Have you ever borrowed a cup of sugar from a neighbor? In my imagination, there are idyllic neighborhoods where sharing, borrowing, and lending happen on the regular. In my actual life, I’m too busy to spend much time interacting with my neighbors, all of whom are even busier than me.
When Jesus is asked about prayer in the Gospel of Luke he tells a story about a man who gets an unexpected house guest in the middle of the night (Luke 11:1-12). He has nothing to feed the guest so he runs next door and asks his neighbor for three loaves of bread. The neighbor hesitates, saying his family is asleep and he doesn’t want to disrupt them. The man with the unexpected visitor persists. Jesus says the man’s persistence will persuade his friend to “get up and give him whatever he needs” (Luke 11:8).
The lesson for us, Jesus says, is “Ask, and it will be given you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you. For everyone who asks receives, and everyone who searches finds, and for everyone who knocks, the door will be opened” (Luke 11:9-10).
For some people, this parable speaks of the importance of persistent prayer.
God is the sleeping neighbor who has the loaves of bread. God has to be persuaded, sometimes in the middle of the night, to give us our daily bread.
I don’t think that’s quite right.
This parable comes on the heels of Luke’s version of “The Lord’s Prayer.” A disciple asks Jesus for a lesson on prayer. Jesus responds with a prayer that is superficially simple, but theologically complex (Luke 11:1-9). Included in that prayer is a request that God “give us each day our daily bread” (Luke 11:3). Jesus does not tell us to pray solely for our own needs. We aren’t to say, “give me each day my daily bread.” Instead, we request on behalf of others, too—“give us each day our daily bread.”
In other words, Jesus says we need to ask God for our daily bread and then tells a story about someone who is shamelessly persistent in asking for bread for another person.
As Rev. Dr. Justo González explains, this parable “is not about my asking God for what I need, but rather about asking God for what others need. When on that basis we ask, we are given; when on that basis we search, we shall find; when on that basis we knock, the door will be opened.”
The prayer Jesus teaches opens with “Father, hallowed be your name” (Luke 11:2). Hallowed means “to make holy.” Jesus is telling us to say, “God, make your name holy.” One way God does that is by leading us to do holy acts in the name of God.
Praying for the needs of others is one of those holy acts.
If a neighbor knocked on my door and asked me for sugar (or bread!), I would happily give it to them. The parable of the persistent neighbor has made me realize, however, I don’t know my neighbor’s prayer requests. I need to be more attentive and open to hearing from them so I know their needs. Until then, I pray for our daily bread, trusting that God knows what they need.
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