15-2 The Parable of The Three Friends
The Lord told a parable about three friends. One friend, presumably very
poor, arrives at midnight at the doorstep of friend number two. Perhaps
those not from an Eastern background can never understand the pressing
urgency of the hospitality culture; you must feed the visitor.
It just has to be done. But he is poor, and he doesn’t have any bread.
So, he goes to his richer friend, friend number three, and wakes him up,
disturbing the whole household, to ask him to give him some bread with
which to entertain the first friend. Because of his " importunity"
, the rich friend gave to him. The Greek translated " importunity"
means lack of shamefacedness, lack of reverence. The Greek word is an-aideia:
without aidos. What does aidos mean? It is used twice
in the New Testament: in 1 Tim. 2:9 " shamefacedness" , and
in Heb. 12:28 " serve God acceptably with reverence"
. The man (who the Lord invites us to see as representing us) comes to
the rich friend (cp. God) wit out this reverence. Now of course
we should serve our God with appropriate reverence. But there ought to
be times when we as it were rush to God, because He is our father and
our friend, without that formality which our worship of Him might more
usually include. Contrary to the ideas of popular religion, God is not
merely something to be worshipped; He is Father and friend, the one to
run to in time of urgent need when that need arises from the requirements
of His people and His work.
The Lord will one day come to us at midnight, and the unworthy
will not open to Him (Song 5). And He right now stands at the door and
knocks (Rev. 3:20). The rejected will know what it is like to stand knocking
at the Lords shut door and be unanswered (Mt. 25:10; Lk. 13:25). He surely
intended us to make such links within His teachings. The message is quite
clear- those who cant be bothered to respond to the knocking of others,
who refuse to feel for others in their desperation… these are the ones
who will then come to know just how that feels, as in ultimate spiritual
desperation they hammer at the Lords door. >From this it surely
follows that in our response to the desperation of others, we are working
out our own eternal destiny. We are deciding whether or not the Lord will
respond to us, as we lay there prostrate before Him at judgment,
knowing our desperation whilst at the same time believing and hoping in
His love and response. When we see others in their needs, the sister who
cant get to meeting because nobody will baby-sit for her once in a while,
the brother who just needs someone to talk to, someone to listen, an evening
of someone’s time, the man over there who is so lost in his Catholicism,
that guy so addicted to his dreams of personal wealth, the woman back
there hooked on dope, the single father with two spastic children, the
grandmother left to bring up three children on a tiny pension in one room
with broken windows and severe winters, the refugees streaming over that
border day after day… we are confronted with these pictures daily.
They are knocking at our door, at midnight. And we would rather not be
disturbed. We would rather acknowledge their status as our friends, our
brothers and sisters, but make excuses as to why here and now we cant
respond. To tell the friend that, well, give him bread tomorrow…this was
quite inappropriate. It could have been argued that they didn’t need
bread right then. They could wait till morning. But the friend appreciated
the shame and the awkwardness of his friend…his heart
felt for him, and he responded. It isn’t just dire material need we should
feel for, therefore; but feel for others in the sheer humanity of their
life situations, and have a heart willing to try to give them all they
need in them.
Paul’s writings are packed with allusions back to the Lords parables.
In his reference to the tale of the three friends, Paul seems to have
understood just as we have done. Rom. 16:1,2 comments that the ecclesia
should welcome " Phoebe our sister receive her in the Lord, as becometh
saints, and that ye assist her in whatsoever business she hath need
of you: for she hath been a succourer of many" . " Hath need"
is the same Greek word as in Lk. 11:8- the friend gave whatever was
needed to the friend who arrived from his journey. And Paul says
this should be done for Phoebe because she lived a life of giving out
to others needs.
The friend who came on his journey with " nothing" (Lk. 11:6)
is intended by the Lord to be understood primarily as referring to the
disciples whom He had sent out on their journey with nothing (" take
nothing for your journey" , Lk. 9:3). When He told them to "
eat such things as are set before you" (Lk. 10:8), He didn’t just
mean ‘Don’t be picky about your food’. He used the same word in Lk. 11:6
to describe how the faithful friend " set [food] before" his
visitor. As they travelled around, the disciples were to be received in
the way He was describing. Those in that early brotherhood of believers
who received and supported them were to do so knowing that these brethren
were in their turn responding to human need, and they could be fellow-helpers
in the Gospel’s work by showing hospitality. John says just the same:
" Because that for his names sake they went forth [alluding to the
great commission to go into all the world], taking nothing of the
Gentiles [i.e. the unbelievers]. We therefore ought to help
receive such, that we might be fellow-helpers to the truth" (3 Jn.
The knocking on the door is specifically a symbol of prayer. If we see
our brothers need, even if we can do nothing physically to help (and so
often, we cant); we will pray earnestly for them. If we truly
feel for them, we will pray for them. The friend troubles his friend for
help (Lk. 18:7), just as in another parable about prayer the desperate
widow " troubles" the judge for a response (Lk. 18:5). "
From within" (11:7) is always used in the Bible about the inner man,
rather than meaning indoors. The Greek word occurs twice in the same context:
" your inward part…that which is within" (11:39,40).
Inside himself, he spoke to his friend: " Trouble me not" .
Yet that satan within him, that desire to be selfish, was overcome by
his realization of his friends need, and why it had arisen. And
if we have this same emboldened conscience to overcome our innate selfishness
and ask of our Father for the sake of others, then we will s
the work of the ministry will be provided by Him- that is His sober promise.
Jn. 15:16 is one of John’s versions of the great preaching commission:
" I chose you and appointed you, that ye should go and bear
fruit…whatsoever ye shall ask of the Father in my name, he may give it
you" . The promise of support and help and answered prayer is again
held out- in the context of preaching and ministering to the Gospel.
For The World
We should preach because we know the Gospel, because we are men and women
charged with good news- which is what the very word evangelio implies.
We will want to lift the load of shame and guilt that burden men down,
with the good news of Gods saving grace. This is where our preaching
ought to be different to the preaching of other Christian groups. Their
goal seems to be getting more members for their church. We must ask: Are
we evangelizing, or are we recruiting? The knowledge of the True Gospel,
the real good news which none others have…this ought to make our
witness far different from their drives to recruit more members to their
religion. We should be seeking to liberated the hurt and the lost, rather
than trying to merely validate ourselves and the faith of our fathers.
We must ask ourselves whether we have the right focus; whether we are
leading people into the grace and real empowerment that comes from walking
simply, honestly and closely with God; or are we adding to the good news
until its not good any more? Are we really using grace and truth to tear
down the fortresses of unbelief or false belief…or are we more taken up
with struggling over what type of hymn book we have, or dress standards,
or stopping people chew gum in church? We each have a tendency to withdraw
from the world, secluding ourselves, observing life without truly participating
in it. Yet in preaching the Gospel we seek to break down the barrier between
observer and participator, and enter into others’ lives. We are humans,
all our knowledge of the Truth does not make us somehow separate from
all the rest of us. And this is the basis for our love and concern for
Thomas Merton in Confessions Of A Guilty Bystander sums it up
“In Louisville, at the corner of Fourth and Walnut, in the center of
the shopping district, I was suddenly overwhelmed with the realization
that I loved all those people, that they were mine and I theirs, that
we could not be alien to one another even though we were total strangers…those
‘out of the world’ are in the same world as everybody else, the world
of the bomb, the world of race hatred, the world of technology, the
world of mass media, big business, revolution and all the rest”(1).
And truly did John Donne write in his Devotions: “Any man’s
death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind, and therefore never
send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee”. Yet it is cruelly
difficult to be sensitive in today’s world. Those who are so often end
up destroying that sensitivity in order to escape the pain that comes
from being truly sensitive. Yet this was the pain of the life of Jesus,
and all those others whose hearts bled for others. The Gospel answers
to actual human need, as glove fits hand, but we can only take the Gospel
to the human need if we ourselves, as preachers, are motivated by a passion
and sensitivity for their need.
(1) Thomas Merton, Confessions Of
A Guilty Bystander (Garden City, New York: Doubleday, 1965).