“Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.
“Which of you, if your son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? 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 good gifts to those who ask him! So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets.
- Matthew 7:7-12
“Jesus’ story about village neighbors must have provoked smiles and chuckles in his first-century audience. A man opens his door to an unexpected guest late one night – not uncommon in a desert climate that encourages travel after sunset – only to find his pantry bare. In a region renowned for hospitality, no decent person would turn away a weary traveler…
”Kenneth Bailey, a Presbyterian missionary who lived in Lebanon forty years … recalls one instance: ‘While living in primitive Middle Eastern villages, we discovered to our amazement that this custom of rounding up from the neighbors something adequate for the guest extended even to us when we were the guests. We would accept an invitation to a meal clear across the village, and arrive to eat from our own dishes which the villagers had borrowed quietly from our cook.’”
- Philip Yancey, Prayer: Does it Make any Difference?
Before the Bailey anecdote, Rev. Bailey describes how the Middle Eastern culture is to use bread like Westerners use a fork. I have seen people from India eat in the same manner. They take a torn piece of Naan. They pinch a piece of meat (if they are meat eaters) or a vegetable. They then twist three or four times to soak as much of the sauce into the Naan as possible and then they toss it in their mouths. They do everything with one hand; the other hand is used for unsanitary purposes and may not be clean.
That old memory struck me, but then I left the Kenneth Bailey version of using bread as a fork out of the quote. Kenneth Bailey is from just north of Pittsburgh. He was a fascinating man. He outlived his son, the folk singer, david m. bailey (always written in lower case), by about six years. Among the father’s books, he wrote a book about Jesus from a Middle Easterner’s point of view. The son, who lived years past the prognosis of six months after being diagnosed with a brain tumor, quit his job and wrote songs about hope, and of course, being a Java Junkie. They will both be missed.
But let’s get back to the Scripture passage. First, the Middle Eastern custom that is still active today in the smaller villages is odd compared to our Western culture, but in many ways, it is more hospitable, borrowing from neighbors to ensure that the weary traveler is taken care of – until you get to the Kenneth Bailey anecdote.
Have you ever known anyone that gives rotten gifts? A stone instead of bread? A snake instead of a fish? I know a family who hands out one gift on Christmas Eve. It is in Secret Santa style, one gift bought for one other member of the family, each receiving one gift. The gift for Christmas Eve is not just a gag gift, but in knowing the other person, the gift must be a gift that you know they would not appreciate or ever use. From a positive, you must know the person well to pull off the perfect wasted gift. That is a heartwarming gift of its own to know that you must study that other family member in depth. Yet, some people have certain pet peeves and the gift might be easily thought of with superficial knowledge. On the negative side, the money is wasted once the laughter dies down, and of the laughter, are you laughing at or laughing with? It is a slippery slope there.
As for the stone as a gift, Gary Dahl invented the Pet Rock back in 1975. While most people bought their friends the ultimate ‘gag gift,’ making Gary Dahl a millionaire, they did not realize that the booklet that comes with the Pet Rock was the part that was priceless. When you buy a new microwave oven, you throw the booklet away, but with the Pet Rock, the instructions for caring for your Pet Rock were hilarious. You would never know that you could teach your Pet Rock to do tricks, but you could. Your rock masters the command to ‘stay’ easily, but to get it to roll over …
Of all the times that Jesus stated the Golden Rule, this time He illustrates the rule with a few examples of gift giving. May we be better gift givers – givers of time, givers of presents, givers of love, givers of our testimony of how Jesus changed our lives.
Soli Deo Gloria. Only to God be the Glory.