Formations 05.10.2020: But I Don’t Want To!

Luke 11:1-13

What would it take to get you to do something you really, really didn’t want to do? Imagine: You’re a typical first-century peasant in a small village where everybody knows everybody. You live in a one-room house where everyone sleeps on mats rolled out on the floor within peashooter distance of each other. You’ve finally gotten your four or five children to bed (it’s always a fight with little Miriam), and have settled down for the evening.

Then comes a shout at the door. (Not a knock; first-century houseguests called out to announce their presence.) Your neighbor says he’s in trouble. An out-of-town guest has arrived unexpectedly, and he doesn’t have anything to feed him. But he knows who baked bread today at the common village oven. He’s willing to take a chance that you can help him out.

There are certain rules about hospitality in your world. One of them is that you must offer food to a guest. Failure to do so is an insult to your guest and a black mark on your own reputation. What’s worse, since everyone in this world assumes that the group takes precedence over the individual, one person’s slight of hospitality smears the entire village with dishonor.

So, given all this, do you get up to help your friend? And if so, why?

The history of biblical interpretation offers two possible answers. I know which one I think is right, but let me walk you through both.

First, you might be convinced to get up and help your friend, even though you don’t want to, because he is creating a nuisance. He just won’t go away. If you don’t wake up your children by getting up and providing bread, your neighbor is going to wake them anyway with his constant shouting. The squeaky wheel gets the grease…and the midnight snack.

But there’s a second interpretation that is a little more complicated. It hinges on the word translated “persistence” in verse 8. In fact, this word is never used in a positive light in any Greek text that people know of. The King James Version is actually somewhat better here, translating the word “importunity.” What’s importunity, you ask? Well, it comes from a Latin word the means incivility, impoliteness, rudeness, or insolence. If you think it means anything else, that’s because this very parable has shaded the meaning for modern English-speakers.

So here’s another way to read the scenario: You’ll get up and help your friend, even though you don’t want to, because you realize that you have been a jerk. By turning him away, you haven’t only disrespected your friend, you have jeopardized your entire village’s reputation. You’d better believe word is going to get out in the morning about what you have done.

Therefore, because of your incivility, impoliteness, rudeness, or insolence—because of the shame you feel because of the way you have acted—you get up, begrudgingly, and try to make things right by your neighbor.

By either interpretation, this parable makes a “how much more” comparison. By either interpretation, the sleeper does not do what is right out of friendship but purely because he finds it in his own best interest. He’ll finally be able to go back to sleep. Or he’ll head off the knowing glances and the back-fence gossip over his blatant social faux pas.

How much more will God give us what we need (daily bread, for example, or the Holy Spirit) not to shut us up or to defend the honor of the divine name but simply because of God’s eternal and abiding love?


• When have you felt put upon to do the right thing? How did you respond?
• When have you felt uncomfortable asking God for a specific request? Why do you think that was?
• How can this parable give us comfort and assurance when we pray?

Darrell Pursiful is the editor of Formations. He is an adjunct professor at Mercer University and an active member of the First Baptist Church of Christ in Macon, Georgia.


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