We are studying Luke 11:1-13 for Sunday, February 23. This is Luke’s version of the Lord’s Prayer – we looked at Matthew’s version last week – along with some additional teachings on prayer. Or relationship with God. We’ll get to think about that. Here are some notes on the text:
BACKGROUND AND CONTEXT: We’ve turned from Matthew’s to Luke’s gospel. Luke’s gospel has a significant element of “travel narrative.” From 9:51 to 19:28 or so, Jesus is on his way to Jerusalem, having been identified by Peter as the Messiah, and then transfigured in front of Peter, James and John, earlier in chapter 9. Once Jesus and his group get to Jerusalem, the events of what we’ve come to call Holy Week unfold. Our text is early in the travel narrative, which is sometimes also called “Luke’s special section,” because it contains a lot of stories that only appear in Luke. The parable about asking for bread at midnight is one of those.
People are likely to have heard this text in church, at least once or twice. It’s the lectionary’s gospel passage for the 17th Sunday after Pentecost in Year C/the Luke year. Although it is up against some other juicy preaching texts (Hosea 1:2-10, Genesis 18:10-32, and Colossians 2:6-19, to say nothing of Psalms 85 & 138), a lot of lectionary preachers stick with the gospel, and those who don’t will still likely give this text its turn. [I definitely remember hearing it read in church at least once, because I remember being struck by the way Luke phrases the part about us forgiving our debtors, asking forgiveness for ourselves “for,” “because” we forgive our debtors. It has colored my thinking about that part of the prayer ever since.]
CLOSER READING: The setting for the passage in v1 is entirely general in one way – “a certain [unspecified] place” – and very specific in another – Jesus has been praying, and is finished. So the unidentified disciple, who asks Jesus “teach us to pray,” is responding to something Jesus has been doing.
Why does the disciple add “as John taught his disciples”? Why the comparison?
The words of the prayer here are similar, though not identical, to the words of the prayer in Matthew 6:9-13. It’s not obvious what to make of that. The substance of the prayer is the same. We might argue that the eschatological theme is not emphasized as much, though it is still there.
[I have gotten curious, however, about the relationship of the opening “Hallowed be your name” and the familiar Jewish prayer formula “Blessed art thou, Holy One our God, Ruler of the Universe.” Even though “be hallowed” (Greek hagiosthētō) is a different word from “blessed” (Hebrew baruch; Greek makarios), with a different meaning. I still wonder whether that “hallowed be” doesn’t have at least one foot in “blessed art thou…” Which might cause us to hear “blessed art thou” a little differently. Pure conjecture at this point, so if anyone has more information on that, I’d be interested to hear it.]
I appreciate Jesus’s permission to pray not to be brought to the time of trial.
If we think about it, the story in verses 5-8 is odd. How is it that this travelling friend has shown up at the protagonist’s house at midnight expecting to be fed, anyway? Three loaves sounds like a lot – especially in view of the request to be provided with “daily” bread. The “three loaves” seems oddly specific, too – why three? Is this significant, and if so, what does it mean?
The request to “lend” those loaves of bread might sound strange – until we think of the familiar “Can I borrow a cup of sugar?” scenario. We’ll have to imagine the “loan” of bread to be eaten tonight, but replaced by new bread some time.
Maybe we should notice that the character in this story is asking for daily bread here and will now be indebted to the friend, setting up an echo with the prayer Jesus has just taught.
The word translated “persistence” can mean “shameless/ness” or “impudence” – that might imply the request is outrageous. One commentator, however, says the refusal would have seemed outrageous to Jesus’s first century listeners – it would have seemed mandatory to help a friend provide hospitality, even in the middle of the night.
Certainly the shamelessness or persistence is born of desperation in the story. We don’t usually think of the Lord’s Prayer as an act of desperation, as the urgent, desperate prayer of desperate people. But maybe we should.
The tone of desperation might need to carry over to verse 9’s asking, seeking, and knocking. That might make a difference in the way we read those verses.
Again, Why a fish? Why an egg? Why a snake? Why a scorpion? Maybe snakes and scorpions are on Jesus’s mind (see Luke 10:17-20).
God will certainly, absolutely give the good gift of the Holy Spirit to God’s children who ask God for nourishment (verse 13). This comment seems to function like an additional instruction: you need to be asking for the Holy Spirit.
Presumably, too, if God’s children ask God for snakes and scorpions – whether or not they realize that’s what they’re asking for – God would not give them those evil gifts.
That would be too much like the time of trial, wouldn’t it?