A Lectionary Reflection on Luke 11:1-13 for Proper 12C
In a world where hospitality is a high value, it is a big embarrassment to be found to have nothing to offer an unexpected guest. In a world where community is a high value, it is deeply frowned upon to refuse to help a neighbour who is about to suffer a huge embarrassment because they are unable to provide hospitality to an unexpected guest. This is the setting for the parable, and Jesus’ teaching on prayer, in this week’s Lectionary reading.
In the sections preceding this passage, the theme of hospitality has been a constant, almost tiresome, refrain. There was the challenge to the disciples to welcome children as examples of the best of those who belong in God’s Reign. There was the sending of the seventy two to proclaim God’s hospitality while depending on the hospitality of those to whom they were sent. There was the call to love our neighbours as demonstrated by the Good Samaritan. There was Mary’s bold claim to belong among the disciples, even though she was a woman, revealing her absolute trust in the welcome and hospitality of Jesus, and of God’s Reign. Now the theme of hospitality continues into our understanding of prayer. (Notice how different the setting of the Lord’s prayer is for Luke, as compared to Matthew, where it is in the Sermon on the Mount, and contrasted with the empty prayer of the hypocrites).
The prayer begins with a proclamation of God as the one whose name is worthy of honour, and for whose Reign we pray. In other words, the starting point of the Lord’s Prayer is an acknowledgment of God’s amazing hospitality, in spite of God’s transcendent glory, which should mean that we could expect no such welcome. Then, the prayer boldly presumes on this hospitality in asking for bread, forgiveness, and protection from temptation. Inherent in this request, though, is the response that we should extend that hospitality to others by forgiving them, and, presumably, by ensuring that the bread we pray for each day is enough to provide for those unexpected guests who may need to rely on our hospitality.
Then, to drive the point home, Jesus describes the scenario of potential embarrassment when a guest arrives, and we have nothing to offer them, and so we go to a friend and plead for them to help us. Jesus remarks that although our friendship may not be enough to get the friend out of bed, our brash persistence is. But, the point that is often missed in this parable is that the bread that is being asked for so persistently is not for our own use, but in order to provide hospitality to another. It is in this context that the instruction to keep on asking, seeking and knocking is offered, and the promise of God’s good gift of the Holy Spirit is given.
Too much of our prayer has become disconnected from the hospitality of God’s Reign. Too many of our requests – even for God’s Spirit – are rooted in our own needs and desires, with little or no concern for those who desperately need us to offer God’s hospitality. Yet, if we seek to pray well, in accordance with Jesus’ teaching, if we seek to apply the principles of the Lord’s prayer to our own prayer life, our prayer should be rooted in faith and praise for God’s Reign, and in the quest to extend the hospitality of God’s Reign to others. So, the challenging and searching question we must ask of our prayers is this: To what extent do we pray hospitable prayers? To what extent is our prayer life focussed on our own needs and desires, and to what extent is it centred around extending the hospitality of God’s Reign to those around us? The answer to this question, according to Luke – who may well have been writing to a mixed community of Jews and Gentiles who were trying to learn to live together, and for whom the question of hospitality was far more than an intellectual exercise – determines whether our prayers align with God’s dream or not.