Gospel parables, an Orthodox commentary

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The two preceding parables of Lord Jesus Christ tell us to calculate our strength for the against difficult temptations. The next two closely related parables of Jesus - of the friend who asks for bread and of the unjust judge - strengthen our faith that God hears the prayers of those who hope in Him. We find both parables in the Gospel according to Luke. The first is the parable of the friend who asks for bread:

"And he said unto them, Which of you shall have a friend, and shall go unto him at midnight, and say unto him, Friend, lend me three loaves; for a friend of mine in his journey is come to me, and I have nothing to set before him? And he from within shall answer and say, Trouble me not: the door is now shut, and my children are with me in bed; I cannot rise and give thee. I say unto you, Though he will not rise and give him, because he is his friend, yet because of his importunity he will rise and give him as many as he needeth" (Luke 11:5-8).

The parable of the unjust judge, we also find in the Gospel according to Luke:

"There was in a city a judge, which feared not God, neither regarded man: and there was a widow in that city; and she came unto him, saying, Avenge me of mine adversary. And he would not for a while: but afterward he said within himself, Though I fear not God, nor regard man; yet because this widow troubleth me, I will avenge her, lest by her continual coming she weary me. And the Lord said, Hear what the unjust judge saith. And shall not God avenge his own elect, which cry day and night unto him, though he bear long with them? I tell you that he will avenge them speedily. Nevertheless when the Son of man cometh, shall he find faith on the earth?" (Luke 18:2-8).

The friend asking for bread is a vignette of Palestinian village life, without commercial shops. At daybreak the housewife bakes her family's supply of bread for one day. Towards evening, the other villagers usually know whose supply of bread has not yet been given out. In the East, it was a duty to receive and feed unexpected strangers. The one who asks his friend for bread probably intends to repay the borrowed bread before long.

Towards evening, the house is dark, for village people go to bed early. The wick of the oil-filled lamp burns dimly. "The door is now shut, and my children are with me in bed; I cannot rise and give thee." The doors are held shut by a large bolt. The are hard to open, and moving the bolt causes a loud noise that would wake up everyone. The fact that the man's children are with him in bed suggests a dwelling of only one room. To get up to pass out bread would cause inconvenience. One ought not to understand the words, "I cannot rise and give thee" as a refusal, but just an allusion to special difficulty that his neighbor put him in. Christ knows that the man will give his friend some bread. Christ is asking His listeners to put themselves in the place of the hospitable man in the East, who must help strangers at any time. Tradition dictates him. One can say the same about the parable of the unjust judge, who defended the widow to stop her pestering him. Even more will the Lord God hearken unto us and help us.

Both parables teach that constant is necessary to gain what is asked for. Sometimes God does not fulfill our prayer swiftly, even if the request is necessary and according to God's will, and offered with faith and hope. His divine wisdom and omniscience fulfill our prayers according to His Providence, sometimes testing our faith and always knowing what is better for us. We must believe that God's providence is best for us.

The Holy Fathers also teach us to pray constantly and steadfastly. "Ask for what is worthy of God," says Saint Basil the Great, "not ceasing to ask until thou receivest. Though a month passes or a year or three years or a greater number of years until thou receivest, do not give up, but ask with faith, constantly doing good."

Christ told the parable of the unjust judge, as the Evangelist Luke relates, after His discourse on His Second Coming. Despite the harshness before His Second Coming, Christians must neither waver in prayer nor become despondent, for the Lord defends those faithful to Him. The expression, "though he bear long with them who cry unto Him day and night," that is, who intensely and insistently pray to Him, confirms that God fulfills prayers in accordance with His plans and purposes, at the time He sets. But he does hear all sincere prayer.

Christ promises attention to sincere prayers: "Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you. For every one that asketh receiveth; and he that seeketh findeth; and to him that knocketh it shall be opened" (Luke 11:9-10). "And so, O man, do not become despondent," says Saint John Chrysostom; "ask, knock at the doors of God's loving-kindness, and even if thou receivest not at once, then in that case also do not despair. For this is why Christ also said: Knock, in order to show that even if He does not quickly open the doors, all the same one must wait." And again from Chrysostom: "One must ask, because God does not give good things to those who do not want to ask them of Him, who close their heart and are, therefore, incapable of receiving His grace."

The father who takes care of his son (Luke 11:11-13) is Christ's allegory again that the all-good Lord grants a man everything needful, and only what is needful and good for him. The meaning of this teaching is clear: If men who are entirely imperfect in love are able to give good gifts to their children, then all the more will our Heavenly "Father give good things" (Matthew 7:11) to them that ask of Him. And we, the Holy Fathers teach, sometimes ask a stone of God instead of bread, that is, we ask what is not beneficial for us.

Let us trust in God's will, for God knows better than we. Let us show constancy and patience in our prayer. The Canaanite woman, in the Gospel narrative of the healing of her daughter by Christ, is an example of astonishing constancy and persistence in prayer. She would not leave the Savior. Let us recall this Gospel account: "A woman of Canaan . . . cried unto him, saying, Have mercy on me, O Lord, thou son of David; my daughter is grievously vexed with a devil. But he answered her not a word. And his disciples came and besought him, saying, Send her away; for she crieth after us" (Matthew 15:22-23). The Lord's silence vexes His disciples, who could hear the woman entreating. They ask Christ to send her away, not understanding the Savior's silence. And Lord's reply transfigures the harsh scene:

"I am not sent but unto the lost sheep of the house of Israel" (Matthew 15:24), says the Lord. In spite of this negative answer from Christ, the Canaanite woman approaches Him and says: "Lord, help me. But he answered and said, It is not meet to take the children's bread, and cast it to dogs" (Matthew 15:25-26). This reply may seem sharp and even cruel to us, and it could offend most women. He compares her people to dogs. But her answer is not that way.

And she said, "Truth, Lord: yet the dogs eat of the crumbs which fall from their masters' table" (Matthew 15:27). And then the words of the Lord revealed the meaning of this Gospel episode: "Then Jesus answered and said unto her, O woman, great is thy faith: be it unto thee even as thou wilt. And her daughter was made whole from that very hour" (Matthew 15:28). His encounter with the Canaanite woman shows the whole world this woman's faith, humility and persistence. Let us too, beloved, follow her example.

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