The Shame-less Father
The Shame-less Father
I am fortunate in that I have loved Jesus of Nazareth all my life. That love has not always issued in trust and obedience, but I have had a deep and tender affection for Jesus for over 50 years now. Over the last five to seven years I've come to realize that, in order to know Jesus better, I must get to know his Father better, because Jesus is the Son of the Father. Jesus lives his whole existence oriented toward the Father. At the age of 12 he says to his distraught biological mother and adoptive father, "Did you not know I had to be about my Father's business?"
That affirmation would shape the rest of his ministry. To his first disciples, by a well in Samaria, he says, "My food is to do the will of him who sent me."
To the religious leaders and scholars, he says again and again, "I only do what I see my Father do; I only say what I hear my Father say."
The more I get to know Jesus as Son, the more I am discovering and enjoying his passion to reveal his Father. Jesus loves his Father. Jesus finds his joy in his Father.
T. W. Manson, in his 1939 teaching of Jesus, said, "The fact with which we have to reckon at all times is that in the teaching of Jesus his conception of God determines everything, including the conceptions of the kingdom and the Messiah."
George Caird puts it this way in his posthumously published New Testament Theology: "Jesus is indeed like an apprentice in the Father's workshop." Isn't that a marvelous phrase? He's an apprentice in his adoptive father's workshop in Nazareth, but also and primarily he's an apprentice of his heavenly Father in the workshop of the world.
John 5:1920 (NASB): "The Son can do nothing of Himself, unless it is something He sees the Father doing; for whatever the Father does, these things the Son also does in like manner. For the Father loves the Son, and shows Him all things that He Himself is doing."
The Father loves the Son, and the Son loves the Father. And the Son's greatest desire is to explain the Father to us, so that we too love the Father, so that we too delight in the Father, so that we too trust the Father the way Jesus does.
What does Jesus know about the Father that we apparently do not? As we fix our eyes on Jesus, he points us toward and focuses us on the one he calls Abba, the one the rest of the New Testament calls the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Jesus teaches that prayer reveals the Father.
Jesus teaches us a parable in which he opens up one of the most fundamental dimensions of the character of his Father. Luke 11:113: "It happened that while Jesus was praying in a certain place, after He had finished, one of His disciples said to Him, 'Lord, teach us to pray just as John also taught his disciples.'
"And He said to them, 'When you pray, say: "Father, hallowed be Your name. Your kingdom come. Give us each day our daily bread. And forgive us our sins, for we ourselves also forgive everyone who is indebted to us. And lead us not into temptation.''' Then He said to them, 'Suppose one of you has a friend, and goes to him at midnight and says to him, "Friend, lend me three loaves; for a friend of mine has come to me from a journey, and I have nothing to set before him," and from inside he answers and says, "Do not bother me; the door has already been shut and my children and I are 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, yet because of his persistence he will get up and give him as much as he needs.
'So I say to you, ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks, receives; and he who seeks, finds; and to him who knocks, it will be opened.
'Now suppose one of you fathers is asked by his son for a fish; he will not give him a snake instead of a fish, will he? Or if he has asked for an egg, he will not give him a scorpion, will he? If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him?'"
"Lord, teach us to pray." That is the only thing the disciples are recorded to have asked Jesus to teach them. There is no record of, "teach us to lead," "teach us to heal," "teach us to counsel." There is not even a record of, "Lord, teach us to preach." Just, "Lord, teach us to pray." Why? Because the disciples could see that Jesus' leading, healing, counseling, and preaching ministry emerged out of his relationship with the Father. And they could see that the key to this relationship was prayer.
"Lord, teach us to pray." I take this request to mean more than, "Lord, teach us some new techniques." I take this request to mean, "Lord, teach us what you know about the Father that makes you want to pray." That's the key.
God always honors his name.
So Jesus does two things. He teaches them what we call the Lord's Prayer, and then he teaches them this parable, usually called the Friend at Midnight. Clearly, the parable is intended to encourage the disciples and us to pray. The parable is intended to help us want to pray. When you read that parable, does it make you want to pray? It's supposed to.
Traditional western exegesis and preaching has done two things with this parable. First, it has said the parable is about the one who is asking and not about the one who is being asked. That is, this parable is about us who pray and not about God, to whom we pray. And second, traditional western exegesis and preaching has said the parable calls us to persistence in prayer. Verse 8: "because of his persistence."
It was during our four years of living in the Philippines that I came to see the traditional western exegesis and preaching of this text is off the mark and misses the truly wonderful thing Jesus is revealing in this parable. As I learned to look at life through a Filipino worldview, which I came to understand was similar to the Middle Eastern worldview in which Jesus taught, and as I in that Asian context worked the insights of Kenneth Bailey into the Middle Eastern context in which Jesus taught, I came to see that number one, the parable is not about the one who is asking for bread, and number two, the parable is not about persistence.
Let me make five observations about this text.
First, verses 57 in the Greek text are a question. I don't know of any translation that brings this out. The first verses of the parable are a question: "Tis ex humon," meaning "Which of you?" Which of you at midnight receives a guest, needs some food for the guest, goes to a friend, asks for three loaves of bread, and is told to go away? Which of you? This has the nuance of, "Can you imagine?" Can you imagine Mr. A receiving a guest, going to Mr. B and asking for three loaves of bread, and Mr. B saying, "No, my kids are in bed; go away"? Can you imagine that?
The second observation is that, culturally, the expected answer is: None of us can imagine that. Never could we imagine hearing from another person in the village, "Go away; I cannot get up." In the West we can imagine that. But not in the Middle East. It's impossible. I've tested this out. I spent some time in the Middle East. I tested it out in Jordan. I tested it out in Lebanon and Armenia and Israel. In the Philippines I asked people, "Can you imagine this kind of a scenario?" and the uniform answer was, "No, it's impossible." I checked it out in Beijing, where I taught some students from Africa. In an African setting it's impossible. I tested it out with my Armenian neighbors in Glendale, California. It's culturally impossible.
Third observation. We need to look at some of the cultural dynamics at work in this story. In the Middle East there are two great cultural values: hospitality and avoidance of shame. These work their way out in the parable in a number of ways. For instance, the host must place before the guests more than the guests can eat. When we lived in the Philippines our family would go to one of the members' homes for dinner. We'd arrive, and there was so much food on the table I thought the whole church was invited. I discovered, no, we were the only ones invited. Culturally, there's the expectation to place more before the guests than they can possibly eat.
Another part of this observation is that the guest who has come to Mr. A's house is the guest of the entire village, and not just of the one house. Everyone in the village is obligated to help Mr. A take care of his guest. In the Philippines I never heard the question, "How do you like my country?" It was always, "How do you like our country?" Every Filipino recognized they were extending hospitality on behalf of the whole Philippines.
Another factor going on here is that this man is asking for three loaves of bread. He is only asking for the utensils with which to eat the meal. He's not asking for the meal. In the Middle East the meal is in a big, common bowl. You break off a piece of bread, dip it in the stew, and eat the piece of bread with the stew on it. Then you break off another piece of bread and dip it, and you keep eating like that. So he's only asking for the utensils.
This means Mr. A now needs to go to Mr. C and D and E and F and G to get some more food. He's got to get some carrots and cucumbers and potatoes. He has a lot more work to do that night. That's why in verse 8 you have the phrase, "He will get up and give him as much as he needs." He needs more than the three loaves of bread.
And then one other factor in the cultural dynamic is that the man inside the house, Mr. B, knows everything I just told you. Mr. B knows he needs to be part of the village's attempt to bring hospitality to the guest of Mr. A.
That leads us to the fourth observation. It's that word in verse 8; the Greek word anaideian, which is usually translated "persistence." But the word did not have that meaning until after the third century A.D. If you had a Greek dictionarythey didn't exist, but let's say they didand you looked up this word anaideian, it would not have the meaning "persistence." It would have the meaning "shamelessness," in the sense of avoidance of shame. In some Bibles, you'll notice there's a marginal reading that says, "Literally, shamelessness."
In the Middle Eastern culture, shame is a negative quality. Shamelessness in the sense of avoiding shame is a positive quality. Middle Eastern, Asian, and Hispanic cultures are cultures. European cultures are cultures. In the Middle East there are rules, but culture is governed by this shame. It's not shame in the sense that western psychologists are using it now. It's not shame in the sense of "I feel there's something fundamentally wrong with me." It's shame in the sense of not wanting to lose face, shame in the sense of not wanting to damage one's reputation. It's a central cultural valueyou do everything to avoid bringing shame on yourself or on your name.
In the Philippines, at a birthday party you do not open your gifts at the party. The reason is that, if I give you a gift and you don't like it, I will see on your face that it is not pleasing to you. You will be shamed; I will be shamed. So I'll have you take the gift home, because we want to make sure we don't bring any shame to our faces.
Anaideian means avoidance of shame at all costs. Well, if anaideian means avoidance of shame, why do western Bibles translate it "persistence"? Number one, the Greek and Roman mind cannot get its mind around this concept of shamelessness. And the second reason is that the Greek and Roman mind cannot see how the quality of shamelessness applies to the man who's asking for bread. Why do you need to be shameless when you ask for something you need?
That leads us to the fifth observation, which is that anaideian does not apply to Mr. A, who is asking for bread; it applies to Mr. B, who is being asked for bread.
Verse 8 has six different clauses in it (identified by Kenneth Bailey):
Clause 1. Even though he will not get up
Clause 2. and give him anything
Clause 3. because he is his friend,
Clause 4. yet because of his anaideian, his avoidance of shame,
Clause 5. he will get up
Clause 6. and give him as much as he needs.
In clauses 1,2,3, 5, and 6, the subject is the guy inside. So why do we assume that in clause 4 it's a different subject? The quality of anaideian, or shamelessness, applies to the one who is being asked. Even if the guy inside hates the guy outside, he is going to get up and give him as much as he needs, because he does not want the story to go around the village the next morning that he did not help to extend hospitality.
There is something that goes beyond friendship and love, and it is the avoidance of shame. I'm not going to damage my reputation. I'm not going to lose face. I'm not going to hear the villagers say in the morning, "Why did you fail to help? Shame on you." Mr. B will get up even if he hates Mr. A, because of his avoidance of shame, because he will honor his name, because he doesn't want anything to damage his reputation.
"Lord, teach us to pray." Jesus teaches the Lord's Prayer, and then he teaches this parable. The parable is not about us who ask; the parable is about the God and Father of the Lord Jesus Christ. "When you pray, say: 'Father, hallowed be Your name." The parable teaches that the Father has anaideian. He has avoidance of shame. Or, to put it positively biblical terms, the Father always acts in a way that honors his name. The Father will never shame his name.
The Father has many names, but the name above every name is Yahweh: "I AM WHO I AM." Not "I AM WHO I AM" in a philosophical sense, or "I AM WHO I AM, so don't bother me," but "I AM WHO I AM" in the relational sense; "I AM the one who is there with you and for you." Yahweh is the covenant name, and in every covenant that Yahweh makes there is this phrase: "I will be your God, and you will be my people." The idea is that, I am placed at your disposal; all that makes me God, I give to you. Jesus is saying God will always honor that name. The Father will never shame that nameGod has gone public with the name. And God has placed this name on his people. God has said, "I AM there with you and for you." And he does not want to have the rumor go around in the morning that someone came asking for help and was told to go away.
Moses understands this aspect of the character of God. In Exodus 32 God says, "I've had it with these people. I'm going wipe them out. I took them out of Egypt, but they're stubborn. I've had it."
Moses prays, "What are the Egyptians going to think about this? You said, 'I AM there with you and for you,' and if you wipe them out, you've gone against your name."
And God changes his mind.
David knows this about God. He says in Psalm 25:11, "For Your name's sake, LORD, pardon my iniquity, for it is great." He says in Psalm 23:3, "He guides me in the paths of righteousness for His name's sake."
In Ezekiel 36, where Ezekiel talks about Israel being brought back from captivity, the Lord says, "I will restore you. I will cleanse you. I will free you." Why? "For my name's sake."
This parable answers the disciples' request. It gives us wonderful assurance in prayer. Yes, the Father loves us. But even if he did not, there is something deeper going onit is that he loves his name. He has avoidance of shame. And Jesus is saying, you can count on thatthe Father always hallows his name.
God's commitment to his name translates into a commitment to his people.
God's commitment to his name translates into a commitment to his people. First Samuel 12:22, "For the sake of his great name, Yahweh will not reject you." That's Samuel speaking, when Israel wants to have a king like all the other nations. Samuel doesn't want to do this, but God says go ahead. Samuel says, "For the sake of his great name, he will not reject you. Even though you are going in a way he doesn't want you to go, he placed his name on you, and he will not dishonor it."
John Piper says, "It was God's good pleasure to join you to himself in such a way that his name is at stake in your destiny. It was God's good pleasure to possess you in such a way that what happens to you affects his name."
The Father's name is "I AM there with you and for you. I give you myself, and I'll never dishonor that."
That helps us understand the rest of Luke 11. In verse 9 Jesus says ask, seek, and knock. Why? Because we have to persist and wear God down? No, it's an assurance: Ask, seek, and knock, because something always happens when you ask, seek, and knock. "Ask," "seek," and "knock" are in the present tense in the Greek, meaning "keep on"keep on asking, keep on seeking, keep on knocking. Why? Because you have to wear God down? No. Verse 10 says do this because you receive, you find, and the door is open. "Receive" and "find" are in the present tensethose who keep on asking are receiving; those who keep on seeking are finding. Something always happens when you pray. That's why Jesus says to keep on doing it.
Mother Teresa said, "When we pray we are expanding our capacity to receive."
Receive what? Verse 13 says, "Will not the Father give the Holy Spirit to those who are asking?" It doesn't say, "Will not the Father give the Holy Spirit to those who are asking for the Holy Spirit?" When you ask for anything you receive the Holy Spirit. St. Augustine said the Holy Spirit is the embodiment of the love relationship between the Father and the Son. The Father loves the Son and delights in the Son, and the Son loves the Father and delights in the Father. The Holy Spirit is the embodiment of that love and that delight, and the Father and Son have gone public with the promise to give the Spirit. Jesus even says the name of the Spirit is the promise of the Father, and the Father will not be shamed.
Can you imagine Mr. A going to Mr. B and asking for three loaves of bread and being told to go away? No. Can you imagine going to God the Father in the name of God the Son and asking for more of the power or cleansing or joy of the Holy Spirit and being told to go away? No. It's impossible, Jesus says. The Father will get up and give you as much of himself as you need.
What of God do you need today? I can't promise you a Lexus or a trip to the Bahamas. What of God do you need today for yourself, for your family, for your ministry? What of God do you need today to extend hospitality to your children or your spouse or the world? He has anaideian, and he will get up and give you as much of himself as you need.
Darrell Johnson is associate professor of pastoral theology at Regent College in Vancouver, British Columbia. He previously served as pastor of Glendale Presbyterian Church in Glendale, California, and taught at Fuller Theological Seminary.
Preaching Today Tape # 237
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Darrell Johnson has been preaching Jesus Christ and his gospel for over 50 years. He has served a number of Presbyterian congregations in California, Union Church of Manila in the Philippines, and the historic First Baptist Church in the heart of Vancouver, Canada. He has taught preaching for Fuller Theological Seminary, Carey Theological College in Vancouver, and Regent College in Vancouver.