A Message from the Editor
As Rev Janet is away on Sabbatical and unfortunately, we do not have a minister’s letter on this occasion, so it has fallen to me to try to put a few words together.
I have been re-reading a book by Susan Durber, URC Minister and former principle of Westminster College, on parables. Dr Durber often gives an unusual slant on some very familiar stories told by Jesus and one which caught my attention is entitled, “The Friend at Midnight”, based on Luke 11: 5-8. I am sure that you will have heard and read this in various translations many times –
“Which of you, having a friend, and the friend comes to him in the middle of the night and says to him, ‘Friend, lend me three loaves of bread, because a friend of mine has arrived at mine, and I don’t have anything that I can give him’, and the one inside says to him, ‘Don’t bring me trouble. The door has been shut up and my children, and me are in bed. I can’t get up and give anything to you’. I say to you, if he will not get up and give something to him because of his being a friend, yet he will get up to give him as much as he needs because of his shame.”
Dr Durber comments that we are often told that this is another of those ‘how much more’ parables. Basically, the idea is that if a human being, with all his or her faults and failings is eventually willing to do what the friend asks, how much more will God respond to petitions from God’s children. The problem she sees with this approach is that it gives the impression that ‘God will give us what we want if we badger heaven with prayer’. This, in her view is scandalous. The God portrayed in the New Testament is not one to be placated with gifts or one who would cave in under pressure of nagging and complaining.
An alternative approach would be to see this parable in terms of the coming of the kingdom of God. The friend who arrives at midnight in a state of panic, asking for more than the daily ration of bread, describes the very reverse of what Jesus taught us about prayer. Jesus taught us to pray for bread for the day only, to be forgiven our debts and to be spared a time of trial. Prayer is about spending time with God each day, not emergency cries for help, forgotten once the crisis is past.
God does not or cannot give us everything we want and cannot simply always open the door and make everything alright. We have to recognise the reality that sometimes we are like the person knocking on the door with the friend refusing to help us.
Dr Durber goes on to say that the parable can be seen as both a cautionary tale about the importance of being spiritually prepared and also an insight into the wonderful kingdom of God, in which locked doors are opened, bread is offered and feasts can sometimes be found at midnight.