And he said to them, “Which of you who has a friend will go to him at midnight and say to him, ‘Friend, lend me three loaves; for a friend of mine has arrived on a journey, and I have nothing to set before him’; and he will answer from within, ‘Do not bother me; the door is now shut, and my children are with me in bed; I cannot get up and give you anything’? I tell you, though he will not get up and give him anything because he is his friend, yet because of his importunity he will rise and give him whatever he needs. And I tell you, Ask, and it will be given you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For every one who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened. What father among you, if his son asks for a fish, will instead of a fish give him a serpent; or if he asks for an egg, will give him 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!”
In the previous verses (11:1-4), Jesus was asked by his disciples to teach them to pray. He gives them The Lord’s Prayer, then tells them a parable about the late-night host (11:5-13). These two sections seem to go together, as the previous section is about Mary and Martha and the following section is about Jesus casting out demons.
Hospitality was a vital obligation for a homeowner in that time; if a traveler came to someone’s house and they weren’t able to offer the guest a fresh, unbroken loaf of bread (even if they came at midnight), great shame would come on that household (IVP Bible Background Dictionary). The frantic host in the parable goes to a friend whom he knows will probably have the loaf he needs. In his commentary on Luke, William Barclay says that in that time in Israel, a home’s door would be open all day, with people coming in and out and very little privacy, but if the door was shut, especially at night, it was a clear sign that the householder did not want to be disturbed. The IVP Bible Background Dictionary points out a reason for the friend’s hesitation to unbolt and open the door; if his children are in bed (which is usually on the first floor near the front door), then the disturbance of unbolting the door would wake the children. But since the frantic host would likely wake the children anyway beating on the door and calling out to his friend, the friend decides he might as well get up and give the host the bread he needed.
Jesus continues teaching the disciples about boldness in prayer in the next few verses, telling the disciples that whatever they ask for, they will receive. He also points out that God their Father cares for them even more than a father loves his children, and wants to give them the great gift of the Holy Spirit. Barclay says, “If a churlish and unwilling householder can in the end be coerced by a friend’s shameless persistence into giving him what he needs, how much more will God who is a loving Father supply all his children’s needs?” However, this does not release the Christian from fervency in prayer, as evidenced by Jesus’ words in 11:9-10. Bede says, “He bears witness that the kingdom of heaven is not given to, found by and opened to those who are idle and unoccupied but to those who ask for it, seek after it and knock at its gates. The gate of the kingdom must be asked for by prayer. It must be sought after by living properly. It must be knocked at by persevering.” (Homilies on the Gospels) But we do not have a God who is unwilling to give gifts to us. He gives to us, His children, the Holy Spirit – but we must ask.
In his commentary on Luke, Matthew Henry points out that the parable is an example of something that is vital (bread for a hungry traveler) and that 11:11-12 speaks of food and bread, which symbolizes that which is needful. Jesus has promised that God will provide the Holy Spirit, the best of all possible gifts, and he will give the Spirit with generosity. In asking, seeking and knocking, “we are not wringing gifts from an unwilling god, but going to one who knows our needs better than we know them ourselves and whose heart towards us is the heart of generous love.” (Barclay) Some would argue that they have prayed many times and not received what they ask for. Barclay counters this, saying, “If we do not receive what we pray for, it is not because God grudgingly refuses to give it but because he has some better thing for us. There is no such thing as unanswered prayer.” I do think too often if we don’t get the answer we want or expect, that it can be discouraging. This passage directs us to be bold in prayer, knowing that we will receive, find, and have the door be opened to us. God desires to answer our prayer, and if we seek Him with boldness and persistence, He is faithful – even joyful – in responding.
The passage of last week (Luke 18:1-8) and this seem to come together. We are not only to be persistent in prayer, but also bold, knowing that God will answer, that we will find what we need, and that doors will be opened to us. It’s easy for me to forget this, that God has the best for me – I want to go my own way, I want my own desires answered. But God knows what is best, and if I truly ask for His will, seek His face, and knock on His door, I will always receive what I need – Him.