Shakespeare, Jesus, and Lawyers (Pt. One)

Please read Matthew 15:1-20 in your Bible.  Then examine the following to see if your spirit agrees.  I have prepared these remarks using the NIV.

Legalism is one of the disguises hypocrisy wears to conceal ungodliness.

“Few people are unfamiliar with the phrase, The first thing we do, let’s kill all the lawyers. Rueful, mocking, it often expresses the ordinary person’s frustration with the arcana and complexity of law. Sometimes it’s known that the saying comes from one of Shakespeare’s plays, but usually there’s little awareness beyond that. This gap in knowledge has inspired a myth of ‘correction,’ where it is ‘explained’ that this line is intended as a praise of lawyers.

“Whoever first came up with this interpretation surely must have been a lawyer.  The line is actually uttered by a character ‘Dick the Butcher.’ While he’s a killer as evil as his name implies, he often makes highly comedic and amusing statements.

“The “kill the lawyers” statement is the ending portion of a comedic relief part of a scene in Henry VI, part 2. Dick and another henchman, Smith are members of the gang of Jack Cade, a pretender to the throne. The build-up is a long portion where Cade makes vain boasts, which are cut down by sarcastic replies from the others. For example:

JACK CADE
I thank you, good people:- there shall be no money; all shall eat and drink on my score; and I will apparel them all in one livery, that they may agree like brothers, and worship me their lord.

DICK.
The first thing we do, let’s kill all the lawyers.

“The audience must have doubled over in laughter at this.  Far from being ‘out of context’ the usage is more true to the original than most people know.

“In fact, Shakespeare used lawyers as figures of derision on several occasions.

“As long as there are lawyers, there will be “lawyer jokes”. And lawyers will show how those jokes ring true by trying to explain how such lampooning really constitutes praise for their profession, thus by example justifying the jokes more than ever.”

(Posted in 1997 by Seth Finkelstein at http://www.spectacle.org/797/finkel.html, retrieved on 06/19/17.)

  1. The Picky (1+2).

The Pharisees & lawyers were “picky” in the usual sense that they fussed over details, abusing the Law to further their own ends. Everyone knew the hand-washing regulations were not part of the Law given to Moses but were only a tradition started by rabbis.  In Jesus’ time these rules were not widely enforced, so these guys were trying too hard to find fault with Jesus.

Here is one example of their tradition regarding hand-washing: “If a man poured water over the one hand with a single rinsing, his hand is clean: but if over both hands with a single rinsing, Rabbi Meir declares them unclean unless he pours over them a quarter-log or more.” (M Yadaim 2:1)

The Pharisees and lawyers were also “picky” in that they were trying to pick a fight with Jesus.  They wanted to make Him look like a bad Jew. Note that these religious professionals were from Jerusalem.   They went all the way up to Galilee to find Jesus and “put Him in His place.”  In spite of their effort, all they could find to confront Him about was the behavior of his disciples at dinner time.

This sounds petty to us and it was petty, but not in the minds of these religious leaders.  When people are being legalistic, petty matters are molehills made to sound like mountains.  This is a word of warning to us about legalism; it is used because it provides a cover for pettiness.  Complaints that may be true in principle but not practicality are being used this way.  Be wary of this practice.

THE TRADITION OF THE ELDERS was a body of rules written by religious leaders over several generations called the “Halakah.”  The Pharisees attached a great deal of importance to this document and attempted to meet its requirements every day.  It was so complicated that a new profession arose to help people navigate its requirements: these are the TEACHERS OF THE LAW mentioned here.  We might call them “temple lawyers.”

Literacy was still not a common skill, so these TRADITIONS were largely maintained orally; the rabbi would train his students in them by having them recite them aloud.  This rote method of teaching was the main way these TRADITIONS were preserved in succeeding generations.

  1. The Pig in a Poke (3-9).

Continuing our earlier connection with English literature, we understand the expression “buying a pig in a poke” to be an old English phrase that refers to buying something without seeing or knowing anything about it first.  A “poke” is another word for sack.  (The word “pocket” is derived from it – a “pokette” is a small sack.) It is not wise to buy without first opening the sack to check the condition of the pig!

The Pharisees attempted to sell Jesus a “pig in a poke” in their criticism of His disciples’ lack of hand washing etiquette.  However, Jesus wasn’t buying it.  He opened the sack and exposed the contents.  Jesus exposed their legalism as hypocrisy – choosing their own traditions over God’s Law

God’s Law was clearly stated: children are to honor (obey) their parents.  Exodus 20:12 is the 5th Commandment; “HONOR YOUR FATHER AND MOTHER, SO THAT YOU MAY LIVE LONG IN THE LAND THE LORD YOUR GOD IS GIVING YOU.”  Jesus also quoted Exodus 21:17 which gave the penalty for violating this commandment: death.  Think God takes this seriously?  Yes, He does.

Jesus said this clear command had been nullified by a tradition created by the kind of people who were accusing Him.  Leviticus 27:9+16 allowed for property and real estate to be designated as “Corban,” a state of dedication to the Lord (see Mark 7:11).  This was to last until the next Year of Jubilee.  Perhaps on this basis, they created a rule that a man could dedicate assets to the temple.  If so, when his parents appealed to him for help, he could say to them, “I’d love to help you out, but my property is given over to the temple and I’m strapped for cash.”

With that kind of clear self-interest, the religious leaders created a way to make money and an excuse for the living to refuse all requests for philanthropy.  In our time, it would be a combination tax shelter and charitable trust.  Or it might be “fraud.”  Jesus’ point is simple; hypocrites will attempt to wallpaper their crimes in pages from law books in order to excuse their violations of God’s Law and/or make themselves appear godly when their hearts are nowhere near God.

In case you’re not yet seeing it, let me assure you this is a full-bore rebuke by Jesus.  It is the first time in Matthew’s Gospel Jesus referred to the Pharisees and lawyers – or anyone – as HYPOCRITES.

Jesus quoted from Isaiah 29:13 using the Word of God to expose the true intent of their hearts.  In effect, He rebuked them saying, “You believe you’re preserving traditions, but in reality, you’re guilty of the same hypocrisy the prophet Isaiah exposed.”

They replaced true faith which resides in one’s heart with superficialities.  Instead of enacting the will of God, they misused the Law to force their will on others.  The result: their worship was wasted because the rules they followed were just human notions, not the will of God.

Legalism is one of the disguises hypocrisy wears to conceal ungodliness.

We must understand what legalism is.  I offer the reader five views of the subject that will attempt to define this sin and enable us to avoid manifesting it in our daily living.

Legalism is a complicated attempt to create rules that make us look good while relieving us of the hard work of character.

Legalism is an attempt to cloud the condition of the heart by burying the matter in complications.  It is the old “smoke and mirrors” approach to misdirection.

Legalism mimics God’s Law, but is thoroughly man-made.  It is thereby not authoritative for all who believe.

Legalism misuses tradition by asserting that the old ways are the only right ways.

Legalism is selfishly motivated and attempts to please one’s self; where true righteousness is focused on God and desires to please Him.  We humans seem to have an infinite capacity to make excuses and manipulate words to justify self and/or condemn others.  We need a higher authority.

The Jewish religious leaders in this passage are long dead and so are some of their teachings.  But the practice of legalism is alive and well.  It has users in the Church and outside it; the dogmatism of “political correctness” is a modern manifestation of legalism.

Indeed, the practice of legalism is so common (inside and outside the Church) and its consequences are so serious, the Lord has impressed on me the necessity of studying this passage in detail.  Part Two will examine further aspects of Jesus’ condemnation of legalism.

Love Without Limits

(Please read Matthew 18:21-35 in your favorite version of the Bible.  I have used the NIV to prepare these remarks.)

Those of us of a certain age will recognize the name W.C. Fields, the rest of you will have to google it.  A famous comic actor in the black and white era of motion pictures, Fields played mostly grumpy old men in his movies.  It turns out that off-screen, he was a grumpy old man and a drunken rascal.

W.C. Fields was also a notorious atheist.  That’s why a friend of his was astonished to discover Fields, at the end of his life, reading the Bible.  He asked Fields, “Why in the world are you reading the Bible?  Are you looking for answers?”

The comedian replied, “No, I’m looking for loopholes.”

Looking for loopholes.  That pretty well describes human nature doesn’t it?  We want maximum gain with minimal effort.  We expect to be rewarded above and beyond our lukewarm commitment and selfishly motivated actions.  Justice and mercy are things we want when they benefit us, but are far less concerned about them for the sake of others.  Particularly for people whom we do not happen to like.

The last time I preached on this passage was 20 years ago.  At that time, God was using a peculiar method to teach me about mercy.  God used Woofie to give me daily opportunities to show forgiveness.

Woofie came into our lives as “Wolfie;”  we changed her name to make her sound less aggressive.  The change of name had no effect on her nature, however.

Woofie was the poster dog of the local Humane Society.  Really.  She was a stray who’d been hanging around a cemetery, barely eking out a living, in bad shape when she was caught.  Life on her own did not prepare Woofie to be a house dog.

She loved everyone in the family and hated all other life forms.  She was a barker.  A jumper.  She bolted every chance she could get, so we had to devise an elaborate and strong pulley system to let her outdoors.  One of her favorite tricks was to walk up next to Melanie and bump her with her backside, sending Melanie, then a toddler, sprawling and bawling on the floor.  When we watched a movie and ate popcorn, she would bark angrily if you didn’t frequently flip a kernel her way.

The story has a happy ending.  Woofie lived with us for more than a decade.  She peacefully lay down to sleep one day and never awoke again.

What eventually made the difference was love.  And forgiveness.  Lots and lots of forgiveness of her canine sins.

Now, twenty years later, we find ourselves in a similar situation.  We adopted Rue from the Sioux Falls Humane Society just before Christmas and her list of doggie offenses is growing.  I must be a slow learner to have to go through this again!

  1. The occasion: Peter asked a question.

Rabbis (Jewish teachers) are and were tasked with applying the Law of Moses to everyday life.  When they did so, they tended to use a very legalistic approach.  They taught that a person might be forgiven three times for a repeated sin.  On the fourth occasion, however, no one was required to  forgive something a fourth time.

It’s possible that when Peter offered the number SEVEN, he was surpassing the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees as Jesus had commanded in 5:20. (“For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven.”)  Or Peter may’ve settled on SEVEN since that was seen as “the perfect number,” the number for God.  (Six is the number for man; always one short.)  In either case, Jesus had just been talking about the steps in restoring fellow church members from sin to forgiveness and this sparked Peter’s questioning mind.  He wanted to know if there were any loopholes in this matter of forgiveness and restoration.

In the first part of His answer, Jesus one-ups Peter and adds a second seven.  (In some texts it’s plus seventy, in others, it times seventy.  Since we’re NOT dealing with a legalism here, the difference makes no difference.)  Jesus sometimes uses humor and exaggeration to make His point and I believe that’s what’s happening here.  SEVENTY-SEVEN and 490 are both ridiculous numbers if you intend to make it a law.  Who would have the capacity to keep such a command?  How would keeping an exhaustive count of offenses make anyone feel better or make you more godly?

No, SEVENTY-SEVEN is obviously a metaphor for a limitless number.  Once they’ve had a chuckle over the first part of His answer, Jesus goes on to tell them a story that will justify effectively limitless forgiveness.

  1. The one main point of the parable: “Forgive one another as you have been forgiven by God the Father.”

We will show how Jesus’ parable develops this truth in just a moment.  For now, we note the large strokes.

The KING is God the Father.  Because of Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross, He forgives the massive, impossible-for-us-to-fix debt of our sin.

We are the unforgiving servant when we take out our petty anger on the people around us, who are represented by the FELLOW SERVANT.

The unforgiving servant had no mercy, so he received justice instead; justice in the form of judgment.  The warning in v. 35 could not be clearer: people who are unwilling to forgive will miss out on God’s forgiveness.

  1. The sub-points of the parable:

One: The debt the king forgave was impossible to repay.  In Jesus’ world, it was possible for servants of a KING to amass a debt in the course of their service to the king.  They were tasked with managing their master’s assets and logically their management wasn’t always successful.  In such cases, the master didn’t write a loss off, but held the manager accountable, counting the loss as a debt owed him.  (This system sounds a bit like riding a tiger; choose carefully which end you face!)

Even so, this amount is another purposeful exaggeration: Jesus used an impossibly large amount of money to create the impression that the debt was impossible to repay.  For context, I refer you to a 2010 article by Philip Massey who calculated the debt to require 200,000 YEARS of labor to repay.  The 2010 equivalent, his math said, was $7.04 billion.

– OR, the net worth of Bill Gates.

– OR, more than the national debt… in 1917!!

<Retrieved from http://chimes.biola.edu/story/2010/oct/27/parable-two-debtors/ on 1/6/17.>

The king did the math and realized that even if he sold this man’s entire family into slavery (as he did in v. 25), it would not make a dent in his losses.  His original motive must’ve been to get what he could and make an example of this servant and his horrible mismanagement of the king’s funds.

He orders the servant and all his family and possessions seized for the debt.  Our sympathy may naturally go to the servant, but think about it: if the indebted servant realized the debt was impossible to pay, his pleading with the king to be PATIENT, promising to repay all, was a lie.

Let’s note the character of the KING on the basis of his response to his servant’s plea.  His character is substantiated in v. 27: it was PITY, not the empty promise of repayment that motivated the king to cancel the servant’s debt.  Let there be no doubt this king is a figure symbolizing God the Father.

– Each person’s sin is an insurmountable debt, a problem we can’t fix.

– Not because of our empty promises to be good, or anything else we can do, the debt is cancelled.

– Does this help you understand the incredible seriousness of your sins AND the depth of God’s forgiveness?

– Remember, the money is a metaphor; the actual situation is even more dire, for the wages of sin are DEATH (RMS 6:23).

Two, the debt the servant did not forgive was tiny in comparison.  The modern value of A HUNDRED SILVER COINS would be up to $45,000.  That is a princely sum for most of us, I would guess, but it’s a drop in the bucket compared to $7.04 billion.

This is a third exaggeration, a sum chosen carefully by Jesus.            On the one hand, it is not so small a sum of money that a person could easily forgive the debt and not miss it.  A needy or greedy person would be motivated to insist on repayment.  On the other hand, it is not so large a sum that it compares at all with the debt this servant’s master had JUST CANCELLED.

In v. 29, the second servant’s plea reads almost exactly the same as the plea the unforgiving servant has just made with the king.  Here Jesus is using irony to make sure that we connect the unforgiving servant with the one who owed him money.  The unforgiving servant takes the place of the KING and the second servant takes his place.  Though the debts are very much different, the situation, through the wording, is very much the same.  What is different is the outcome.

It is a terrible, immoral deed that the unforgiving servant does to his peer, throwing him in prison over this comparatively tiny debt after he has been forgiven so much (30).  What he did was as illegal as it was immoral.  According to the law of the land, you could not sell a person into slavery for a debt that was worth less than the person’s life.  In other words, the unforgiving servant was trying to not only recover his debt, but make a profit too.  This detail exposes the unforgiving servant as greedy, not needy.

Three, the king’s justice is an example of God’s justice.  The injustice of the unforgiving servant’s actions was not lost on his peers.  Jesus says they were GREATLY DISTRESSED (31).  Probably at some personal risk, they went to the KING and told him what had happened.  This makes even more sense if the actions of the unforgiving servant are illegal AND immoral.

In vs. 32-34 we are pleased to see that this KING, who was so good-natured as to forgive such a massive debt, also had a good sense of justice.  He was indignant at the unforgiving servant’s actions and rebuked him for his pettiness, his unwillingness to demonstrate the same kind of mercy as he had recently received.

In righteous anger, the KING delivered a just condemnation of the unforgiving servant.  The word translated in the NIV as JAILERS is really too tame a choice of words.  It should read “torturers.”  The justice and mercy of the KING are a stark contrast to the greed and injustice of the unforgiving servant.

Four, let unforgiving folk be warned (35).  God’s justice is perfect; He knows who is guilty and the punishment always fits the crime.

This warning could not be more clear.  Unforgiving people betray the true status of their soul as themselves being unforgiven.  There is a cause and effect relationship between being shown mercy and giving mercy.

This warning could be more serious.  Our eternal destination is at stake.  Just as the unforgiving servant was handed over to the “torturers,” so can an unmerciful person expect only the wrath of God.

This warning could not be any more certain.  The unforgiving servant was exposed and justice was rendered.  He may have gone away from his first encounter thinking he’d fooled the king but his true nature emerged and he was dealt with justly.

Several years ago, on a beautiful spring day a man walked along a country lane to enjoy the sun.  He chanced upon a farmer plowing his field with a mule.  He was having a tough time of it.  The mule was not very responsive.

The visitor waved to the farmer and motioned for him to come over to the fence.  The farmer mopped his sweaty brow as he came over to the fence to greet his friendly visitor.

“Say,” the visitor said, “I’m not one to tell a man how to do his business, but I think that mule would be more cooperative if you’d say ‘Gee’ and ‘Haw’ to him when you wanted him to turn.”

The farmer considered this advice for but a moment and replied, “Reckon that’s so, but that mule kicked me five years ago and I haven’t talked to it since.”

Holding a grudge against people makes about as much sense, doesn’t it?  As this parable makes plain, grudge-holding and all forms of being unforgiving and unmerciful have no place in the life of a follower of Jesus.

Instead, just the opposite is true.  A claim to faith by a person or a church is proven by a character of mercy.  This quality of a fellowship (church) is also necessary to attract and retain new people in a church.

What’s It Good For?

stewardship

(Graphic retrieved from http://www.stjames-greater.com/councils/ on 7/19/16.)

(Please read Luke 16:1-13 in your Bible.  I have used the NIV for my remarks.)

The discipline of stewardship is one way to prove yourself a trustworthy disciple.

  1. The point of the parable (vs. 10-12).

The discipline of parables is to look for the one main point and be contented with that.  Don’t lose the forest by focusing on the trees.  The one main point of the parable: A good steward works at earning God’s trust.

As we mature in our faith, we prove that we are worthy of God’s trust and then He moves us on to a greater responsibility, and so on.  The most common resources God asks us to manage are our time and money.  They also receive the most attention in Scripture.  While we may regard either or both of these as terribly important in and of themselves, the truth is the really important thing is using them to God’s glory.  Time and money are means to an end, not an end in themselves.

The opposite is also true; being irresponsible means that God will trust us with less.  Why would He give His best gifts to someone who will not use them?

“Stewardship” is the Bible word for the spiritual discipline of our management of God’s resources according to God’s will.  Let’s unpack that definition.

– Because it is a “discipline,” it is something that requires thought and willpower; it can be learned and developed through practice.

– It is a “spiritual discipline” in the sense that stewardship is something we do for God’s sake and with the assistance of the Holy Spirit.

– These are God’s resources. We like to think that we’ve earned or otherwise deserve the resources we have, but the simple fact of the matter is that everything is God’s and they are on loan to us.  Life itself is a gift from God and you can’t get any more basic than that.

– Finally, we want to manage our resources in a way that draws everyone’s attention to God. We want to manage in His wisdom, not our own because we know that leads to the best possible outcomes.

  1. The parable that proves the point (vs. 1-8a).

The parable begins with the rich man’s steward being given notice; he was to be sacked, given the pink slip, fired.  The word “manager” or steward refers to any servant entrusted with his master’s property.  The master warned the steward he would have to GIVE AN ACCOUNT; “Prepare the books for auditing.”

There are three ways in which the manager showed himself to be SHREWD.

First, he knew himself.  He says to himself, “I’M NOT STONG ENOUGH TO DIG, AND I’M ASHAMED TO BEG.”  I imagine Danny Devito in this role: how about you?  The obvious first step in being a godly manager is to know God.  The second is to know yourself.

Second he knew his master’s business.  As keeper of the master’s books, he knows his master’s clients and figures out how to use the ones who owe his master money to save himself.  He does what Jesus Himself commended in v. 9: he used money to make friends.  (The unethical part is that he used HIS MASTER’S MONEY to make friends.)

Third, he turned disadvantage into opportunity.  He secretly contacted people who were indebted to his master and forgave part of their debt.  One person’s debt he cut in half and another person’s he reduced by a fifth.  Interestingly, the amount of the value of the goods forgiven is nearly the same, about 500 denarii.  That is the equivalent of sixteen month’s wages for the average worker.  (This would be over $56,000 for an average American worker in 2016.)  This steward is burning through his master’s money!  I believe this is an example of Jesus’ sense of humor and use of exaggeration to make His point.

When the master sees how the steward has “cooked the books” and lost him a lot of money you’d expect him to be vengeful.  Instead, he approves.  Don’t be all warm-hearted about this: it’s just one crook congratulating another.  Actually, everyone in this parable is crooked; the master, the manager, and the debtors.  Which is one of the reasons the parable makes some interpreters scratch their heads.

Of course, Jesus is not offering these evildoers as examples of good behavior.  Instead, as Jesus explained in v. 8, worldly-minded people are more adept at worldly ways that are His followers, the PEOPLE OF THE LIGHT.  Jesus’ disapproval of the manager’s actions is implied in the fact that Jesus called him DISHONEST in v. 8.  Shrewdness is not a virtue any more than subtlety.  Jesus is in no way saying “Go therefore and do ye likewise.”  The fact is, not all the characters in Jesus’ parables are good people.

  1. Extra lessons at no additional charge (vs. 8b-13).

The first of these secondary lessons is that there is a worldly way and a heavenly way to manage our resources.  The worldly way may earn us praise, but the heavenly way earns God’s trust.  Verse nine is our key verse, answering the question posed in the title of this message.

To the best of my knowledge, this is the only place where Jesus tells us directly what WORLDLY WEALTH is good for. He cited two things:

One, to MAKE FRIENDS.  Jesus is not advocating that we copy the methods of the DISHONEST STEWARD, but that we share his objective.  We should not embezzle in order to make friends, but in every way we can do it ethically, we should use money to MAKE FRIENDS.  If we can be as generous with our own money as the DISHONEST STEWARD was generous with his master’s money, then we will MAKE FRIENDS for the sake of the Gospel

Two, to receive rewards in heaven: BE WELCOMED INTO ETERNAL DWELLINGS.  The idea is that we’re not just thinking about our WELCOME in heaven, but that we take as many friends with us as we can!  The ideal attitude toward money and every form of WORLDLY WEALTH takes an eternal perspective; seeing these resources as investments in eternity and using them in ways that honor God.

The other of these secondary lessons is that mixed motives and methods are not allowed (v. 13).  Loving money or any other kind of material goods is completely opposed to faith.  No matter how piously we may posture, sooner or later the truth will become known and people will see whether we love God or money.

I find church people are rarely guilty of “loving” money; we’re too subtle for that.  But we are too often guilty of trusting money instead of God.  We need to be reminded:

– Disciples of Jesus draw their assurance from God’s promises, not from a bank account.

– Idle money is just as likely to be a vice as a virtue.

– Sometimes people fail to see the difference between purse strings and reins. Financial officers are servants, not rulers.

Notice Jesus’ use of the word SERVE.  Service is mandatory; our attitude toward material wealth will serve the Money Master or God as our Master.  We choose our master, but not our service; in fact, Jesus said, we will LOVE one and HATE the other.  There’s no fence to ride in this matter!

“Practicing Persistent Prayer”

(Please read Luke 11:1-13.  My remarks were prepared using the New International Version.)

Context: Luke’s purpose was to give an orderly account of Jesus’ ministry.  Here he gives Jesus’ teaching on prayer with a model prayer, a parable about prayer, and a promise of answered prayer.  All us which teaches us to…

Message: Pray and do not give up.

Comment:

  1. The model prayer (vs. 1-4).

Verse one sets the stage: Jesus had been praying privately.  Jesus frequently prayed alone.  This was a means of recharging His spiritual batteries.  His practice is also an example for us to follow; both public and private prayers are needed for a full and satisfying life of prayer. Because the disciples had seen Jesus go apart for private prayer on several occasions, they were naturally curious about the practice; they wondered what Jesus did during those times.

Also, John the Baptist had instructed his disciples about prayer, so they were expecting Jesus to do the same.  They knew this because some of Jesus’ disciples had previously followed John the Baptist.

Demonstration is a good teaching method.  Jesus began by giving them a model to follow, by demonstrating prayer.  What matters is neither repeating these particular words, nor the order of the elements, but observing all the parts of a well-rounded prayer.

– PRAISE God = “FATHER, HALLOWED BE YOUR NAME.”  Give God the thanks He deserves for who He is and what He does.  We must balance closeness with God and respect for Him.  The best point of balance is to remember you are His child; He is your Father.

– AFFIRM your goal is the Kingdom of God = “YOUR KINGDOM COME.” A more modern way of saying this is say our purpose is to draw attention to God.  He is the highest good, so this makes sense.

– EXPRESS your dependence on God = “GIVE US EACH DAY OUR DAILY BREAD.”  God knows our needs before we do and better than we do, so we don’t express them for His benefit, but for ours.  It is a reminder that we depend on Him as our Provider.

– ASK for forgiveness of sins = “FORGIVE US OUR SINS, FOR WE ALSO FORGIVE EVERYONE WHO SINS AGAINST US”.  Our culture prefers to avoid the unpleasant subject of sin entirely; God’s word tells us that we are to deal with it daily.  Beware spending more time contemplating the sins of others at the expense of ignoring your own.

– REQUEST strength of times of testing = “AND LEAD US NOT INTO TEMPTATION.”  Being a Christian is difficult.  Being a Christian without relying on the grace God gives thru the Spirit is impossible.

Prayer is about changing our mind, not God’s.  In fact, since God doesn’t need us to pray, we can safely assume that it’s for our benefit, not His.  Prayer is about our relationship with God, our dependence on Him as our Provider and our obedience to Him as our Lord.  Prayer is essential.  We must persist in prayer because we cannot possibly live in Christ and have any hope for heaven without prayer.  It is THAT important.

  1. Parables were Jesus’ preferred teaching method. (5-8)

They are effective because they are simple.  They are “simple” in the sense that they have just one main point.  In this parable, Jesus’ one main point is this: Though we show respect for God as we pray, we must also show persistence.  Respect and persistence don’t need to be opposites or mutually exclusive.

Understanding parables in this way, we realize that the details of the story are not the point, they develop it.  For example, in this parable, we understand the details better as we understand the cultural norms that give it form.  The customs of hospitality in that culture made this series of events a very real possibility; some of Jesus’ listeners might likely have experienced something similar!

The standards of hospitality were so high that even guests who showed up unexpectedly and in the middle of the night would expect to be fed.  Though the host in this story had no reason to be prepared for company, he was obligated to the degree that he was driven to this desperate act.  (Imagine how we’d grumble at the inconvenience of having to drive to Wal* Mart, use our card, and drive back to feed those people!  What a nuisance!)

On the other hand, the man to whom the sudden host turns for help – friend or no – is under no obligation.  His objections to this intrusion are understandable and legitimate.  A typical home of this time was a one-room block building.  An interior or exterior stairway lead up to the roof which, in this warm climate, was the typical sleeping space.  The whole family and their livestock shared this space.  So picture the fellow protesting from the rooftop, hollering down to his importunate “friend” on the street below.

What would it take to rouse YOU from a comfortable sleep in the middle of the night?  That’s why the man on the roof resists those pleas for help.  What finally gets him up is that the other guy will not give up. His persistence is close to obnoxiousness, but that is not the quality Jesus commends.  Instead, Jesus is talking about not giving up; not settling for the first answer, but holding out for a better one.  The word BOLDNESS in v. 8 is hard to translate from the Greek.  It is a shameless kind of pleading, even begging.  It’s appropriate because this man is fixed on what he needs and on what his neighbor can supply.  He has everything to gain and nothing to lose by persisting in his cries for help.

For those who are skeptical about Jesus having a sense of humor, I think this parable can be offered as proof that He did.  It’s an amusing story, especially when you understand it in its cultural context.

  1. Persistence is affirmed with a promise. (9-13)

Relationship with God makes prayer possible.  Note the verbs Jesus used:

– ASK = “Keep on asking.”  This verb is passive voice; it involves receiving.  These prayers are called “petitions;” things we pray God will do for us.

– SEEK = “Keep on looking for God’s will.”  This verb is in an active voice; it involves looking around until we find something.  When we pray for God’s leading, to know His will, we should be looking for what we can do for God.  We look at what God is blessing and join Him there.

– KNOCK = “Keep on trusting God to answer.”  This verb is about relationships, like the relationship between the late-night caller who was knocking and the man in bed who just wanted him to go away. Knocking means you want to do something WITH God.

Persistence makes prayer work because persistence is follow-through. Here’s the rule of prayer – commit it to memory – pray until either God grants your prayer or until he has changed your mind.  There will always be discouraging circumstances and discouraging people.  DO NOT LET THEM HAVE THE LAST WORD.  Pray through.  Let God alone move you!

I guess I should’ve saved verse 11-13 for Father’s Day.  We can trust God to be wiser than our earthly fathers; He will always provide exactly what we need.  This is another example of Jesus’ sense of humor.  What father in his right mind gives their children snakes or scorpions?  It’s silliness.  This is humor by exaggeration.  Given all our human limitations and the evil of which we are capable, even against our own children, isn’t God’s wisdom and grace all the more wonderful?  Isn’t He infinitely worthy of our trust?  Isn’t prayer, at its most basic level, an act of trust between our Father and His children?

The promise Jesus makes is that God honors persistent prayer with life-changing answers.  There is power in prayer