Thursday, October 10, 2019

Bread of testimony

The Gospel set for Holy Communion today is Luke 11:5-13.

On one occasion, Jesus told a story involving three friends. B turns up at A’s door at midnight; but A has nothing to offer B. So, A wakes C and asks for bread; and C is reluctant to help, at first, but eventually A’s perseverance prevails.

It is a strange story to our ears, and C’s reluctance to be a good neighbour feels churlish. How hard is it to fetch a loaf of bread from the cupboard, and go back to bed?

As always, there is more going on than meets the eye.

The Greek word used here for ‘friend’ conveys more than we might mean, especially on Facebook: a trusted confidant, a dearly-loved friend. Both B and C, then, are closest-of-friends to A.

B has arrived, having journeyed to A on the way (or, the Way).

The Greek for ‘to set before’ means to commit to [something] in a very personal way; and carries the sense of to entrust, and to give evidence. But A has nothing to set before B.

Friend C responds by pleading with A not to cause him laborious toil, extreme weariness. The request is greater than we imagine. It would require kneading flour, water, oil, and yeast to make dough; and, while it proved, setting a fire and letting it burn down to charcoal. Effort, and time.

So, here is a man who has two trusted confidants, two dearly-loved friends—but nothing to testify to that being so. And what he wants is three loaves, or, one for each of the three friends. This is not primarily about hospitality towards B, or borrowing from C, but about relationship being established between B and C, with A as the intermediary.

The principle point Jesus is making here concerns the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is the bread, the evidence that testifies to the deep friendship between Jesus’ disciples, B, who have come to him, and the heavenly Father, C, as brokered by Jesus, A.

While I do not want to press the analogy too far, A’s lack of resources is suggestive of Jesus’ self-emptying; and the laborious toil asked of C (presumably with A’s active involvement) is suggestive of the cost to the heavenly Father in this endeavour.

Jesus goes on, inviting his disciples to continue to be B, journeying on the Way, through the dark night, until they arrive at his door...but also inviting them to step into the role he occupies (A) and to intercede on behalf of the world (an extended B), asking that others might come to experience the Holy Spirit, who testifies to our friendship with God. Though they are ‘evil’—not in essential character, but in that they act in ways that cause pain; as A causes pain to C—they know how to give good gifts; and the heavenly Father all the more so.

This, then, is a story about the dynamic between Father, Son, Holy Spirit, the Church, and the peoples; a story in which we participate in physical and spiritual nourishment.

It is the simplest of stories imaginable. And yet, it is bigger on the inside.

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