Saturday, January 22, 2011

The Parable of the Persistent Friend

About half a decade ago, Pastor Onofre Malazo, Jr. of Guiding Light Christian Church (Dagupan) picked a handful of church members and assembled a class. Week after week, he patiently taught them lessons on bible interpretation, church history, Biblical Greek, various subjects of theology (Trinity, inerrancy, etc) and some contemporary theological trends (pragmatism, easy believism) etc.

Lately, from the mixed pile of garbage and precious things in my room, I recovered a three-page homework which I prepared for that class.

One of the earliest books we studied page by page in that class was Gordon Fee & Douglas Stuart's How to Read the Bible for All Its Worth. In the chapter on parables, Fee translates the Parable of the Good Samaritan into our own context. He retells it in modern points of reference in an attempt to give the contemporary audience the same emotions that the original hearers experienced. In Fee's version, the counterpart of the half dead man is a stranded family, a bishop for the priest and a Kiwanis Club president for the Levite.

Pastor Malazo asked each member of the class to choose a parable translate in in our own context the way Fee did.

My chosen parable is the one found in Luke 11:5-8 Some call it  The Parable of the Persistent Friend.
For this post, I will include only the exegetical portion of the homework I prepared. I shall post the contemporary retelling of the  parable for the next blog entry.

The Parable of the Persistent Friend

"Then he said to them, "Suppose one of you has a friend, and he goes to him at midnight and says, `Friend, lend me three loaves of bread, because a friend of mine on a journey has come to me, and I have nothing to set before him.'

"Then the one inside answers, `Don't bother me. The door is already locked, and my children are with me in bed. I can't get up and give you anything.' I tell you, though he will not get up and give him the bread because he is his friend, yet because of the man's boldness he will get up and give him as much as he needs."
(Luke 11:5-8 NIV)

Friend A and Friend B are neighbors. One midnight, while Friend A is in deep slumber with his wife and children in an overcrowded single-room house1, Friend B knocks at the door and with a sense of urgency he calls, "Friend, lend me three loaves of bread, because a friend of mine on a journey has come to me, and I have nothing to set before him (11:5-6).

In fairness to Friend b, he was the first one who was disturbed. Friend C is on a journey and he visits Friend B on the worst possible time. Is there no inn around? Is he on a cost cutting measure? Or does he simply miss his friend badly? I don't know.

In the ancient east, "hospitality is a sacred duty"2. Alfred Edersheim says "Israel was always distinguished for hospitality" not only in the Bible but also in the Rabbinical tradition3.

Friend B is not asking for much-- just three loaves of bread; a simple meal for an unexpected visitor. It was not unusual for homes way back then to run out of bread. The poor operates under a subsistence economy-- that is they live under the barest means to sustain life. Furthermore, Barclay points out that "only enough for the day's needs was baked because, if it was kept and became stale, no one would wish to eat it."4

Friend A responds. The door is still locked but his voice passes through it. The first words that came out of his mouth were "DON"T BOTHER ME !!!"

Yet Friend B did not give up. He kept on shamelessly pounding the door. Finally he succeeds. "Though he will not get up and give him bread because he is his friend, yet because of the man's boldness he will get up and give him as much as he needs." (11:8)

The Greek word translated as "boldness" is "anaideia. Joseph Thayer defines it as "shamelessness" and "impudence" 5.

In other words, Friend A gave NOT in the name of friendship but in the name of sleep. He gave NOT out of compassion but out of irritation for Friend B's "annoying persistence"6.
The Parable's Intended Response

First, what is not intended in the text: The parable is not saying that our prayers will be answered by annoying God or irritating him. No one could twist the arm of God. The point of the parable is explained in the verses that follow (v.9-13)

"So I say to you: Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened.

"Which of you fathers, if your son asks for a fish, will give him a snake instead? Or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!"

Our Lord wants us to be bold and persistent in prayer because of the goodness of the Father. The most generous persons, even the best dads in the world are sinners. If sinners give upon request, how much more will the Father, who is perfectly holy-- untainted by sin, will give good gifts to His children. We should not give up praying because the Father will not withold the things beneficial to us. He is willing to give not just the temporal things we need, but even the Holy Spirit, the source of all comfort.

1. Howard Vos, New Illustrated Bible Manners and Customs
2. William Barclay, The Daily Study Bible
3. Alfred Edersheim, Sketches of Jewish Social Life
4. Barclay, ibid
5. Joseph Thayer, Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament
6. John Macarthur, GTY broadcast 702 DZAS


  1. also a favorite commentary on this parable: "I have nothing to set before them": as this consciousness takes possession of the minister or missionary, the teacher or worker, intercession will become their only hope and refuge. I may have knowledge and truth, a loving heart, and the readiness to give myself for those under my charge; but the bread of heaven I cannot give them. With all my love and zeal, "I have nothing to set before them." Blessed the man who has made that "I have nothing," the motto of his ministry. -- Andrew Murray, The Ministry of Intercessory prayer. ..

  2. Sheryll, thanks for sharing that quote. Everyone involved in ministry needs to hear that.

    Oo nga, how can we feed others when oftentimes we ourselves are starving? Ministry and prayer must indeed go together. Maraming salamat kapatid!