Then Jesus said to them, “Suppose you have a friend, and you go to him at midnight and say, ‘Friend, lend me three loaves of bread; a friend of mine on a journey has come to me, and I have no food to offer him.’ And suppose the one inside answers, ‘Don’t bother me. The door is already locked, and my children and I are in bed. I can’t get up and give you anything.’ I tell you, even though he will not get up and give you the bread because of friendship, yet because of your shameless audacity he will surely get up and give you as much as you need. Luke 11:5–8
Understanding the culture of the biblical world is always important, but perhaps nowhere as much as with Jesus’ parables. They usually reflect lifelike situations in early first-century Israel, even when certain practices seem strange to us. But at least once in almost every parable, something pushes the bounds of realism and forms a key to the symbolic level of meaning in the story.
The parable of the friend at midnight (Luke 11:5–8) affords an excellent example. Few would have raised eyebrows about a friend arriving at midnight unannounced in a world without modern forms of communication or the ability to estimate the length of travel accurately. During hot times of year, a person might deliberately travel in the cool of the evening. Whether or not the traveler had eaten supper, hospitality dictated that one offer him something to eat at the end of his journey. Poor families may not have had leftovers, but neighbors regularly shared with each other, so the new host’s request even at midnight is not unusual.
Nor is the neighbor’s reluctance to get up. He and his whole family may have slept in one bedroom, a level above the area where the family’s cow, sheep or goat might have spent the night indoors next to a door locked with a heavy metal bolt and padlock. Helping the man asking for bread was no simple task. The three loaves requested were probably fist-sized loaves, so hardly extravagant.
What is striking is that the man will help his neighbor in response to his “shameless audacity” (verse 8). Translations of the Greek anaideia here are often too weak. The word means more than just persistence or boldness but importunity or impudence—chutzpah or moxie. As the NIV text note indicates, some take the term to refer to the sleeping man’s desire not to lose face, though this seems a little less likely grammatically.
Of course, as a parable, Jesus is not talking primarily about getting food from a neighbor for a surprise guest but about the nature of our prayers to God. The logic is that of “how much more”: If a reluctant neighbor can be badgered into helping us, how much more eagerly will God answer prayers for the good of his people? And if it feels we have to ask with shameless audacity, God can handle it. We do not have to approach him in one certain mood, style of speech or form of address.
Is there something you want to ask of God? Do not be ashamed to ask.
Drawn from a study feature in the NIV Study Bible, Fully Revised Edition.