Suppose you have a friend, and you go to him at midnight and say, ‘Friend, lend me three loaves of bread…’
It’s midnight, and John and Mary are asleep in bed. A sudden knocking wakes them; John staggers over to the window, and sees his friend Joe battering at the door. ‘What do you want?’ he calls grumpily. ‘Have you got any bread?’ calls Joe. ‘It’s Joe’, John tells Mary, ‘asking for bread’. ‘Tell him to get lost’, she says, turning her back but being careful not to lie on the baby. ‘Please’, calls Joe, ‘a friend has arrived out of the blue, and I’ve got no food in the house’. ‘It’s midnight, and we’re all in bed’, John replies. ‘Come back in the morning.’ But Joe won’t take no for an answer: he keeps on pleading until John – persuaded by his persistence – relents.
Luke records this story between two of Jesus’ most famous teachings on prayer: the Lord’s prayer (11:2-4) and ‘Ask… seek… knock’ (11:9-10). It appears to be a parable about the conditions for answered prayer. We might readily think that the friendship between the two men was the reason that the request was granted – nepotism and the ‘old boy network’ come to mind. But Jesus is explicit: it was his friend’s ‘boldness’ that changed John’s mind. This word carries a range of connotations, from boldness or even shamelessness to persistence and perseverance.
This is a parable in which, clearly, the protagonist does not represent God – a reluctant helper, more anxious for his own comfort than for the welfare of his friend. Jesus is, rather, pointing to a contrast. Richard Chenevix Trench, in his 1840 classic, Notes on the Parables of our Lord, wrote that we must not ‘conceive of prayer as an overcoming of God’s reluctance, when it is, in fact, a laying hold of his highest willingness’.
It is worth noting, however, that just as Jesus encourages us to address God as Father, so in this parable the illustration that he uses is of the relationship between friends. Is it not on the strength of Jesus’ calling us ‘not servants but friends’ (John 15:15) that we can come with boldness and confidence, persevering in prayer even when the answer is long in coming?