He was praying in a certain place, and after he had finished, one of his disciples said to him, ‘Lord, teach us to pray, as John taught his disciples.’ He said to them, ‘When you pray, say: Father, hallowed be your name.
Your kingdom come. Give us each day our daily bread. And forgive us our sins, for we ourselves forgive everyone indebted to us. And do not bring us to the time of trial.’
And he said to them, ‘Suppose one of you has a friend, and you go to him at midnight and say to him, “Friend, lend me three loaves of bread; for a friend of mine has arrived, and I have nothing to set before him.” And he answers from within, “Do not bother me; the door has already been locked, and my children are with me in bed; I cannot get up and give you anything.”
I tell you, even though he will not get up and give him anything because he is his friend, at least because of his persistence he will get up and give him whatever he needs. ‘So I say to you, Ask, and it will be given to 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. Is there anyone among you who, if your child asks for a fish, will give a snake instead of a fish? Or if the child asks for an egg, will give a scorpion? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!’
When I visited the Holy Land we were led by Bassam, a wonderfully knowledgeable Palestinian Christian guide. He transformed my understanding of Jesus’s story which follows the Lord’s Prayer.
Bassam was standing in front of a cave that would have been inhabited by a family in Jesus’ time. He pointed out that in hot countries, caves provide excellent shelter from the heat and other dangers. He believes that the home to which the neighbour came to ask for bread was not a house, but a cave.
The larder would be at the very back of the cave – for coolness. The children (who went to sleep first) would sleep in front of the larder. The mother slept in front of them. The father slept at the entrance to keep watch.
His reluctance to go and get bread for his neighbour was not meanness, but concern for his family. To get at the bread, he would have to light a candle and clamber over his sleeping wife and the sleeping children (very possibly waking them up). He would then need to locate the bread in the dark and climb back over his family. His reluctance is understandable.
But if the neighbour persists and perhaps even raises his voice, the calculation changes. His wife and children may well be woken by the commotion. He might as well give in and go and get the bread.
The humour and the point of Jesus’s story are easily lost on modern western readers. But not on those who today live in caves or shanty towns. Whenever they are generous to their persistent neighbours, from the little they possess, they put us to shame. God’s generosity is seen above all not in our rich lives, but in the lives of the poor, who know how to share.
Loving God, the more we have, the less able we seem to be to share. Help our neighbours in need to be persistent in their asking, so that even we in our comfortable homes may be willing to put ourselves out to meet the needs of others. Help us to hear those who are knocking on our doors and the cries for bread from our neighbours, and inspire us to respond with loving generosity. Amen.
The Rev’d Gethin Rhys, Policy Officer, Cytun (Churches together in Wales) and member of Parkminster URC, Cardiff