In the Near East, the heat of the day can grow extremely intense. Therefore, back when people rode camels, they often traveled at night, by moonlight. These days, people with young children often travel at night in order to avoid ‘Are we there yet?’ a thousand times, because the kids are sound asleep.
Either way, a true friend welcomes travelers, even in the middle of the night. With cellphones and 7-11s, and other modern conveniences like breadmakers and refrigerators, rarely these days does a night-traveling friend arrive at your home without warning and find you altogether unprepared to hook him up with food and a beverage.
But back in the day, when Roman roads linked the vast reaches of the far-flung empire, but messengers between towns and cities often miscarried or got distracted or just weren’t going your way—back in the time when our Lord gave us this parable—traveling friends often surprised their hosts at midnight.
So a host might easily find himself scratching his head and desperately wondering: ‘At suppertime my children ate all the loaves of bread my wife baked this morning. All I have for my friend is a couple stoups of wine. But he’ll think I don’t want him here in my house if I don’t set some food in front of him. What kind of friend am I? He’ll never visit me again if I don’t come up with some bread to offer him immediately!’
Then comes what I would have to say is my favorite conversation in the entire Bible. It’s even better than when Abraham pleaded with God to save the city of Sodom.
The conversation in the Parable of the Friend at Midnight involves yelling and bellyaching and fussing and bothering and excuses and leave-me-alones and shut-ups and I-know-you’re-in-theres and you’ll-wake-the-children!’s and I-really-don’t-want-to-be-having-this-conversation’s…And every kind of lively annoyance that can occur between neighbors who really do love and trust each other.
The important point, I think, is: Our hero knows—he knows—that this particular neighbor keeps bread in the house overnight. To do so would have been unusual. Most people in ancient Palestine did not keep bread overnight, because by morning it would be dry and inedible.
But for whatever reason, this neighbor had loaves. He had an emergency stash. Maybe he himself liked midnight snacking. Whatever the reason, he had the juice; he had what our hero needed. And our hero knew it.
Because our importunate hero did not doubt this fact, there was nothing that the other homeboy could say to make our hero give up. He tried to make our hero go away, but it didn’t work.
“Man, my door is locked!” –Which, in ancient Palestine, would indeed have complicated matters considerably. Ancient Palestinian locks involved more complexities even than the locks on people’s ghetto-apartment doors in 1970’s sitcoms. In ancient Palestine, unlocking your door could take ten minutes, because you had all kinds of barricades and secret latches and two-by-fours wedged in there.
So the man with the bread in his house said, “Look, homes, I’m all locked up. And I’m sleeping. And you’re bothering me. And Do you know what time it is? And You’re asking me to wake up my babies, and they’ll start crying. And You’re a real nuisance. And Why did I even move into this neighborhood? And Oh my gosh, just quit knocking, here’s your daggone loaves of bread, just please please go away now before I lose my mind, you lunatic!”
As the Lord Jesus explains, the host is our hero because he never doubted; he never flinched. He knew his neighbor both had the bread and would indeed give it. Our hero approached the problem with single-minded determination, with conviction.
Our Holy Father Francis has written, in his encyclical on faith:
The conviction born of faith brings grandeur and fulfillment to life.
We Christians are convinced: God loves. God loves us as His children. We do not doubt this truth. We do not waver. We do not flinch from the conviction of faith, even when things get rough. Even when we need something we don’t have. Because that is precisely when our lives become grand and find fulfillment. That is precisely when we turn to God.
The good Lord Who made heaven and earth does not hand scorpions to His children who ask for eggs and bacon. Maybe what He hands us right now may look to us like a plate of sautéed scorpion on a bed of broken glass shards. But we know that God gives us the best. We don’t even know exactly what the best is, really. But we know that our heavenly Father has it, and will give it. We never doubt that.
So we keep begging begging begging for His help every day–especially every Sunday at Mass. Lord, help us. Lord, help us. Lord, help us. Lord, help us. Lord, help us. We are desperate enough to keep begging for Your help until the day we die. So please help us, Lord. We know you will.