492: THE PARABLE OF THE FRIEND AT MIDNIGHT

“A warm welcome to Zingcreed, the religious blog that takes Jesus seriously and tries to do his teachings justice. And for that you do not need St Paul’s help. After all, that misogynistic scribbler never read the gospels nor met Jesus; and the first thing he did after seeing his vision of Jesus on the road to Damascus was to go down to Saudi Arabia for 3 years! Some convert!

Once again I am picking up Herzog’s book on parables in the British Library, here in London, and taking his in-depth analysis to pieces and summarizing it in simplified form. I am not writing for theologians – I would never be so presumptuous, and they should have no difficulty comprehending the complicated original anyway. I am writing for myself andfor readers with the understanding of an intelligent “Sixth Former”, which in the British education system means a 17-19 year old student who hopes to go on to further education. Why them? Because that’s the group of people I know best as I have earned my bread teaching them for quarter of a century (and enjoyed it very much!)

The Zingcreed motto remains: More Jesus, Less Christ, No God!
(Yes I really am an atheist, as well as my own theologian in residence.)

In solidarity,

Peter Turner, M.A., M.Sc.”

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THE PARABLE OF THE FRIEND AT MIDNIGHT

5/ Jesus said to them, “Suppose you have a friend who comes to you in the middle of the night and says to you, ‘Friend, lend me  three loaves,
6/ for a friend of mine on a trip has just shown up and I have nothing to offer him.’
7/ And suppose you reply, ‘Stop bothering me. The door is already locked and my children and I are in bed. I can’t get up to give you anything’ –
8/ I tell you, even though you won’t get up and give the friend anything out of friendship, yet you will get up and give the other whatever is needed because you’d be ashamed not to.”
(Luke 11:5-8; Scholars translation from the Jesus Seminar)

Herzog shows his typical sociological insight by commenting “To Palestinian peasants rooted in the values of village life, it would have been simply inconceivable that a neighbour who had been awakened to help fulfil the obligations of hospitality would try to excuse himself from helping by offering flimsy rationalizations. He would be ashamed if he did so; he and his family would lose face in the village.” (p. 198) Herzog goes on to quote various experts on (i) why people travelled at night (cooler); (ii) how often families made bread (daily or weekly) (iii) the types of food eaten and the role of the roll; (iv) where the kids slept; (v) village hospitality customs and village honour.

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All peasants had a coping strategy: each person wanted land, wealth, health, friendship, respect, honour and status, power and influence, security and safety; yet all these things were perennially in short supply, so willingness to adapt, to cut your coat according to your cloth was essential. A norm of reciprocity governed relations between peasant families: if a village neighbour asked for help, one always agreed to help because, by doing so, one obligated the neighbour to reciprocate when the situation was reversed. Under Herodian rule, what with the rapacity of the Roman empire and the greedy demands of the temple, there was an increasing impulse in the first century towards mean-ness. Too much generosity could push a peasant over the edge!

Herzog maintains that the behaviour of the peasants in the parable is  “shameless” (I prefer the term “reckless”) and boundary breaking. They are subverting the debt codes of the Torah as promoted by the Jerusalem elites. They pursued the acquisition of wealth at the expense of the peasants. To the urban elites the hospitality of the villagers was ‘shameless’ because it was expended on a virtual stranger and gained them nothing in return. However, Jesus turned the dominant negative value judgement of the urban elite into an affirmation of village hospitality. The punchline (v. 8) is thus spoken ironically. Every time a villager greeted a stranger or received a sojourner, they, the unclean and impure, not the ‘pure’ elites with their great feasts, were creating a messianic banquet.

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In their village code of honour they embodied a justice which the purities could not comprehend. Efforts to dehumanize them and reduce them to creatures whose lives were obsessed by the desire to survive came to nought. The peasants were challenging the efforts of their oppressors as their continual but small redistributions of wealth and food foreshadowed a different order of human relations, one molded by justice and mutual reciprocity. Their ordinary actions were no small matter.

Zingcreed comment: This is a typical Jesus message. He was reckless and imprudent at times, and would often take a gamble rather than carrying out a “sensible” cost/benefit analysis. “Go on!” I hear him urging, “Just Do It!” (Nice one, Nike!) Remember the widow’s mite story? She found her lost penny and was so delighted she blew all her savings on a party! Do the thing society’s elders and betters wouldn’t approve of. What was that old hippy slogan? Something about “commit random acts of kindness”. Jesus would have fitted right in in Haight-Ashbury in San Francisco in 1968.  In some ways he was the world’s first hippy, a kind of left-wing guerrilla hippy with shades of Che Guevara about him. And of course he was a party animal too; indeed his critics tried to besmirch his name by calling him a wino and a glutton. A bit of bread and spread, pita and humous, fish and roti, and he was away, eating with all and sundry. (That’s “inclusive commensality” – just to show I know the jargon!)

Even more relevant, of course, is that he sent his disciples out to preach throughout the land and to carry no purse with them; they were  just to throw themselves on the mercy of the villagers they met along the way. A risky strategy indeed – they might have starved. All they offered in return was “the Word” and kindness – they would look after the sick and elderly they met in the houses where they stayed. If the JW lady who pestered me on the bus today turned up at my front door and asked for free accommodation in return for sharing Jehovah’s word with me, what do you think I would say to her? Should today’s true believers, whatever church/sect/cult they belong to, be sofa surfers?

Source:

Herzog, W.R. “Parables as subversive speech” John Knox (1994) [p.194]

Related Zingcreed Posts:

coming soon!

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