July 18, 2016 by
David Jackson in
Reflections on Sunday Gospels
Praying and Parable Challenge
Introduction: Today’s Gospel starts with Jesus at prayer and moves to him teaching his disciples about prayer.
Jesus first teaching about prayer is to give us a prayer that is familiar to all of us the “Our Father”. I find myself preferring the Spanish language Our Father. I’ve always preferred the expression “don’t let us fall into temptation” of the Spanish, to the English “lead us not into temptation.” But just recently with the violence and turmoil in our world I find myself preferring “hagase tu voluntad en la tierra como en el cielo”. In English we say, “thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” This is a passive statement. It seems to me the Spanish is an active saying, “Do your will on earth as in heaven.” I’m praying that God will do more to somehow intervene in the violence and turmoil.
Another angle is to explore the material that is found after the “Our Father.”
Verses 5-8 are a parable about a needy friend. The focus here is on the one who receives the request.
Verses 9-10 are sayings which switch to the perspective of the petitioner, reassuring that asking seeking and knocking result in receiving, finding, and opening.
Verse 11 changes to the perspective of the one supplying the request and returns to the image of the father. Like the parable, the sayings in vv.11-12 present totally unthinkable situations.
I would like to look in more detail at the parable of the needy friend. (Parables for Preachers, by Barbara E. Reid, p. 122) “What is presumed in the parable is that the honor of the whole village, not just that of the host, is tied up in the treatment of the guest. When the host calls out his need to his friend at midnight, the likelihood is that other surrounding families are also roused. With the honor of all at stake, any who can aid will arise to do so. By the standards of Middle Eastern hospitality no one would think of telling the needy host not to bother them because they are sleeping. The parable expects the reaction that such a situation is unimaginable. In fact, it is an honor, not an annoyance, to be asked to contribute to the reception of a guest. A favorable response by other villagers to the petitioner increases the honor for all.” Our version of the parable states at the end: “I tell you if he does not get up to give him the loaves because of their friendship, he will get up to give him whatever he needs because of his persistence.” But scholars today have determined that “persistence” isn’t the right translation here. Rather the word is shamelessness. There is a difference of opinion as to whether this word refers to the boldness of the man in asking at such a late hour of the night or the concern for his own honor of the man receiving the request. But in the parable the request is only made once. So this parable is not teaching us persistence in asking. It is teaching something else.
Because of the precarious economic conditions in Jesus time one could find oneself in unexpected need to welcome a guest. Subsistence was the dominant mode of existence. Factors such as lack of rain, famine, floods, the birth of a child, caring for a sick member of the family could put someone in a situation where they were unable to give hospitality to an unexpected guest. People depended upon one another in a system of reciprocal solidarity. In my need I would turn to my friend, in your need you would turn to me. This parable affirms that we are to give extravagant hospitality in precarious economic circumstances even when such abundant giving may seem to foolishly jeopardize one’s own security.
Some time back the Clinton’s made popular the expression “it takes a whole village.” Just reading about a faith based program for youth in Philadelphia I read these same words from a 44 year old widow who was volunteering as a mentor in her church. She also said “it takes a whole village.”
This parable is about collaboration and cooperation. Ours is a culture where individualism and competition thrive. Some years back the Father General of the Priests of the Sacred Heart was visiting the members of the U.S. province. He wrote up a report at the end of his visit. He wrote that “individualism” was an issue in the US province. It was interesting how much reaction and protest his observation generated. I think it was a case, “thou doest protest too much.”
Today it is common to have a dinner for a political fund raiser. Many times these are done out of greedy acquisition. In contrast Churches with funeral meals are provide an example of meals provided to build community. They are close to the kind of hospitality that this parable is encouraging.
Another part of Hispanic lives are Quinceaneras and Weddings. Here too we know that the issues of competition and individualism can be alive and governing decisions. We can all talk about “so and so” who spent so much for the Quinceanera or Wedding. But so often we don’t recognize ourselves as that “so and so”.
I believe that this parable also calls us to examine our own giving to our Church. To be sure all people do not have the same financial capability of giving. (Pope Francis just recently quoted from an old priest, “the devil enters through the wallet.) Some are very generous. But I think that this parable calls us to examine what we spend money on. Does my commitment to the church compare with my other financial commitments? Have I given a cost of living increase to the church or am I still giving the same amount I gave for the last “so many years.” We need as a church to become more of a community. We need to be more aware of those in our midst who need help, like the man in the parable. We must respond generously but not foolishly.