Parables Of Yeshua: The Parable Of The Friend At Midnight & Good Samaritan – Widening Our Hearts

Shabbat Shalom. This week we continue our walk through The Parables of Yeshua with the Parable of The Friend at Midnight and the Parable of The Good Samaritan. Clearly, we find ourselves in interesting and unusual times. Forced to physically distance ourselves from one another, while at the same time creating emotional connections through the technology of our day. As we think about our interactions with one another I think it is fitting our parables today are all about relationships. Our relationship with the Lord through prayer, and our relationships with one another.

Our first parable is the Friend at Midnight found in Luke 11:5-8. This parable comes right after Yeshua teaching us how we are to pray with the example of the “Lord’s Prayer.”:

Then Yeshua said to them, “Suppose you have a friend, and you go to him at midnight and say, ‘Friend, lend me three loaves of bread; a friend of mine on a journey has come to me, and I have no food to offer him.’ And suppose the one inside answers, ‘Don’t bother me. The door is already locked, and my children and I are in bed. I can’t get up and give you anything.’ I tell you, even though he will not get up and give you the bread because of friendship, yet because of your shameless audacity he will surely get up and give you as much as you need.

So, what is going on in this parable? What is Messiah Yeshua trying to teach us? Many throughout the history of Messiah’s Community have allegorized this parable. One interpretation is that the bread is a way to be more spiritual, the person looking for bread is a believer and the friend being woken up is Yeshua.

I strongly disagree with this way of interpreting the parables of Yeshua. Instead, we should try to look at the original intent and context for each parable to understand His teachings. We see that this parable comes after a teaching on prayer and in the next verse, verse 9 we read, “So I say to you: Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.” It seems clear from the rest of Luke 11 that this is a teaching about prayer and our relationship with Adonai. Which causes us to ask what Messiah Yeshua is trying to illustrate about prayer? To understand that we need to look at this parable through a Jewish lens.

This parable is really a lengthy Qal Vahomer, from “light to heavy”. This is a common type of Rabbinic expression which is like an equation. If something is true in a lighter or simpler situation, then it is true in heavier more complex situation. For example, if God is willing to take care of the birds and animals than how much more is He willing to take care of us?

Klyne Snodgrass’s excellent commentary on the parables, Stories with Intent, helpfully points out that this parable is really one long rhetorical question that Yeshua asks and answers. Yeshua is asking us rhetorically whether a friend would help us show hospitality to someone in need, even if it is late at night and we rudely ask him for food? The answer is that of course he will. Especially in the ancient world where hospitality was taken incredibly seriously. They may do it reluctantly, but it will get done, even if it is just to get us to go home.

The point Messiah is making is that if a friend is willing to show us hospitality and answer our need for bread, even in the middle of the night, then how much more will our heavenly Father meet our needs and hear our prayers? The answer of course is implied that He will greatly meet our needs and answer our prayers according to His will. The Lord does not tire or take a vacation. We cannot come to Him at an inconvenient time. We may get emotionally exhausted with other people, but the Lord never does. Yeshua encourages us to boldly go to the Lord with our needs and requests. This is not a promise that every prayer we pray will be answered, but it is a declaration that the Lord cares for our needs and hears our prayers.

I should mention that some believe this parable is about being persistent in prayer. The thinking goes that the man in the parable kept knocking at his friend’s door and the friend finally fulfilled his request. Therefore, if we just keep praying the same prayer God will eventually answer it. But there is no mention of repeated knocking in the parable. God is not like human beings who you can “wear down” or trick. The Lord has His own will, but He invites us in His love to bring our prayers before Him. Prayer is to change our hearts, not the heart of God.

When I was a child, I used to not want to bother God with my prayers. I thought that God was so busy doing everything in the universe and my prayers weren’t important. If I had understood this parable and Messiah’s teaching in this chapter then I would have known how wrong my thinking was. God always has time for us because He is eternal.

While we might get run down dealing with people the Lord never does. Unlike the friend in this parable, we will not find our Creator asleep in bed. There is never an hour where He is not active in this Earth. He alone can meet all our needs, physical, emotional, and spiritual. There no one like Adonai. He is infinite in His compassion and His mercy and we can share with Him every day the cries of our hearts. The Lord’s great compassion for us through prayer serves as an excellent segue for our next parable, which is concerned about our compassion for one another.

We move onto our next parable for this morning, The Parable of The Good Samaritan, one of my favorite parables. It is also a timely message as we deal with caring for one another in the middle of this Pandemic. This parable is recorded in Luke 10:25-37:

On one occasion an expert in the law stood up to test Yeshua. “Teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”

“What is written in the Law?” he replied. “How do you read it?”

He answered, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’”

“You have answered correctly,” Yeshua replied. “Do this and you will live.”

But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Yeshua, “And who is my neighbor?”

In this passage we are introduced to another expert in the Torah and Rabbinic teachings who wants to test Rabbi Yeshua. This entire exchange is very rabbinical with the Torah expert’s question being answered with another question, and the phrase “How do you read it?”

We see that the expert answers Yeshua’s question about how to obtain eternal life correctly. By loving the Lord with all our hearts and loving our neighbor the same way we would want to be treated. But he wanted to go further, he wanted to justify himself, to show Yeshua that he was righteous and properly keeping the commandment to love our neighbors. In typical Jewish fashion he then asked a question, “Who is my neighbor?”

Yeshua then tells him a parable.

In reply Yeshua said: “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he was attacked by robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead.

This is a very plausible scenario for the time period. People regularly traveled to Jericho from Jerusalem and it was very possible you could be attacked and robbed. Notice that the man is described as half-dead. We can imagine him as naked by the side of the road, bloodied, bruised, and very close to death but still holding on. It is a horrible sight and makes me think of someone after a serious car accident.

A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side.

Now if you are the Torah teacher hearing this story you would expect a Priest or a Levite to stop. After all, these are righteous people who should care about someone in need like this beaten man. But they walk by. Now some scholars interpreting this parable argue that the man would have appeared to be dead and therefore the Priests and Levites were forbidden to interact with his corpse. So, they passed by the man because they did not want to become defiled. This sort of thinking is wrong for several reasons and reminds us of the importance of interpreting Yeshua’s parables in their proper context. First, the man is described as half-dead, regardless of how he appeared a person should have checked on him. Second, it is understood within Judaism that you can set aside most commandments if it means saving a human life. The command to help others trumps any command about ritual defilement.

It is understandable but wrong to try and make excuses for the leaders in this story. No reason is given why they decided to cross to the other side and ignore the beaten man, but I would suggest that they probably just didn’t want to deal with it, that this was someone else’s problem and not theirs.

We have an expectation though that religious leaders will step up the plate and help others. In our day we can substitute a Priest and Levite with a famous pastor like Billy Graham or maybe a famous rabbi like Rabbi Gamliel. Surely these men of God would be willing to help a defenseless and beaten man? But in this story, they don’t and if we are being honest with ourselves, we also can find ourselves ignoring those in need God has put on our paths of life. Maybe not as severe as a man dying by the side of the road but in other scenarios. Maybe we know someone who is really hurting that we can reach out to but choose not to? Maybe we are too busy sometimes to do what the Lord has called us to?

Now at this point a Priest and Levite have ignored this man in need, who will help him? Our hero arrives in the next verse.

But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, brought him to an inn and took care of him. The next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper. ‘Look after him,’ he said, ‘and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.’

In English the phrase, “Good Samaritan”, comes from this passage. But to a Jewish person living in the 1st Century, “Good” would be one of the last words you’d connect with Samaritan. There is some very important background information we need to understand to unlock this parable.

The Samaritans were a separate group of people that lived north of Jerusalem in an area called Samaria. They claimed to be the true descendants of Jacob through Ephraim and Manasseh. Their religion was similar to biblical Judaism but had major differences like believing that the Torah was given on Mount Gerizim and not Mount Sinai. Samaritans were widely hated and constantly avoided. Jewish people would travel longer just to going through Samaria. While not every single Jewish person despised them, most Jewish people looked down on them. There was a long history of animosity between these two peoples.

In our modern day we could compare the Samaritans to Mormons or Jehovah’s Witnesses. They are also groups that claim to be the true followers of God but have very significant differences in beliefs from us. Imagine then the shock of two well known Pastors or Rabbis passing by this broken man and a Mormon or Jehovah witness choosing to stop. Or maybe imagine a LeVey Satanist or even a radical imam. This is the same sort of shock the Torah expert would have felt from hearing a despised Samaritan was willing to act when a priest and Levite did not.

The Samaritan is moved by compassion for this stranger. He helps him out and even pays for roughly two weeks at an inn for this man. So, he is not just meeting his initial need but helping provide for these immediate future needs as well, a supreme act of generosity. The actions of the Samaritan demonstrate overwhelming love, compassion, and care. The actions of the Priest and Levite show complete disregard. Those we expect to show love and compassion don’t and someone who we assume will not show compassion does. Clearly Rabbi Yeshua is teaching a powerful lesson with this story. The point of which we find in the following verses as Yeshua now asks His question to this Torah expert.

“Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?”

The expert in the law replied, “The one who had mercy on him.”

Yeshua told him, “Go and do likewise.”

The Torah expert is forced to acknowledge that this despised Samaritan is who we are supposed to emulate. Notice that Messiah Yeshua never actually answers his original question of who exactly is our neighbor? Because that is not the question we should be asking. We shouldn’t be putting limits on who we will show mercy and compassion to. This parable is not Scripture’s complete teaching on love, mercy, and being a neighbor, we need to read the whole of Scripture to answer every question this parable raises. But this parable does command us to not define our neighbors as just the people we like, the people of our race, or those who are kind, trustworthy, and loyal to us. Messiah Yeshua elsewhere commands us to love our enemies, a much bigger expansion of our neighbors than we are comfortable with.

The danger of asking, “Who is our neighbor?” is that it lulls us into being complacent or ignoring those hurting around us. We justify ourselves and feel we are properly fulfilling the Lord’s commands when we are not. The Priest and Levite crossed the road because they did not want to deal with that hurt person, they did not treat him as their neighbor. He was outside their box and so he was ignored. We also must be careful that we do not box out people who need mercy and compassion, especially those in Messiah’s Community. The real question we need to ask ourselves is Messiah Yeshua’s question: Are we acting as a neighbor to others? As I think over that question and how it applies to my own life, I am drawn to a favorite phrase found in 2 Corinthians 6.

In 2 Corinthians 6, Rabbi Paul speaks to Messiah’s Community in Corinth and asks them to “widen their hearts”. To enlarge their hearts and find a place in it for Rabbi Paul and His co-workers. We also need to widen our hearts. We need to make room for more than just the people we like very much and especially make room for those who are part of our community, who have been joined to Messiah.

But who is in our community? Is it merely those we see each week? I believe it is those God has intentionally put in our path and sometimes it is people we do not like very much. We should be focused on whether we are living out the two greatest commands in our own lives. Are we loving our neighbors as we would want to be loved? Or are we trying to narrow things so we can care less?

In these days of social isolation, it is more important than ever to show compassion to those around us. Many people can be emotionally half-dead on the side of the road and we may never see because we cannot physically get near to them. Calling and messaging people is more important than ever. While there are always some people it may be dangerous for us to be in contact with for various reasons, most people in our lives we should try to reach out to, especially if God puts them on our hearts. We cannot do everything though ourselves, it requires us working together as a community, as a family, to reach out to a lost and dying world. Each of us using our gifts together with hearts knitted together.

Our current pandemic has shown us the selfishness that lurks beneath the surface of our supposed enlightened society. As many rushed to the stores hoarding toilet paper in fear with no concern of how it would impact others. These last few weeks I have seen pictures of many elderly staring at empty shelves with reports stating how hard it has been to get essential supplies. Others have been arrested trying to price gouge their neighbors in this crisis. Even worse there are supposed Christian prosperity pastors who have been yelling at their people to make sure to tithe properly, only concerned for their own well-being.

The words of Yeshua to “go and do likewise” is for us as well. We need to not just be hearers of His words but doers. We need to care for the poor, all those in need, and be willing to encourage one another to do the same. If we claim to be disciples of Messiah we cannot just turn our faces away from those in need and spiritually rationalize our narrow hearts. I like this quote from Tim Keller, “Not everyone is your brother or sister in faith, but everyone is your neighbour, and you must love your neighbour.” To have our hearts widened and to see others as our neighbor requires the power of the Holy Spirit in our lives. We need God’s power to overcome our natural selfishness and our natural desire to limit where we expend our effort.

It can be very exhausting to love our neighbors, and many of them require a lot of effort to love. While we cannot exist just for other people, we cannot ignore everyone because it is difficult, or inconvenient, or they are not always nice to us. We need to have healthy boundaries with others, but we must also have wide hearts. Through God’s Word, good community, and His Spirit, we can find the balance in our lives.

As we close our time together this morning, I would like to end with Galatians 6:9-10. In these verses Rabbi Paul echoes Messiah Yeshua’s message and call to action:

Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up. Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers.

May each of us not become weary of doing good. May we always be willing to help those that God has put in our path. May we all do good to all people, all our neighbors. Finally, may we be known not by our bumper stickers, shirts, or Facebook posts, but by our love for one another.