And he said to them, “Suppose one of you has a friend to whom he goes at midnight and says, ‘Friend, lend me three loaves of bread, for a friend of mine has arrived at my house from a journey and I have nothing to offer him,’ and he says in reply from within, ‘Do not bother me; the door has already been locked and my children and I are already in bed. I cannot get up to give you anything.’ I tell you, if he does not get up to give him the loaves because of their friendship, he will get up to give him whatever he needs because of his anadeia.
“And I tell you, ask and you will receive; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks, receives; and the one who seeks, finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened. What father among you would hand his son a snake when he asks for a fish? Or hand him a scorpion when he asks for an egg? If you then, who are wicked, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him?”Luke 11:5-13
The Parable of the Midnight Guest
Surprised by a visitor at midnight, the host needs to borrow “three loaves of bread” for his guest. Undeterred by the late hour, locked door, and sleeping family, he calls on his friend, confident that he will receive “whatever he needs.” Though relations between the host and his friend are strained, a guest has arrived and must be fed. In Middle Eastern cultures, the communal and sacred duty of hospitality is unconditional.1
Exegesis of anadeia
According to Luke 11:8, the host’s request is fulfilled because of “his anadeia.” The personal pronoun “his” may refer to either the host or the sleeper.2 Translations of anadeia differ, leading to multiple interpretations.
In early Greek literature, the Septuagint, and Josephus, anadeia means “shamelessness” or “impudence.” Eventually, the word acquired the nuance of “persistence,” possibly through an interpretive translation of Jeremiah 8:5 in the LXX: “perpetual apostasy” in Hebrew is translated as “shameless apostasy” in Greek.
Anadeia of the Host
Since the original meaning of anadeia carries a negative connotation, Bible interpreters through the centuries adopted the meaning of “persistence.” Some exegetes combine the various meanings to produce “shameless persistence” or “boldness,” highlighting the confidence of one who prays.
Other reasons accounting for this exegetical development include linking this parable with that of the persistent widow (Luke 18:1-8), and interpreting it from Luke 11:9-13 (“ask…seek…knock”). But while persistence is evident in the parable of the widow, Jesus concludes the Parable of the Midnight Guest immediately after the friend’s excuses. As for the Lukan passage about asking, seeking, and knocking, an earlier version is found in Matthew 7:7-11 in the context of the Sermon on the Mount, rather than a parable. Luke’s arrangement encourages the interpretation of anadeia as “persistence.”
Anadeia of the Sleeper
Several scholars, including Joachim Jeremias and Kenneth Bailey, argue that the subject of anadeia is the sleeper rather than the host. In this view, anadeia signifies the sleeper’s desire to act with integrity (avoiding shame). For their ethos of hospitality, rooted in ancient Bedouin culture, cannot be violated without opprobrium.3 On the proper, almost religious, treatment of guests ride the reputations of entire communities.
Composed of the prefix an (“without”) + aidós (“shame”), anadeia can be mapped to a positive Aramaic concept meaning “free of shame.”4 Bailey compares this linguistic possibility to the English words “blame” and “blameless.” The latter concept carries a positive, rather than a negative, meaning. So the friend arises to give the host whatever he needs “that he may not lose face in the matter” (Jeremias) and thus “avoid shame” (K. Bailey).
Meaning of the Parable
Both interpretive paths meet in the conclusion that those who pray must approach the Father with confidence, for he is magnanimous and always acts honorably.
Three Loaves of Bread: A Mystical Interpretation
Jesus’ Parable of the Midnight Guest exhorts us to ask the Lord for whatever we need. But what do we truly need?
The Fathers of the Church, delighting in allegory, leap from “three loaves of bread” to the “loaves of the Trinity” and the bread of the Eucharist. Shaped by a sacramental imagination soaked in Scripture, every word, image, and object manifests the heavenly kingdom. Worlds removed from modern critical scholarship, patristic literature weaves together Biblical images in a tapestry of prayer.
Loaves of the Trinity
“What honey is sweeter than to know the wisdom of God?” writes St. Jerome to St. Paula of Rome. “Others, if they will, may possess riches, drink from a jeweled cup, shine in silks, and try in vain to exhaust their wealth in the most varied pleasures. Our riches are to meditate in the law of the Lord day and night, to knock at the closed door, to receive the ‘three loaves’ of the Trinity, and, when the Lord goes before us, to walk upon the water of the world.”5
St. Augustine, soaring in the mystery of the Most Holy Trinity, reflects: “But when thou shalt have obtained the three loaves, that is, the food and knowledge of the Trinity, thou hast both the source of life and of food. Fear not. Cease not. For that bread will not come to an end, but will put an end to your want. Learn and teach. Live and eat.”6
Bread of Unity
Writing to St. Eustochium, St. Paula’s third daughter, St. Jerome advises, “Unless you knock importunately, you will never receive the sacramental bread.”7
“What are those three loaves if not the nourishment of the heavenly mystery?” St. Ambrose wonders. “If you love the Lord your God, you will be able to deserve this not only for yourself but also for others. Then who is a greater friend to us than he who surrendered his own body for us?”8
Praying the Parables
Alongside historical-critical and exegetical works, the Fathers of the Church model an approach of praying the Scriptures into the “mysteries of the kingdom of heaven.”9
Grant us, Lord, the loaves of the Trinity.
Nourish us with the bread of unity.
1 Clinton Bailey, “Abraham and Lot’s Bedouin-Style Hospitality,” TheTorah.com, 2019, https://thetorah.com/article/abraham-and-lots-bedouin-style-hospitality.
2 Kenneth Bailey, Poet & Peasant and Through Peasant Eyes: A Literary-Cultural Approach to the Parables of Luke (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1983), Book I, 125-133.
Joachim Jeremias, Parables of Jesus (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1972), 158.
3 Andrew Shryock, “The New Jordanian Hospitality: House, Host, and Guest in the Culture of Public Display,” Comparative Studies in Society and History 46, no. 1 (2004): 35–62. http://www.jstor.org/stable/3879412.
4 Kenneth Bailey, 132.
5 St. Jerome, Letter XXX, To Paula.
6 St. Augustine, quoted in the Catena Aurea of St. Thomas Aquinas, Luke 11:5-8.
7 St. Jerome, Letter XXII, To Eustochium.
8 St. Ambrose, Exposition of the Gospel of Luke 7.87. From Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture, Luke, Arthur A. Just Jr., editor, and Thomas C. Oden, general editor (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2003).
9 Matthew 13:11; Luke 8:10; Mark 4:11-12.