom come.
3 Give us each day our daily bread.
4 And forgive us our sins,
for we ourselves forgive
everyone indebted to us.
And do not bring us to the time of trial."
5 And he said to them, "Suppose one of you has a friend, and you go to him at midnight and say to him, 'Friend, lend me three loaves of bread; 6 for a friend of mine has arrived, and I have nothing to set before him.' 7 And he answers from within, 'Do not bother me; the door has already been locked, and my children are with me in bed; I cannot get up and give you anything.' 8 I tell you, even though he will not get up and give him anything because he is his friend, at least because of his persistence he will get up and give him whatever he needs.
9 "So I say to you, Ask, and it will be given you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you. 10 For everyone who asks receives, and everyone who searches finds, and for everyone who knocks, the door will be opened. 11 Is there anyone among you who, if your child asks for a fish, will give a snake instead of a fish? 12 Or if the child asks for an egg, will give a scorpion? 13 If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!"
New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright 1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
Luke 11:1-13 (The Message)
1 One day he was praying in a certain place. When he finished, one of his disciples said, "Master, teach us to pray just as John taught his disciples."
2 So he said, "When you pray, say,
Reveal who you are.
Set the world right.
3 Keep us alive with three square meals.
4 Keep us forgiven with you and forgiving others.
Keep us safe from ourselves and the Devil."
5 Then he said, "Imagine what would happen if you went to a friend in the middle of the night and said, 'Friend, lend me three loaves of bread. 6 An old friend traveling through just showed up, and I don't have a thing on hand.'
7 "The friend answers from his bed, 'Don't bother me. The door's locked; my children are all down for the night; I can't get up to give you anything.'
8 "But let me tell you, even if he won't get up because he's a friend, if you stand your ground, knocking and waking all the neighbors, he'll finally get up and get you whatever you need.
9 "Here's what I'm saying:
Ask and you'll get;
Seek and you'll find;
Knock and the door will open.
10 "Don't bargain with God. Be direct. Ask for what you need. This is not a cat-and-mouse, hide-and-seek game we're in. 11 If your little boy asks for a serving of fish, do you scare him with a live snake on his plate? 12 If your little girl asks for an egg, do you trick her with a spider? 13 As bad as you are, you wouldn't think of such a thing—you're at least decent to your own children. And don't you think the Father who conceived you in love will give the Holy Spirit when you ask him?"
Scripture quotations from THE MESSAGE. Copyright © by Eugene H. Peterson 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002. Used by permission of NavPress Publishing Group.
* Link to Amazon.com Bibliography for Bruce J. Malina and Richard Rohrbaugh, Social Science Commentary on ... The Synoptic Gospels; The Gospel of John; The Book of Acts; The Letters of Paul; The Book of Revelation; and others.
+ Link to Amazon.com Bibliography for Amy-Jill Levine and Marc Zvi Brettler, Jewish Annotated New Testament, The Bible With and Without Jesus, Short Stories by Jesus, Entering the Passion of Jesus, and others.