June 25, 2023. Sermon Title: Persistent on Behalf of Others

First Mennonite Church

June 25, 2023

Persistent on Behalf of Others

Text: Luke 11:1-8

Madeleine’s cat’s name is Beans. And he and I have a before-bedtime ritual. I’d call, “Beans, do you want to go to your room?” And there, Beans follows me to the garage and I give him a bit of food, scratch his back a bit and he stays there, and then I go to bed, do some reading and fall asleep. For some, the before-bedtime ritual includes taking the dog out one last time or checking if the kids are in bed and not goofing around or dialing down the thermostat, or picking up their bedtime book. But in first-century small Middle Eastern villages, retiring for the night was completely different. 

William Barclay’s Daily Study Bible describes what it might have looked like: “The poorer Palestinian houses consisted of one room, with only one little window. The floor was simply of beaten earth covered with dried reeds and rush mats. The room was divided into two parts, not by a partition, but by a low platform. Two-thirds of it was on ground level. The other third was slightly raised. On the raised part, the charcoal stove burned all night, and around it the whole family slept, not on raised beds but on sleeping mats. Families were large and they slept close together for warmth; therefore, to rise, was inevitably to disturb the whole family. Further, in the villages, it was the custom to bring the livestock, the hens and the cocks and goats, into the house at night.” (Wm. Barclay, DSB: LUKE, p.148) 

That for sure is not quite the kind of dwelling that you and I know. In such a setting, “having your children in bed with you” was more than a figure of speech. To respond to the knocker’s request, you would have to walk around the curled bodies of the other family members. There would have been a wooden door, probably fastened from the inside with a bar across it. You wouldn’t have to worry about turning on the light, of course. A clay lamp that gave about the light of a single candle might have been left burning because fire was too precious to let go out. You would use that lamp to see where you were stepping when you stepped off the raised platform because besides avoiding running into something, care was also needed to avoid stepping on the animals.

So now, let’s begin with our passage. Out of the four Gospels, Luke is the one who makes the most references of Jesus praying.

3:21 During his baptism, Jesus prayed and the heavens were opened.

5:16 Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed.

6:12 Jesus went out to a mountainside to pray and spent the night praying to God.

9:18 Jesus was praying in private

9:28 At his transfiguration Jesus went up onto a mountain to pray

22:23 Jesus tells Peter he has been praying for Peter.

22 Jesus prays at the Mount Olive

Prayer is a practice most religions have. In the case of John, the Baptist, because his activities were not part of the official Jewish religion, but God’s renewed call to his people through him, John the Baptist took it upon himself to teach his followers how to pray. Thus, when the disciples found Jesus praying, they asked him, “Lord teach us to pray as John taught his disciples.” That request in itself is an important prayer.

Here in Luke’s gospel, Jesus’ prayer consists only of petitions, unlike Matthew’s version which includes praise. Luke’s version of Jesus’ prayer is followed by a parable.

Before I go into the parable, let me tell you that there is a little confusing phrase in it. It is not quite clear who the shameless one is.

The parable consists of two friends or neighbors and one of them is caught unprepared by a late-night guest. Therefore, having nothing to serve the guest, but determined to fulfill his obligation, he goes to his neighbor to ask for three loaves of bread.

Being so late at night, the friend who is being asked for the bread says to the one asking, “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.”

From Barclay’s description of a rural home in those days, we can begin to understand the challenges of the one who is already in bed. It is midnight, there is a lot at stake to be disturbed within the house in order to assist the one knocking at the door. But then Jesus adds,

This parable is supposed to illustrate the importance of perseverance in prayer. But a little confusion arises in verse eight where it says, “But because of his shamelessness he will get up and give him whatever he needs” the Greek word “anaideian” is a compound word. The verb aideomai, means “to feel shame, to respect, have reverence; and the prefix— “an”, which negates the other meanings: e.g., “not to feel shame” or “not to have respect” thus without shame–“shamelessness”.[1] Whose shamelessness is it talking about? Is it the one inside or the one asking for bread? Secondly, could the person who is in bed in the parable represent God who gives only after his patience runs out?

That would suggest that God gives petty excuses before he could respond to our “persistent” cries for help. It would suggest that we have to pester God before he could respond to us. But that is not how Jesus presents God. Jesus presents God as the:

  • Father who knows what you need before you ask him (Matthew 6:8)  
  • Father who does anything if we ask him (Matthew 18:19,

Matthew 21:22/ Mark 11:24)

  • Father who will do all things, if we ask in the name of Jesus (John 14:14)
  • And, that if you ask and you will receive, so that your joy may be complete (John 16:24)

What is clear from these statements is that the Father willingly responds to those who call him. He does not give grudgingly, as James says. And that reinforces the idea that the shameless one is the one who is asking for bread. In other words, what Jesus wants to emphasize is that we have a God who is eager to hear our prayers, but the problem is that we either do not have the trust to come to God in prayer or that we simply neglect to pray despite our needs. But the most important point in this parable is to demonstrate the sense of urgency, responsibility, and concern this one neighbor had for his guest. This man broke every social norm as to the appropriate time to ask for help from a neighbor. This man did not care if he had to wake up all the other neighbors as he asked for help in the middle of the night. In other words, he would not have gone through all this problem and put into an inconvenience another person because of his own need, but for the need of another.

In the context of prayer that means this man was interceding shamelessly before God for a situation of need that was not his nor of his own making, but for someone else who needed sustenance.

So once again let us remember that in the prayer Jesus gives here as to how his disciples are to pray, there are only petitions. Therefore, more likely the one asking for bread is the shameless one. 

Therefore, what Jesus was doing was telling his disciples to approach God with confidence as a loving and caring Father. They should ask for their daily needs. Even the words in this prayer differ from that of Matthew. Here Jesus prays, “Give us each day our daily bread”—literally: “Give us each day the bread for our daily existence.

Therefore, at the end of the day, the neighbor had no bread left. And although an emergency came where he need bread, not for himself, this man acted confidently, persistently, and shamelessly, knowing that his friend will not go hungry to bed.  

So, let us be reminded that the heavenly Father is always mindful of our needs, even before we ask him. Yet, he waits for us to come to him in prayer, acknowledging that our daily sustenance depends on his goodness. God will give us our daily bread. Every new day will come with the assurance that God will faithfully provide for our needs.

Also, let us remember that it pleases God when the reason for our persistent and confident prayers to him is not for ourselves but for other’s wellbeing. It is incumbent upon us that we pray for others in their times of need. We should pray that God’s mercy and salvation be revealed to them as it has been to us. Jesus said, “I tell you, even though he will not get up and give him anything because he is his friend, but because of his shamelessness he will get up and give him whatever he needs.” This is the word of the Lord. Amen!

Pastor A. Romero

[1] BibleWorks VII. Word Analysis