Thursday March 17, 2011
Scripture Matthew 7: 7-12
Today’s readings are about prayer, especially prayer of petition.
Today’s gospel sounds marvellous. “Ask, and it will be given to you; search and you will find; knock and the door will be opened for you”. It seems all we have to do is pray for something and we will get what we ask for. However, we know from experience that this is simply not true. We pray to win the lottery but we don’t even get one of the minor prizes. We pray for the recovery of a person with cancer but the person dies. What is happening? Is Jesus telling lies? Are there some hidden conditions of which we are not aware?
We believe the answer lies in the second half of the Gospel today. First, Jesus asks whether a father would offer a stone to his son asking for bread or whether a snake would be offered instead of a fish. “If you, then, who are evil, know how to give your children what is good, how much more will your Father in heaven give good things to those who ask him!”
In other words if we human beings, in spite of our shortcomings, care for the well-being of our children, then certainly God, who is all good, will be much more caring. The problem is not that God does not answer our prayers; the difficulty is that we tend to ask for the wrong things. We do not give a child a sharp knife to play with even though, when we refuse to do so, he throws a temper tantrum and gets angry with us. A good parent, of course, will try to give the child something else which satisfies its real need at the moment.
Jesus is saying that God will give “good things” to those who ask. In fact, as Jesus says: “do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him” (Mt 6:8), God already knows all our needs so it is not necessary to tell him. Why do we have to pray? The purpose of prayer is for us to become more deeply aware of what our real needs are.
The things we ask for in prayer can be very revealing of our relationship with God and with others, it can be very revealing of our values and our wants. The deepest prayer of petition will be to ask God to give us those things which are the best for our long-term well-being, those things which will bring us closer to him and help us to interact in truth and love with those around us. It is prayer to be the kind of people we ought to be. It is difficult to see that prayer not being answered.
It may be useful for us to look at the prayer of petition of Jesus in the garden and how it was answered. St. Paul in the second letter to the Corinthians also shares an experience of petitionary prayer which he made (2 Cor 12:7-10) and the surprising answer that he got: “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.”
The last verse of the Gospel called the Golden Rule: “In everything, do to others as you would have them do to you.” If we expect God to be kind and generous to us, certainly we are expected to be equally kind and generous to those who come asking our help.