Be Shameless Daily
It doesn't take a degree in theology to see our text is about prayer. The lesson taught can be summed up in this phrase: "Be shameless daily."
First, let's look at the word be'. It's "Eleanor Rigby" rather than "Let it be". Since it's been almost 50 years since their breakup, I might have to explain these two are Beatles' songs. What do they have to do with our text? In the last paragraph of our text, Jesus says, according to the NIV, "If you then, though you are evil." Literally, He says, "If therefore you, wicked being." This is not the ordinary to be' verb found about 450 times in the NT but one found 48 times. This word is like "Eleanor Rigby"; it looks back to a past condition that reaches into the present rather than the ordinary "to be verb" which like "Let it Be" only states a present circumstance (Vincent's, I, 743). You can see all of poor, lonely Eleanor Rigby's life from picking up rice in the church after someone else's wedding to her funeral to which no one came but Father McKenzie. Contrast this with Paul McCartney's mom, Mary, advising him in times of trouble to just let it be.
So, when Jesus says in our text, "You being evil", He is looking back to a past condition. We're evil now because that's what we've always been in the past. This is a bummer, a downer, a real buzz kill that nobody wants to hear and many, even Christians, deny. But what do Scriptures say? When David searches about for the cause of his adultery: He doesn't go to Bathsheba's nakedness or his present lustfulness but to the fact that He was sinful from the moment of conception (Ps. 51:5). Paul tells one of his best congregations, the Ephesians, that their real problem goes back to their very natures as "children of wrath" (2:3). Birds fly, fish swim by nature. No one is surprised to see a flying bird or swimming fish; we're by nature children of wrath. Under God's wrath because of our fallenness is our natural state. We're now with Randy Travis to the rock hard bottom of our hearts.
Gulps are appropriate, but you haven't heard it all yet. The insert translates "evil". All the 35-odd English one's I checked translate either evil' or bad'. Poneros is much stronger than evil'. This is actively wicked; this teaches total depravity. In the area where even the biker thug or the Mafia hitman prides himself in his goodness', i.e. in loving his kids, Jesus states flatly with no need to prove, that "you're actively wicked from the start and still are a parent." It's not how the Devil, the World, or your own fallen self think. You do this, that, and this wrong, and that's your sin. If you just take care of it, you're good to go with God. Wrong. Our active wickedness makes us by nature heirs of God's wrath. Which in the words of Blondie mean: One way or the other God's going to gettcha.
If you heard this rightly, you'll thank God that the next part is Garth not Frank. The insert refers to "to the man's boldness." And you hear Frank belting out in full-throated boldness, "I did it my way." Well that does seem fitting for a child of wrath to sing who doesn't think his wickedness is a problem. But that's not the tune to be hearing here. Jesus doesn't use the Greek word for "boldness" but the one Garth sings: "shameless." Actually, it's the Greek word "shamelessness." It's only here in the New Testament, but from Homer down we find it elsewhere and we know that's what the word means. So with Garth we stand before the Lord and say, "I'm shamelessI don't' have a prayer. Anytime I see you standing there I go down upon my knees."
Here's the twist. Grammatically the word "shamelessness" can refer to either the man pounding on the door or the man in bed. The former has no shame in waking an entire family in the middle of the night for a loaf of bread; the latter wants not to hear from neighbors "shame on you" for disregarding the serious duty of hospitality. The Confessional Lutheran answer when a Biblical text can be translated either way is to say Yes' to both. The context does lead both ways.
First, Jesus commands us to command God. He says, "When you pray, you must say, "Father, holy must be Thy name; must come the kingdom of Thee; the bread of us daily Thou must give; and Thou must forgive the sins of us." Talk about a picture flipping! This is better than British Boxing Day. This is a whole lifetime of servants, slaves, former children of wrath, commanding their heavenly Father what He must do for them. Stunning, startling, shameless, don't you think? There's more. Jesus commands you: You must not only ask, but you must seek too; and you must get all the way to the shamelessness of the man in the parable: you must knock. And with Eric, you are knock, knock, knocking on heaven's door itself. You can have such shamelessness because God in Christ commands you to have it. You're to ignore your sin and sinfulness and ask, seek, knock based on the command and promise of Christ who is your righteousness.
What about the shamelessness of the man inside? He would represent the one who answers prayer, God. In what sense can we say God doesn't want anyone to be able to say shame on you'? You see this in the Old Testament reading with Abraham and you can find it several times in the prayers of Moses. They pray to God based on what others would think of His power, promise, and ways if He doesn't answer. What will others say if He destroyed the righteous with the wicked or if He destroyed His OT Church in the wilderness after leading them out of Egypt? Would He want to bring shame on His holy, righteous, gracious, loving name? And if you remember Sodom and Gomorrah, the Lord didn't find 10 righteous there; He didn't even find 5; He found 3 and still He didn't sweep away the righteous with the wicked. And if you know you're NT, you'll know that it is for the sake of One Righteous Man, Jesus, that He put away His wrath and can be prayed to shamelessly in Jesus' name.
"Be shameless" are the first two words of our summary, what about the third, daily? Be shameless daily. Here it's Norman Greenbaum not Pink Floyd. Our text is more about the Spirit in the sky than it is about money, money, money, money on the ground for this life. It comes down to the Greek word "daily" in the command to pray for "daily bread." It's a tough one. As early as the 200s Origen said it was a word coined by the apostles (Thayer). There is no certain use of this word in any other ancient source. Three ways to translate it have come down to us: bread for today, bread for the coming days, bread for subsistence, our essential, necessary bread (Tannehill, 188).
Here's another Confessional Lutheran both-and, here all three. First, it can't be just about bread for the body when in the same Sermon on the Mount where the Lord gives this petition He also commands, "Take no thought for what you shall eat." We pray for it as Luther says to remind ourselves that God gives daily bread to everyone without our prayer, "even to all evil people" and we pray this so "that God would lead us to realize this and to receive our daily bread with thanksgiving." Second, when the friend at the door asks to be lent 3 loaves of bread, the man inside ends up giving whatsoever the man needs. Third, more than bread for this body is being dealt with because our Lord commands us in this same prayer to ask for forgiveness which we need in body and soul. And finally, if an actively wicked father knows without being told (that's the particular Greek word for know' being used) what good gifts his children need, surely the heavenly Father knows every single good gift His children need not only for this life but the next.
I hope you can hear Pink Floyd's "Money"; if you listen to financial news, you often hear that driving, rhythmic refrain, and the official music video does a good job of showing it's all about this body, this life. There's more here than that because Jesus goes where Norman Greenbaum did but better. We don't go up to the Spirit in the sky; He comes down to us. Jesus says, "If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him!" That we are not being commanded to pray for the Holy Spirit is shown by the parallel in Matthew 7:11. There Jesus says, "How much more will your Father in given give good things to those who ask Him." The point being made is that the good answer to all your prayers is nothing short of the Spirit in the sky coming to you which benefits you not just in body but in soul too.
God the Son wasn't born under the Law, to live sinlessly yet still be betrayed into the hands of sinners to be put to death as a sinless sacrifice in place of all sinners for us to get all the things the pagans seek after. He wasn't sent to live a holy life and die a guilty, damned death to win for you what the Father freely gives even to all evil people and to us even without our prayers. Read the accounts of His death after He had declared He was finished paying for every single sin of the world, yours included, yours especially, particularly, minutely, and thoroughly. Matthew 27:50 says, "He sent the Spirit." John 19:30 says, "He handed over the Spirit." O you say, the Spirit of the sky goes back to the sky. Not so fast. When He appears in the upper room Easter Sunday evening, Jesus breaths on them and says, "Receive the Holy Spirit." Here's the Spirit back on earth again, and it's in the mouths of men when they Baptize, Absolve, or Communicate. That's what we say in our Lutheran Confessions: "Furthermore, the ministry of the New Testament is not bound to places or persons like the Levitical ministry, but is scattered throughout the whole world and exists wherever God gives His gifts: apostles, prophets, pastors, teachers" (Treatise 25-26).
Be shameless daily. As Psalm 81 says, "I am the Lord your God. Open wide your mouth and I will fill it." With what? Our Introit tells us: With promises that are "sweeter than honey" or as Van wrote and Dusty sang: "Sweet as Tupelo honey." Amen
Rev. Paul R. Harris
Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas
Tenth Sunday after Pentecost (20190818) Luke 11:1-13