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The Parable of the Midnight Visitor…

The Parable of the Midnight Visitor…

17th Sunday in Ordinary Time
By Fr. Victor Feltes

Imagine a visitor arrives at your home. He’s hungry but you have nothing to feed him. Suppose it’s so late at night that all the stores are closed. So you go down the road to the house of your friend and knock on his door. You rap gently and quietly at first, but then beat more firmly and loudly. It’s midnight, and your friend won’t answer the door. So you call out, “Friend, lend me three loaves of bread, for a friend of mine has arrived at my house from a journey and I have nothing to offer him!” But your annoyed friend replies from within, “Do not bother me; the door has already been locked and my children and I are already in bed. I cannot get up to give you anything.”

Is it really true that he cannot give you anything, or just that he would rather not? Notice what he doesn’t say; he doesn’t say he has no bread. Jesus assures us that if this neighbor of yours does not get up to give you those loaves of bread because of your friendship, he will surely get up to give you whatever you need because of your persistence. Why is this so? Because of his kids. Your neighbor inside says he and his children are already in bed. Are his children asleep? They were… before you came knocking. What will happen if you’re persistent and keep on calling at the door? The kids will not be happy. They will cry and complain, and their father will find no peace. That’s why his surrendering of some bread is guaranteed.

So what is Jesus really teaching us through this story? How to bother your friends and extort their food? The meaning of this parable is revealed by its context. Right before this story, Jesus’ disciples are taught how to pray to our Father. They are encouraged to ask him to “give us each day our daily bread.” And right after the parable, Jesus invites his disciples to seek and knock and ask, that we may find that we receive at an opened door. Jesus then reminds us that if even sinful fathers know how to give their children good gifts when asked, how much more so will our sinless Father give good gifts like the Holy Spirit to those who ask him? Today’s parable about knocking and asking at our friend’s door is likewise a lesser example teaching a greater truth: if your flawed and annoyed earthly neighbor can be persuaded to get out of bed in the middle of the night to give you bread, how much more readily will your perfect, patient, heavenly Father give you the daily bread, gifts, and graces you ask of him in prayer?

Later in the New Testament, St. James writes, “You do not possess because you do not ask.” So why don’t we ask God for more things in prayer? Perhaps you don’t ask because you’re afraid of being selfish or needy. But it’s not selfish to ask for what you or others need. Our parable’s protagonist had a praiseworthy purpose, to feed a hungry guest. To ask our Father for his good gifts is a good thing we are commanded to do. So if you never pray for yourself, or if you never pray for others, then definitely add such petitions to your prayers. Perhaps you don’t ask for more things in prayer because you worry you will ask for the wrong things. But that is not something to fear. If your son asks you for a poisonous snake or scorpion, would you then hand them over to him? Of course not. Nor will your heavenly Father grant wishes which would harm you.

And here’s a final reflection. If we are the main character in today’s parable (the one who is seeking and knocking and asking), and God is the father whom we approach with our request, then who are the father’s children at rest with him in his house? Who else in heaven can hear our prayers and add their voices to our requests, not because of annoyance at us but from their great love for us? We see in the Book of Revelation that in this present age (before the Second Coming) the saints in heaven are offering prayers to God. They do not pray for themselves, but for us. Like Abraham who once interceded before God for Sodom, the saints in heaven can intercede for us now. So ask them. As St. James wrote, “The fervent prayer of a righteous person is very powerful.”

Jesus’ parable would teach us to not be bashful but be bold in asking for good things from God. So knock on the door of heaven, with your prayers to our Father and his children above.

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