Thursday, October 8, 2009

Ask And You Will Receive. Seek And You Will Find. Knock, And The Door Will Be Opened To You.

Today’s First Reading is from the Book of the Prophet Malachi
(3:13-20b, or 3:13-18; 4 1-2).

“You have said harsh things against me”, says the LORD. Various translations render the original word as “cruel”, “hard”, or “unkind”. The message is clear: these people find the LORD’s will difficult to accept. And yet they ask, “What have we ever said against you?” What they have said is this: “It is futile to serve God. What good has it done us to obey his commandments, and go about like mourners before the LORD of Hosts?” What they were disturbed about is this: “Evildoers prosper, and those who challenge God are not punished.”

Then, those who truly respected the LORD got together, and spoke to God directly: and He listened attentively. In the presence of the LORD, a scroll of remembrance was prepared as a record, listing the names of all those who honor the LORD and place their trust in Him.

The LORD answered their plea. “They will be mine, on the day I take action. They will be my special possession. I will spare them, just as a man is compassionate toward the son who serves him. Then you will once more see the distinction between the righteous and the wicked, between those who serve God, and those who do not.

“For behold, the day is coming”, says the LORD of Hosts, "a day blazing like an oven, when the arrogant and the evildoers shall be reduced to stubble. That day is coming when I shall set them afire when they will be bereft of both roots and branches.” And then the LORD says, “But to you who respect my name, the sun of justice shall arise, with healing in its wings.”

From the earliest days of the Christian church, this prophesy of Malachi has been seen as a description of the coming of Jesus Christ. In fact, it is likely that you may have sung it at Christmas time, if you have gone past the first two verses of the poem of Charles Wesley set to music by Felix Mendelssohn:

Hark, the Herald Angels Sing!
Verse III
Hail the Heaven-born Prince of Peace!
Hail the Sun of Righteousness!
Light and life to all he brings,
risen with healing in his wings. 
Mild he lays his glory by,
born that man no more may die,
 born to raise the sons of earth,
born to give us second birth.
Hark!  the herald angels sing:
"Glory to the newborn King!"


Today’s Gospel is taken from Luke (11: 5-13):
In the Holy Land at the time when Jesus was teaching his disciples, travellers preferred to travel late in the day, in order to avoid the heat of the midday sun. In the cities and some of the towns, there were inns. Otherwise, a traveller would stop at the home of a friend, and ask for shelter overnight. Hospitality was practiced by just about everyone, since the guest you welcomed into your home overnight today, might be your host when you are on the road. Jesus refers to this practice in teaching his disciples this parable:

“Suppose that you go to a friend’s house at midnight, and you say to him, 'Friend, please lend me three loaves of bread. A friend of mind is on a journey, and he just stopped at my house, but I don’t have any food to lend him.' But your friend doesn’t come to the door. Instead, he calls out from inside the house, 'Don’t bother me! My door is already locked, and my children are with me in bed. I can’t get up to give you anything.'  Let me tell you this: If he doesn’t get up and give you what you’re asking for because of your friendship, you can be sure he will give you whatever you need if you are persistent.”

Jesus goes on to say: “You will get what you need if you keep on asking. You will find what you’re looking for if you don’t stop looking. If you persist in knocking, the door will be opened for you. Those who ask will receive. Those who seek will find. Those who knock will have the door opened for them."

The next images Jesus uses make it clear that he’s talking to folks who are fishermen by trade. “What father among you would give your son a snake, when he asks for a fish,or a scorpion when he asks for an egg?” Fishermen sometimes found water snakes in their nets, or scorpions that, when they rolled themselves up, took the shape of an egg. But any fisherman worth his salt knew the difference and would not harm the children. Jesus concludes: “If you who are by no means perfect, know enough to give good things to their children, how much more with the Father in Heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him?”

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Do you get the impression that God is reluctant to give us what we ask for? No, because Jesus is not comparing the reluctant giver and the Father, but contrasting the two. St. Augustine wrote, “If a man is awakened from sleep, and is forced to give unwillingly in response to a request, then God, who never sleeps and who awakens us from sleep so that we might ask, gives even more graciously.” Venerable Bede (672-735) wrote, “Any human – mortal, weak, burdened with sinful flesh – does not refuse to give the good things he possesses to the children whom he loves. More than this man, our heavenly Father lavishes the good things of heaven – on us.”

But, what if our prayer is not answered? Our prayer is always answered, but not always in the way we want or expect. Cyril of Alexandria (375 - 444): “Sometimes we pray without thinking about what we are praying for will be good for us. If God were to grant us what we ask, we do not know whether it will prove to be a blessing or an injury. A thoughtless impulse of fancy can cause us to fall into desires that thrust the soul into the snares of death and the meshes of hell. When we ask God anything of this kind, we surely will not receive it.”

In retrospect we can sometimes see the wisdom in this; but there are times we cannot see it. If we have prayed as never before for the recovery of a relative or friend who is seriously ill, and the person dies, then the question arises, more intensely and personally than ever, “Did God answer my prayer?” Then, all we can do is cling to the assurance of faith. Divine Providence takes us far beyond our own terms, beyond even life and death. We hear people speak of “finding comfort in God’s will.” This is not “comfort” in the ordinary, dictionary definition of the word: contented well-being. Rather, it means comfort in the original sense of the word, that goes back to its French and Latin roots: Etymology: Middle English, from Anglo-French conforter, from Late Latin confortare: to strengthen greatly, from Latin com-(with) + fortis (strong). [Both definitions from Merriam-Webster Online]. God answers our prayer by granting us a sort of strength we didn’t know we had – or rather, strength we did not have until the moment we needed it.

Donagh O'Shea S.J. 

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