Again, I want to say, what a joy it is to be part of this Conference and to be able to spend time in the great city of Hong Kong. I want to thank the members of the HKBC who have expressed such generous and warm hospitality toward me. I have been deeply moved by the preaching of Rev. Siu. I will remember his brilliant idea that Emanuel must come, and his brilliant unpacking of the nature of the resurrection body that Emanuel does come. I have not yet attended the evening services because of jet lag, so I’m looking forward tonight to be able to experience the preaching of Rev. Ng, to learn more about how Emanuel is our good shepherd. And I give great thanks for the translators – Eugene doing Cantonese, Gary doing Mandarin and Josephine doing sign language downstairs.
Let us pray.
Spirit of the living God, we believe that You inspired the words that we have read from the Gospel according to Luke. And we pray now in Your mercy and grace that You would make these words come alive in our life as never before. For we pray in Jesus’ name. Amen.
I invite you this morning to come with me into a little parable that came alive for me while living in Manila, Philippine. From 1985 to 1989, I served as a senior pastor of Union Church of Manila with an international congregation in the heart of that city. The church was made up of people from 35 different countries of the world and they were from 30 different Christian denominations, which meant that I was always in trouble with someone for some reason or another. During those days in Philippine, the LORD gave me the opportunity to travel throughout Asia. I spoke for pastors’ conferences in Bangkok, Thailand. I taught on preaching on worship in a seminary in Tainan, Taiwan. I spent two weeks in Beijing in Feb 1989, teaching for an international congregation which met in the Austrian embassy compound. During that time in Philippine, Sharon and I experience the People Power Revolution, through which I learned how the kingdom of God works and does not work in the world. The parable which I invite you to read this morning came alive for me because we were living in Manila in Asia. The little parable came alive for me because we were living in Asia. I do not think it would have come alive for me had the LORD not allow me to live in Asia. The parable is recorded in Luke 11:5-8. It is usually called “the Friend at Midnight”. Because of what I learned because I was living in Manila, I would tell you what this parable should be called later.
In any case of Jesus’ parables, we need to see and hear the parable in its original context. That’s why I have us read the verses before and after the parable. The original context for the parable involved Jesus being asked by his disciples to teach them to pray. After spending the time alone in prayer, the first group of disciples said to Jesus, “Lord, teach us to pray, just as John taught his disciples.” This is the only thing any of Jesus’ first disciples are recorded to have asked him to teach them. There is no record of more teachings to heal, to lead, to counsel, to cast out demons, to do justice, to change the culture, or to evangelize. There is even no teaching to preach. The only thing they asked Jesus about is “teach us to pray”. Why? I think His first disciples could see that Jesus in healing, leading, counseling, casting out demons, doing justice, or changing cultures. I think, they saw all emerge from His relationship with the one He calls Father. They could see that the key to this relationship is prayer, since He was regularly slipping away from the crowd to pray. So, they asked Jesus to teach them to pray. I take the request to mean more than “teach us some new prayer technique”, but “LORD, teach us what it is You know about Your Father that makes You want to pray.” So, Jesus teaches them a short form of the LORD’s prayer. And then He teaches a little parable which is called “the Friend at Midnight”.
Now, clearly in the original context, LORD teaches us to pray. The parable is intended to make the first disciples and us what to pray. However, does it really make you want to pray? “I tell you that even though he will not get up and give him anything because he is his friend, yet because of his persistence, he will get up.” (11:8) Does that make you want to pray? Traditional western interpretation of the parable – by western, I mean European, North American, Australian – has done two things with this parable: (1) It is said that the parable is about the one who is asking for bread, that the parable is about us to pray. (2) It has said that the parable calls us to “persistence” (v.8) in prayer. It was because of what I learned because I was living in Asia, I came to see that the traditional western understanding of the parable is off the mark. It does not get the wonderful thing that Jesus is revealing in the parable. When we see this wonderful thing, we will want to pray all the time. As I learned to look at life through a Filipino world view, which my discovering is very similar to the middle eastern world view in which Jesus lived and taught, and as I, in that Asian context, learn more about the middle eastern world view through the work of missionary theologian Kenneth Bailey – who spent 35 years studying and teaching in Lebanon, Jordan, Syria and Israel – I came to see that (1) the parable is not about the man asking for bread, and (2) the parable does not call us to persistence. In Luke ch.18, “The Widow and the Unjust Judge” which we will look at the last day of the conference does call us to persistence.
We will then look into the word “persistence” in v.8. We now know that it is not the right way to render the word Jesus used. What is the parable about? In order to see and hear what Jesus is revealing, we need to make FIVE observations.
1. The parable begins with a question
Verses 5-7 are one question. Most versions of the Bible begin like this: “Suppose one of you shall have a friend. . .” If you have a study Bible, you will see a little notation on the top of the word “Suppose”, and this notation takes you to what are called the marginal readings, writing a column or usually on the bottom of the study page. If you look at the marginal reading, you will see it writes, “lit. which one of you. . .” It means, literally, “which one of you shall have a friend. . .” Verses 5-7 is one question has no break, “Which one of you has a friend and shall go to him at midnight and say, ‘Friend, lend me three loaves of bread, for a friend of mine on a journey has come to me and I have nothing to set before him.’ And the one inside the house answers, ‘Do not bother me. The door is already locked and my children and I are in bed and I cannot get up and give you anything you want.’” One long sentence is one question.
There are two men in the parable, and I’m going to give them two names – Mr. Outside and Mr. Inside. Which one of you can imagine Mr. Outside, receiving a traveling guest at midnight, going to Mr. Inside and asking for help to feed the guests? Which one of you can imagine Mr. Inside saying “Do not bother me, my family and I are already in bed, and I cannot get up and help you”? Can you imagine such a scenario? Which one of you can imagine this?
2. The culturally expected answer
Actually, the expected answer is, none of us can imagine this scenario. In the middle east, you will never hear, “Go away, I cannot get up and give you anything.” In the west, you can imagine that. Mr. Inside might even call the police or at least the building supervisor. But it is impossible in middle east. I have tested this throughout the middle east. I’ve asked people in Lebanon, Jordan, Armenia and others, “Can you imagine this scenario?” The uniform answer is “No, this is impossible.” I also tested it in Beijing, people in Vancouver from Hong Kong, Thailand, Vietnam, India, Ethiopia, Iran, and the uniform answer is “No”. This scenario is culturally impossible. Why impossible? Chinese people certainly know why. Because there are cultural values.
3. Two key cultural values in the middle east.
They are “hospitality” and “avoidance of shame”. These values are working the parable in a number of ways. The host, Mr. Outside, must place before the guest more food than the guest can eat. I was taken by this the first time as a pastor when I visited a Filipino home. Sharon and I arrived with our two children (we only had two at the time). There was so much food on the table, so I ask, who else is coming to dinner? No one else! There was more food on the table than we could possibly eat in that one meal. On my first trip to Hong Kong on 19 Oct. 2017, there were more food than we could possibly eat. Mr. Outside asked for three loaves of bread, and that they were simply the utensils with which to eat the meal. The meal was a kind of stew in a big bowl. The bread would be passed around, and they broke off a piece of bread, dipped it in the bowl and brought the bread with the stew into the mouth. Then you break off another piece of bread, dip it in, and put it into your mouth. So Mr. Outside only asking for the chopsticks. This is why Jesus said, Mr. Inside will get up and give Mr. Outside as much as he needs, because Mr. Outside needs more than bread. And he needs a whole lot more. He has to go to the other neighbors and get some carrots, onions, beans and mushroom. Mr. Outside has a lot of work to do that night.
One more way the cultural dynamics is at work. The guest of the host is the guest of the whole village, not just only of Mr. Outside. And Mr. Inside is aware of that. Mr. Outside is extending hospitality on behalf of the whole village, and Mr. Inside has to play his role. So it comes to observation four, where it gets a little more technical.
4. The meaning of anaidian
We are going to look at the actual word Jesus uses in the parable. “Because of his anaidian. . .” (v.8) That is a Greek word which is variously rendered as “persistence” or “boldness” or “audacity”. In the 1st Century, this word did not mean “persistence”. It did not develop that meaning until late in the 3rd Century. If you had a 1st Century dictionary (which you don’t have, but assume you have one), if you looked up this word anaidian, this word does not mean “persistence”. Rather, it would say “shamelessness”. That’s why in many study Bibles, you will find a notation on top of the word “persistence”. The notation takes you to the marginal reading, and the marginal reading says “lit. shamelessness” or “lit. avoidance of shame”. Now the newest Greek dictionary scholars have composed “shamelessness” as the primary meaning of this word.
You know, “shame” is a negative quality, and so “shamelessness” is a positive quality. Middle eastern cultures are shame-based cultures, and as I understand, so are most Asian and many Hispanic. Roman and Greek, British and German and Caucasian American are guilt-based cultures. In middle east, there are rules, but daily life is practically governed by shame. It is not how we are used in the west. In the west, shame means “I feel miserable about myself.” But shame means “losing face”. Shame means damaging reputation. In the west, parents discipline their children by saying “that is wrong”. In the middle east, parents discipline their children by saying “that is shameful”. It is a kind of fundamental cultural value – I will do anything and everything to avoid bringing shame on myself, on my name, on my family’s name, and on my city’s name.
Let me share with you how I learned this in Manila. One never opens the birthday gift at the birthday party. Why? Because if you give me a gift that I do not really like, my displeasure is going to show on my face, and you will feel shameful. So I will wait to go home to open the gift. (My children never like that.) At home, I can respond privately. If I do not like the gift, no one needs to know. In the privacy, I can process my disappointment, so that when I see you again, I can freely thank you for the gift. When we were living in Glendale, California, which is the largest Armenian city outside Armenia, my Armenian neighbor gave me a gift on my birthday. I’m so glad I understood this cultural value. I took the gift home first, and then opened it. It was an awful purple sweater, and I told my wife, “I’m not going to wear this anywhere!” So I worked through all my feelings, went to my neighbor wearing the purple sweater, and thanked him.
Another way I learned about this avoidance of shame is so-called “third-party reconciliation process” – If I have an issue with you, I do not go directly to you, at least not at first. I go to another friend with whom I can freely express myself, then I get all my disgust out, I share my suspicion, I share my anger. And my friend goes to you, expressing my concern. Then you can express your disgust on my disgust, or you can freely express your regret that in fact you did hurt me. And then we can come one to one and we can meet, and neither of us lose face. It is beautiful. I wish western political leaders understood this. We must take time to find a way save the face of the one whom we disagree.
So, this is observation four, anaidian means to avoid a shame at all costs. But why have western Bibles for so long rendered it as “persistence”? Partly because westerners could not get their mind around this concept. We still cannot today, but mostly because westerners could not understand how this quality applies to the man who is asking for bread. How does this quality apply to Mr. Outside? Why does one need to be shameless when asking for bread? How am I losing face by asking help to extend hospitality to a late-night visitor? The question leads to observation five.
5. The word anaidian does not refer to the one who is asking for bread.
The word does not apply to Mr. Outside. The word refers to the one being asked for bread, Mr. Inside. Look carefully at v.8, where it’s a little difficult. In English, there are six clauses.
“Even though HE will not get up. . .” Who is “he”? Mr. Inside.
“. . . HE give him anything. . .” Who is “he”? Mr. Inside.
“. . . because HE is his friend. . .” Who is “he”? Mr. Inside.
“. . . because of HIS anaidian. . .” Who is this “he” or “his”? We will come back in a moment.
“. . . HE will get up. . .” Who is “he”? Mr. Inside.
“. . . and HE will give him as much as he needs.” Who is “he”? Mr. Inside.
If Mr. Inside is the subject of five of the clauses, is it not reasonable to assume that he is the subject of all six classes? The quality of anaidian refers to the guy being asked. It applies to Mr. Inside. Because of his shamelessness, he will get up and give him as much as he needs, because he does not want the story to go around in the village the next morning that he did not help extend hospitality. The point is, there is something that goes beyond friendship – the avoidance of shame. I’m not going to damage my reputation, I’m not going to lose face. I do not want the rumor to go around Hong Kong tomorrow, that I did not help Hong Kong extend hospitality to the midnight visitor. I do not want anyone to say to me in the morning, “why did you fail to help us? Shame on you! You shamed us all!”
Now we are ready to hear and see what Jesus is revealing in the parable. It is stunning – LORD teaches us to pray. Jesus teaches a short form of the LORD’s prayer, then He teaches us the parable. The parable is not about the one who was asking. The parable is about the one who is being asked. Therefore, the parable is not about us who pray, but is about the Father to whom we pray. When you praise as Jesus, “Father, hallow your name. Father, honor your name.” He does, and He always does. Jesus is saying that the Father has anaidian. The Father has the avoidance of shame. Or to put it in more familiar biblical terms, the Father will always act in ways that honors His name. The Father will never shame his name.
1. The meaning of the Father’s name
What is Father’s name? He has many names – El-Shaddai, Jehovah Rapha etc. But the name above all names is YHWH (Yahweh, or Jehovah in plain English). The name above all names is “I am who I am”. In Exodus ch.3, the living God meets Moses at the burning bush. Moses says, “What is Your name?” God replies, “I am who I am. YHWH. My name is ‘I am’.” It is not the “I am who I am” in the philosophical sense, as though God were being aloof and contemplating His own being, but “But I am who I am” in a relational sense. I am who I am with you and for you. That is the meaning of the sacred name – “I am who I am with you and for you”.
This is God’s covenant name. in every covenant God has made with humanity, we find the phrase “I will be your god, you will be My people”. “I will be your God” is God’s way of saying, all that I am I place at your disposal. All that makes me be God I put at your disposal – all My power, mercy, wisdom, creativity – all of it, I put at your disposal. All of that wonder is packed into the name YHWH – “I am”. And Jesus is telling us in the parable that the Father always honors that name. The Father will never shame His name. God has gone public with His name. This is who I am. God has placed His name under people – YHWH’s people. God says, I am with you, and I am for you. And He does not want the neighbors to hear that someone came asking for help was told to go away.
I think you can realize this is how the people of the Old Testament prayed. They implicitly understood all this. “For Your name’s sake,” they prayed. Moses was out into the desert after the exodus out of Egypt. God’s people have been disobedient. They are grumbling and complaining. God says, I have had it with them. And He is thinking that the best thing to do is to destroy them. Do you remember how Moses prayed? In Exodus 32:11-14, Moses said to God, “What will the Egyptians think? You said they are Your people. You said You are there with them and for them. If You destroy them, You shame Your name.” And what does the Exodus text say? God changes His mind to honor His name. David, the psalmist, understood this. In Psalm 25:11, “For Your name’s sake, pardon my iniquity. You said that if I come to You confess my sin, You would forgive. I’m banking on Your name.” In Psalm 23, “He makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside waters of rest. He restores my soul. He leads me in the paths of righteousness.” Why? For His name’s sake. The prophet Ezekiel really got this. In Ezekiel 36:22 and following, “It is not for your sake of the house of Israel that I’m about to act. But for My holy name which you have shamed among the nations where you went. I will prove Myself holy. I will give you a new heart, put a new spirit within you. I will put My spirit within you and cause you to walk in my statues. I will save you from all your unclean-ness. I will cleanse you.” Why? “For My name’s sake.”
Do you see how Jesus’ parable answers the disciples’ request? Jesus is giving them wonderful assurance in prayer. Yes, the Father loves us. How does He love us? We will look into Luke ch.15 next week. The Father loves us, right? But even if the Father does not love us, something else is going on. He loves His name, and He has avoidance of shame. Jesus tells us we can count on us. The Father will always honor His name.
2. The meaning of the Father’s name related to us
It turns out that God’s commitment to His name translates into a commitment to His people. For the sake of His great name, YHWH will not reject you. It is the assurance that the prophet Samuel spoke to Israel after Israel wanted a human king like all the other peoples of the earth, that is after Israel explicitly says it does not, it wants a different king than YHWH. How shameful it is. And yet, 1 Samuel 12:22, “For the sake of His great name, YHWH will not reject you.” I said you are My people. I said I’m with you and for you. And I will not shame My name. So theologian John Piper can write, “It was the Father’s pleasure to join you to Himself in such a way that His name is at stake in your destiny.” Or another way of saying it, “It was the Father’s good pleasure to possess you in such a way that what happens to you affects His name.” The Father’s name is “I am with you and for you. I give you Myself.”
Now all of this helps us understand what Jesus says after the parable. Luke 11:9, “Ask . . . Seek . . . Knock . . .” It is not a call to persistence as though we were to wear God down. Rather, it is great assurance. Ask, seek and knock, because every time you ask, seek and knock, something happens. “Ask, seek and knock” is in present tense. Present tense in Greek emphasizes continuous action. So, Jesus literally says, “Keep asking. Keep seeking. Keep knocking.” Why? Luke 11:10, “Receive . . . Find . . . Open . . .” “Receive” and “Find” are in present tense. He is receiving, and he is finding. One who keep asking is receiving. One who keeps on seeking is finding.
We are to keep praying, because every time we pray, something is happening. What is happening? Mother Teresa of India answers best. “We are expanding our capacity to receive. As we keep asking and seeking, we are expanding our capacity to receive.” Receive what? God! We are expanding our capacity to receive God. Therefore, Luke 11:13, “Will not the Father give the Holy Spirit to those who are asking?” African theologian St. Augustus of the 3rd Century said that the Holy Spirit is the embodiment of the love relationship between God the Father and God the Son. The Father loves the Son and the Son loves the Father. Father delights in the Son and the Son delights in the Father. The Holy Spirit is the embodiment of all that love and delight. And the Father and the Son have publicly declared Their promise to give the Holy Spirit to whomever asks. Jesus calls the Spirit the promise of the Father. The father will not be shamed. He will keep His promise.
How grateful I am that I lived in Asia to learn what otherwise would not have learned. Can you imagine, Mr. Outside, receiving a guest at midnight, needed to feed him, going to Mr. Inside, asking for bread, and being told to go away? No, it is impossible. Mr. Inside will get up and give Mr. Outside as much as he needs. Can you imagine you or I going to God the Father, in the name of God the Son, and asking for more of God the Holy Spirit, and being told to go away? God the Father will get up, and He will give you as much of Himself as you need.
Let us pray.
What of God do you need today? What of God you need in order to extend hospitality? What of God do you need? Ask. And when you are asking, you will receive. Something always happens. God gives us more of Himself. Ask.
Dear Jesus, Thank You for revealing what You know about Your Father. Thank You for revealing what we would never have discovered on our own. Thank You for revealing the shameless heart of the Father. Help us live the rest of our lives, a life that is great wonder. You are so good. Amen.