5. And he said to them, Which of you shall have a friend, and shall go to him at midnight, and say to him, Friend, lend me three loaves;
6. For a friend of mine in his journey is come to me, and I have nothing to set before him?
7. And he from within shall answer and say, Trouble me not: the door is now shut, and my children are with me in bed; I cannot rise and give you.
8. I say to you, Though he will not rise and give him, because he is his friend, yet because of his importunity he will rise and give him as many as he needs.
CYRIL; The Savior had before taught, in answer to the request of His apostles, how men ought to pray. But it might happen that those who had received this wholesome teaching, poured forth their prayers indeed according to the form given to them, but carelessly and languidly, and then when they were not heard in the first or second prayer, left off praying. That this then might not be our case, he shows by means of a parable, that cowardice in our prayers is hurtful, but it is of great advantage to have patience in them. Hence it is said, And he says to them, Which of you shall have a friend.
THEOPHYL. God is that friend, who loves all men, and wills that all should be saved. AMBROSE; Who is a greater friend to us, than He who delivered up His body for us? Now we have here another kind of command given us, that at all times, not only in the day, but at night, prayers should be offered up. For it follows, And shall go into him at midnight. As David did when he said, At midnight I will rise and give thanks to you. For he had no fear of awakening them from sleep, whom he knew to be ever watching. For if David who was occupied also in the necessary affairs of a kingdom was so holy, that seven times in the day he gave praise to God, what ought we to do who ought so much the more to pray, as we more frequently sin, through the weakness of our mind and body? But if you love the Lord your God, you will be able to gain favor, not only for thyself, but others. For it follows, And say to him, Friend, lend me three loaves, &c.
AUG. But what are these three loaves but the food of the heavenly mystery? For it may be that one has had a friend asking for what he cannot supply him with, and then finds that he has not what he is compelled to give. A friend then comes to you on his journey, that is, in this present life, in which all are traveling on as strangers, and no one remains possessor, but to every man is told, Pass on, O stranger, give place to him that is coming. Or perhaps some friend or yours comes from a bad road, (that is, an evil life,) wearied and not finding the truth, by hearing and receiving which he may become happy. He comes to you as to a Christian, and says, "Give me a reason," asking perhaps what you from the simplicity of your faith are ignorant of, and not having wherewith to satisfy his hunger, are compelled to seek it in the Lord's books. For perhaps what he asked is contained in the book, but obscure. You are not permitted to ask Paul himself, or Peter, or any prophet, for all that family is now resting with their Lord, and the ignorance of the world is very great, that is, it is midnight, and your friend who is urgent from hunger presses this, not contented with a simple faith; must he then be abandoned? Go therefore to the Lord Himself with whom the family is sleeping, Knock, and pray; of whom it is added, And he from within shall answer and say, Trouble me not. He delays to give, wishing that you should the more earnestly desire what is delayed, lest by being given at once it should grow common.
BASIL; For perhaps He delays purposely, to redouble your earnestness and coming to him, and that you may know what the gift of God is, and may anxiously guard what is given. For whatever a man acquires with much pains he strives to keep safe, lest with the loss of that he should lose his labor likewise.
GLOSS. He does not then take away the liberty of asking, but is the more anxious to kindle the desire of praying, by showing the difficulty of obtaining that we ask for. For it follows, The door is now shut.
AMBROSE; This is the door which Paul also requests may be opened to him, beseeching to be assisted not only by his oven prayers, but those also of the people, that a door of utterance may be opened to him to speak the mystery of Christ. And perhaps that is the door which John saw open, and it was said to him, Come up hither, and I will show you things which must be hereafter.
AUG. The time then referred to is that of the famine of the word, when the understanding is shut up, and they who dealt out the wisdom of the Gospel as it were bread, preached throughout the world, are now in their secret rest with the Lord. And this it is which is added, And my children are with me in bed.
GREG. NYSS.. Well does he call those who by the arms of righteousness have claimed to themselves freedom from passion, showing that the good which by practice we have acquired, had been from the beginning laid up in our nature. For when any one renouncing the flesh, by living in the exercise of a virtuous life, has overcome passion, then he becomes as a child, and is insensible to the passions. But by the bed we understand the rest of Christ.
GLOSS. And because of what has gone before he adds, I cannot rise and give you, which must have reference to the difficulty of obtaining.
AUG. Or else, the friend to whom the visit is made at midnight, for the loan of the three loaves, is evidently meant for an allegory, just as a person set in the midst of trouble might ask God that He would give him to understand the Trinity, by which he may console the troubles of this present life. For his distress is the midnight in which he is compelled to be so urgent in his request for the three. Now by the three loaves it is signified, that the Trinity is of one substance. But the friend coming from his journey is understood the desire of man, which ought to obey reason, but was as obedient to the custom of the world, which he calls the way, from all things passing along it. Now when man is converted to God, that desire also is reclaimed from custom. But if not consoled by that inward joy arising from the spiritual doctrine which declares the Trinity of the Creator, he is in great straits who is pressed down by earthly sorrows, seeing that from all outward delights he is commanded to abstain, anti within there is no refreshment from the delight of spiritual doctrine. And yet it is effected by prayer, that he who desires should receive understanding from God, even though there be no one by whom wisdom should be preached. For it follows, And if that man, shall continue, &c. The argument is drawn from the less to the greater. For, if a friend rises from his bed, and gives not from the force of friendship, but from weariness, how much more does God give who without weariness gives most abundantly whatever we ask?
AUG. But when you shall have obtained the three loaves, that is; the food and knowledge of the Trinity, you have 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.
THEOPHYL. Or else, The midnight is the end of life, at which many come to God. But the friend is the Angel who receives the soul. Or, the midnight is the depth of temptations, in which he who has fallen, seeks from God three loaves, the relief of the wants of his body, soul, and spirit; through whom we run into no danger in our temptations. But the friend who comes from his journey is God Himself, who tries by temptations him who has nothing to set before him who is weakened in temptation. But when He says, And the door is shut, we must understand that we ought to be prepared before temptations. But after that we have fallen into them, the gate of preparation is shut, and being found unprepared, unless God keep us, we are ill danger.
9. And I say to you, Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and you shall find; knock, and it shall be opened to you.
10. For every one that asks receives; and he that seeks finds; and to him that knocks it shall be opened.
11. If a son shall ask bread of any of you that is a father, will he give him a stone? or if he ask a fish, will he for a fish give him a serpent?
12. Or if he shall ask an egg, will he offer him a scorpion?
13. If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children: how much more shall your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to them that ask him?
AUG. Having laid aside the metaphor, our Lord added an exhortation, and expressly urged us to ask, seek, and knock, until we receive what we are seeking. Hence he says, And I say to you, Ask, and: it shall be given you.
CYRIL; The words, I say to you, have the force of an oath. For God does not lie, but whenever He makes known any thing to His hearers with an oath, he manifests the inexcusable littleness of our faith.
CHRYS. Now by asking, He means prayer, but by seeking, zeal and anxiety, as He adds, Seek, and you shall find. For those things which are sought require great care. And this is particularly the case with God. For there are many things which block up our senses. As then we search for lost gold, so let us anxiously seek after God. He shows also, that though He does not forthwith open the gates, we must yet wait. Hence he adds, Knock, and it shall be opened to you; for if you continue seeking, you shall surely receive. For this reason, and as the door shut makes you knock, therefore he did not at once consent that you might entreat.
GREEK EX. Or by the word knock perhaps he means seeking effectually, for one knocks with the hand, but the hand is the sign of a good work. Or these three may be distinguished in another way. For it is the beginning of virtue to ask to know the way of truth. But the second step is to seek how we must go by that way. The third step is when a man has reached the virtue to knock at the door, that he may enter upon the wide field of knowledge. All these things a man acquires by prayer. Or to ask indeed is to pray, but to seek is by good works to do things becoming our prayers. And to knock is to continue in prayer without ceasing.
AUG. But He would not so encourage us to ask were He not willing to give. Let human slothfulness blush, He is more willing to give than we to receive.
AMBROSE; Now he who promises any thing ought to convey a hope of the thing promised, that obedience may follow commands, faith, promises. And therefore he adds, For every one that asks receives.
ORIGEN; But some one may seek to know, how it comes that they who pray are not heard? To which we must answer, that whoso sets about seeking in the right way, omitting none of those things which avail to the obtaining of our requests, shall really receive what he has prayed to be given him. But if a man turns away from the object of a right petition, and asks not as it becomes him, he does not ask. And therefore it is, that when he does not receive, as is here promised, there is no falsehood. For so also when a master says, "Whoever will come to me, he shall receive the gift of instruction;" we understand it to imply a person going in real earnest to a master, that he may zealously and diligently devote himself to his teaching. Hence too James says, you ask and receive not, because you ask amiss, namely, for the sake of vain pleasures. But some one will say, Nay, when men ask to obtain divine knowledge, and to recover their virtue they do not obtain? To which we must answer, that they sought not to receive the good things for themselves, but that thereby they might reap praise.
BASIL; If also any one from indolence surrenders himself to his desires, and betrays himself into the hands of his enemies, God neither assists him nor hears him, because by sin he has alienated himself from God. It becomes then a man to offer whatever belongs to him, but to cry to God to assist him. Now we must ask for the Divine assistance not slackly, nor with a mind wavering to and fro, because such a one will not only not obtain what it seeks, but will the rather provoke God to anger. For if a man standing before a prince has his eye fixed within and without, lest perchance he should be punished, how much more before God ought he to stand watchful and trembling? But if when awakened by sin you are unable to pray steadfastly to the utmost of your power, check yourself, that when you stand before God you may direct your mind to Him. And God pardons you, because not from indifference, but infirmity, you cannot appear in His presence as you ought. If then you thus command yourself, do not depart until you receive. For whenever you ask and receive not, it is because your request was improperly made, either without faith, or lightly, or for things which are not good for you, or because you left off praying. But some frequently make the objection, "Why pray we? Is God then ignorant of what we have need?" He knows undoubtedly, and gives us richly all temporal things even before we ask. But we must first desire good works, and the kingdom of heaven; and then having desired, ask in faith and patience, bringing into our prayers whatever is good for us, convicted of no offense by our own conscience.
AMBROSE; The argument then persuading to frequent prayer, is the hope of obtaining what we pray for. The ground of persuasion was first in the command, afterwards it is contained in that example which He sets forth, adding, If a son shall ask bread of any of you, will he give him a stone? &c.
CYRIL; In these words our Savior gives us a very necessary piece of instruction. For oftentimes we rashly, from the impulse of pleasure, give way to hurtful desires. When we ask any such thing from God, we shall not obtain it. To show this, He brings an obvious example from those things which are before our eyes, in our daily experience. For when your son asks of you bread, you give it him gladly, because he seeks a wholesome food. But when from want of understanding he asks for a stone to eat, you give it him not, but rather hinders him from satisfying his hurtful desire. So that the sense may be, But which of you asking his father for bread, (which the father gives,) will he give him a stone? (that is, if he asked it.) There is the same argument also in the serpent and the fish; of which he adds, Or if he asks a fish, will he for a fish give him a serpent? And in like manner in the egg and scorpion, of which he adds, Or if he ask an egg, will he offer him a scorpion?
ORIGEN; Consider then this, if the bread be not indeed the food of the soul in knowledge, without which it can not be saved, as, for example, the well planned rule of a just life. But the fish is the love of instruction, as to know the constitution of the world, and the effects of the elements, and whatever else besides wisdom treats of. Therefore God does not in the place of bread offer a stone, which the devil wished Christ to eat, nor in the place of a fish does He give a serpent, which the Ethiopians eat who are unworthy to eat fishes. Nor generally in the place of what is nourishing does he give what is not eatable and injurious, which relates to the scorpion and egg.
AUG. Or by the bread is meant charity, because we have a greater desire of it, and it is so necessary, that without it all other things are nothing, as the table without bread is mean. Opposed to which is hardness of heart, which he compared to a stone. But by the fish is signified the belief in invisible things, either from the waters of baptism, or because it is taken out of invisible places which the eye cannot reach. Because also faith, though tossed about by the waves of this world, is not destroyed, it is rightly compared to a fish, in opposition to which he has placed the serpent on account of the poison of deceit, which by evil persuasion had its first seed in the first man. Or, by the egg is understood hope. For the egg is the young not yet formed, but hoped for through cherishing, opposed to which he has placed the scorpion, whose poisoned sting is to be dreaded behind; as the contrary to hope is to look back, since the hope of the future reaches forward to those things which are before.
AUG. What great things the world speaks to thee, and roars them behind your back to make you look behind! O unclean world, why clamor you! Why attempt to turn him away! You would detain him when you are perishing, what would you if you were abiding for ever? Whom would you not deceive with sweetness, when bitter you can infuse false food?
CYRIL; Now from the example just given he concludes, If then you being evil, (i.e. having a mind capable of wickedness, and not uniform and settled in good, as God,) know how to give good gifts; how much more shall your heavenly Father?
BEDE; Or, he calls the lovers of the world evil, who give those things which they judge good according to their sense, which are also good in their nature, and are useful to aid imperfect life. Hence he adds, Know how to give good gifts to your children. The Apostles even, who by the merit of their election had exceeded the goodness of mankind in general, are said to be evil in comparison with Divine goodness, since nothing is of itself good but God alone. But that which is added, How much more shall your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to them that ask him, for which Matthew has written, will give good things to them that ask him, shows that the Holy Spirit is the fullness of God's gifts, since all the advantages which are received from the grace of God's gifts flow from that source.
ATHAN. Now unless the Holy Spirit were of the substance of God, Who alone is good, He would by no means be called good, since our Lord refused to be called good, inasmuch as He was made man.
AUG. Therefore, O covetous man, what seek you? or if you seek any thing else, what will suffice you to whom the Lord is not sufficient?
Catena Aurea Luke 11