I took a different tack—obviously—with God being He from within saying, “The door hath been shut.” And the “knocking man” as the one with “the shameless audacity” to ask for what he himself does not have, only so he can give it away.
There are a couple of reasons I like this parable. One is just the pure surprise of something perfectly plain being perfectly unclear. What Jesus says is not in the least possible way complicated. It is not in the least possible way able to be misunderstood. Yet immediately it is impossible to understand exactly who is doing exactly what. It’s not the complexity of the parable, but the simplicity that is disorienting. The disciples keep asking, “How come things aren’t clear?” And the teacher keeps answering: “They are clear. You just can’t see.” And filled with the spirit, he laughs that little children can see what intellectuals can’t.
The other is how Jesus, at first, leans humanity against this colossal cornerstone of heaven inscribed with the words: It's Too Late
“It’s too late,” says God behind the door.
And this is pitifully true. The sun has set upon the world. It’s too late to ask, too late to choose, too late to change.
What is done is done. What is chosen is chosen. “The children are down already.” The midnight fate of all within the house of God is predetermined. It's too late.
But then Jesus upends that cornerstone as if it were a pebble. He says even though that is true, something else is more true:
It’s never too late.
It’s never too late to ask, to seek, to knock, to give, to change, to choose, to have courage, to be shameless.
Just before He tells the parable of the friend and the bread and the midnight house, Jesus answers a terrifically simple, though infinitely large, question with a terrifyingly small answer.
“Jesus, how do you pray?”
“I ask for bread.”
“Look, suppose a friend...”
And right then He begins to hide. Why? Not because it’s necessarily poetic or funny or dramatic to obscure the details and characters and meaning, but because He must hide. As if he is hiding easter eggs. He can no more give you the golden egg, than he can give you the answer. Because if he does, you will not find; you will not ask. If he gives you the answer, he doesn’t merely make it too easy, or reveal complex knowledge and truth for your simple eyes to see, he takes away the question. Which complicates everything. Dangerously, maybe obliterates the solution permanently. The hidden egg must be found if it is to open. The seed must be planted deep, only then will it die and work into the soil of the soul. It is the greatest something even to know it might be there somewhere waiting on you, germinating in you. Otherwise you will grasp whatever answer is in easy reach and begin to believe you have an egg. And you will stop looking. You will say something like, “I know what is wrong with me! I have a syndrome! I have a chemical imbalance! I have original sin!" or "I have a promise with streets of gold!” Which means nothing. It is to have a diagnosis and a cure without ever having a disease. It is just a word or a symbol. It immediately hides everything important behind itself. All you have is a golden egg that will never open unto you. And you will spend the rest of your life thinking about your egg and reading about and caressing it, never figuring out why it doesn’t hatch.
I think CS Lewis said a man reserves his most violent rage for the trap he most lately escaped. It is why I look upon the trap of rationality with such disgust. For it is not rational at all. It is the opposite. Because if it means nothing else, “rational” means that whatever is happening makes sense. Yet after all the decisions and happenings in my life that came and went, and before all the others still to go, my only sense was this: I was in a cage. With bars of Fate. On a train that progressed, but on predestined tracks to nowhere. It was my trap. And the bars I beat against at 44, were the bars of my own hypocrisy.
Because even though I had the arrogance to question everything, I never had the courage to ask for anything.
I would only think. I would consider that midnight house. Of the God within. Of the darkness. Of the things He may or may not give. And wonder and wonder why. And complain about my home and my friend with no bread. But never was I shameless enough, never was I audacious enough to go across the street and lean my head against the dark door. I never once had the courage to ask. And yet I blamed God for not answering, for not giving me what I needed.
It was a long time before I learned how. And it slowly dawns upon me, day by day, that this was no abstraction. For me, the dangers of rationalism and determinism, of Calvinism and fundamentalism, of modernism are not simply theologies or philosophies to discuss or hash out; they are terrifyingly real. They are cages to be escaped.
Jesus has this beautiful circle he creates at the beginning of Luke 11. He starts by raising our eyes to heaven; directing them to himself; to the divine son asking his divine Father for bread. But gradually He directs our eyes to earth; to the mortal son asking his mortal father for bread. And, again, this is no abstract lesson for me—the precise way Christ showed me how to live again, that things were ok, that IT was real, that it would work out, that all my needs would be fulfilled; was by following his gaze, not up to the Father above me, but back to the family around me.
Asking can only really matter, in the sense it is audacious, the moment it shouldn’t be done.
Seeking can only possibly matter, in the sense it is shameless, the moment it is shameful to do so. Knocking can only really matter, in the sense it is persistent or annoying, when its too late.
To serve God for nothing is to voluntarily abdicate one's inheritance and sonship. It is to say, “Even if I may never be God's child, I will still be his servant.” It is that great and mighty Nebuchadnezrian "coming to senses." It is that shameless prince's abdication of his throne and acceptance of his chains which whispers in the ears of the King. To serve God for nothing surprises His eyes from afar. And suddenly He is near. And forever He holds His lost son and prince and heir and all the lost children of God, forever setting them free.
To serve God for nothing denies crowns and robes and rings, heaping them upon one’s head and shoulders and hands.
When you’re dead,
what is everybody else to you but dead.
And you a son, dead to a father who can’t see you anymore,
become a father, dead to a son whom can’t be seen anymore.
What is Christ?
What is Christ in the Parable of the Prodigal Son? Is he the father?
He calls himself or he says about himself that if you have seen him you have seen the father. Or is He that which helps you realize your need for the father, for repentance? Is He that which causes you to repent? In that sense he is neither the father nor the son who stayed home nor the son who went away. He is something else entirely. He is the need.
"Why are we celebrating?"
The servant answers but the father explains: "The celebration IS because the son that was dead is alive. The son that was lost is found."
It seems a strange answer. But actually it's a strange question. And the father sounds a bit stumped by the other son’s asking of it. As if the son had asked why rain falls down instead of up. The father says there really is nothing more to say. It is simply a matter of gravity.
But unlike the way the father talks of the son who was finally found, the way I and my puritan brethren often talk of alive and found, in essence: salvation, is exactly like the son who was never lost. We talk about salvation until it ends in an argument, not a celebration. A puritan hears music and dancing inside where he should be, but never dances, because he doesn’t know how. Somewhere along the way the puritan becomes lost in his own found-ness and dies in the midst of his own life. Somewhere along the way he forgets what found sounds like and stands deadly still in the dance of salvation.
And so the puritan becomes his brother.
Now apostate, the puritan stays in his anger, that place outside of joy, while the father pleads for him to come in.
Home is not the life one chose, but rather the life one didn’t. And once one chooses to flee it, what can only bring him back is choosing to love it.
Home is not a place to which one goes, but a place to which one returns.
Home is not the life one created, but the life he was created to love.
When going from man to Jesus: You don’t get there. You have to be there.
Getting there and being there or two different places entirely.