And he said to them, “Which of you who has a friend will go to him at midnight and say to him, ‘Friend, lend me three loaves; for a friend of mine has arrived on a journey, and I have nothing to set before him’; and he will answer from within, ‘Do not bother me; the door is now shut, and my children are with me in bed; I cannot get up and give you anything’? I tell you, though he will not get up and give him anything because he is his friend, yet because of his importunity he will rise and give him whatever he needs.
Luke 11, 5–8
The setting of the parable is that of midnight, the hour of change, and of a new beginning. Many mock those New Year’s midnight resolutions. I, on the other hand, have always found them beautiful because they are a sign of the desire and will to grow and give one’s best. Nevertheless, midnight also means darkness, and a lack of clarity, when the path is still uncertain, the old day has just passed and the new one has not yet begun. This midnight scene brings me back to my own life experience, to the transformative experience of going “beyond”, which I only understood when Jesus’ parable revealed it to me in all its profound truth.
I was 19 years old. Having finished high school, I was thinking about how to continue my studies. Theology seemed an option, but I had been told that the course of study was difficult; in addition, I had not learnt ancient languages. Having no confidence in myself, I did not even try that path. In the uncertainty I decided instead to study linguistics and literature. So on the one hand there was desire, on the other uncertainty.
Where did I want to go? That leap into the dark took courage. Midnight scared me. However, the desire remained and so I continued to question myself. I learned Latin at university and translated the theological writings of Martin Luther and the popes. It was then that I realised that I was interested in the theological content rather than the language. Like the protagonist in the parable, in short, I needed “bread”. In Luke’s Gospel, the parable directly follows the Lord’s Prayer, which invites us to ask, “Give us this day our daily bread”. We Christians know these words well; but, if we were to ask God for bread, today, in our everyday lives, where would we go, where would we knock? Moreover, for me, whose door could I knock on to ask for the “bread” I needed?
I began to ask questions of others, whether they happened to be pastors, a nun, and many of my friends who had had very different experiences with the Church; these included intransigent atheists, Muslims and devout Christians. The discussions I had with them helped me then; and today, after some time, I can say that this was my way of knocking on God’s door.
Just like the protagonist in the parable, I had finally left home and gone to ask my neighbour for “bread”. I had a request, which was such an important desire that it could not wait. Like the protagonist in the parable, I had decided to be intrusive, to knock on my friend’s door, even at the cost of disturbing them and the risk that the door may be closed. By knocking on everyone’s door, and by asking questions, I rid myself of everything that was unclear to me. How should we relate to God? Where can we find him? How can we reconcile the Christian faith with the secularized life of a city like Berlin?
In explaining the questions that had tormented me and that I had not dared to pronounce aloud for a long time was a new beginning for me. Once I found the strength and courage to enter the darkness and knock, the conversations became more and more frequent and continued to inspire me.
Thus, I finally dared to enroll in the Faculty of Theology. It did not matter how difficult it was going to be, for I had realised that my desire was to keep knocking and find answers.
The parable of the importunate friend alerted me precisely to this act of knocking boldly and reassured me that “for his importunity, [the friend] will arise”.
We are allowed, that is, to knock loudly on God’s door. We are allowed to knock even arrogantly, and we are allowed to rid ourselves of all the questions we have about Him. For a long time I thought my questions were stupid and impertinent. Today, I see these as a strength; God has blessed me with a critical mind, which also makes me knock loudly on His door. The intrusiveness has not driven me away from Him as I had feared; on the contrary, it has made our relationship much stronger. I also understand this “intrusive knocking” as a feminist act, because women do not knock loudly very often for fear of the consequences. On the other hand, God calls us and invites us to seek him, and to knock. Moreover, besides, and here the parable provokes us, God encourages us to be intrusive: “yet because of his importunity he will arise and give him as many as he needeth”. Yet, there is more too. He who seeks and knocks does not do so only for himself. He wants to bring his bread to his friend. The search for God leads beyond ourselves; it also bears fruit for others.
by Magdalena Bredendiek