Maybe you don’t think of Jesus as much of a comedian, but we get some glimpses of his humor in the Luke lesson (11:1-13) for this coming Sunday. Here is a portion:
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!” (NRSV)
In the first paragraph, Jesus alludes to the customs of hospitality during his time. A person would of course give a guest food---and the grouchy neighbor would have known that! Jesus’ hearers would have thought: that's so silly, the friend is more horrible than anyone could imagine! It's as if Jesus had said, "If your grandma was struggling to cross the street with her walker, would you just sit there with your beer and yell, 'Don't get hit by a car, Grandma!' No, you'd go help her!"
Thus, Jesus teaches us: if the horrible friend in Jesus' story would answer a persistent request, just to get rid of the guy, how much more would God, who loves us dearly, respond to our prayers.(1)
Similarly, the second paragraph. If your child asks for breakfast cereal, would you give her kitty litter? If your child asked for ice cream, would you give him a steak knife? No, no, no! Therefore, if any of us have sense enough to take care of our kids better than that, then how much more will God give us his Spirit (his presence, his comfort and grace). Interestingly, the version of this story in Matthew’s gospel has “good things” instead of “the Holy Spirit.”
When we discussed this passage in our weekly lectionary group, one member called attention to the active nature of the hospitable friend: he had a request, and he was active and persistent in seeking it. Our prayers can be like that, too: we can be persistent with God, and also doing things as we wait for God. Another member commented that prayer helps us be better able to see what God is already doing.
As an aside: I worry about people who might be disappointed in God if prayers are not answered right away, if at all. Sometimes our prayers seem unanswered; specific events are difficult, things do or don’t work out; tragedies and crises happen, some of which are life-changing. Many times we have no idea is God is present or (we feel) even cares. That’s very much the outlook of some of the psalms, too!
God may answer our prayers right away, or answer them in a different way, or answer them over a period of time (perhaps even a long period). I do like to tell folks that God has never failed me over the long haul; the Christian life is a way to have a framework, so to speak, for one’s whole life, a framework of belonging to God and being cared for and led---along with our family and friends. We can look back and see the amazing ways that God cared for us and answered our prayers and given us his Spirit, better than we could have thought or asked (Eph. 3:20-21).
1. Off and on for the past few months I've been studying Jesus' parables again, via the books Exploring the Parables by Eugene S. Wehrli (United Church Press, 1963), and The Parables of Jesus by Joachim Jeremias (Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1972).