Scripture Readings for March 9, 2017:
Today’s readings appear to be quite clear about what they are trying to tell us. Rely on God, when you are in need, call to God for help and God will answer and turn your mourning into gladness. It is important for us to recognize our need for God. In more ways than we may care to admit we are dependent on God and should seek God’s help especially when we are desperate, feeling alone or overwhelmed. That is an important fact of the spiritual life.
However, the difficulty I think is we’ve all had times in which we needed help or wanted God to help someone who was clearly in need and the problem we faced or the good we prayed for didn’t happen. So I think the question is, why does Jesus tell us in very plain language that “everyone who asks, receives and the one who seeks finds and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened?” No doubt you have prayed for someone who was dying and they did not recover. You have prayed for people who needed food and assistance yet their needs went unmet. How are we to understand what Jesus and the Psalms say when we read, “I called for help and you answered me.”
I have often heard people try to deal with this situation by saying that God did answer their prayer but God said no. I think there may be other ways to think about this that are closer to what our faith is trying to tell us.
Jesus says in the Gospel, “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; and the one who seeks, finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.
Consider Deuteronomy 4:29-30, talking to the Jewish people, God’s chosen people, God says,
“When you have grown old, when you have grown corrupt, doing what Yahweh regards as wrong and so provoking his anger you will vanish from the country which you are crossing the Jordan to possess. You will be utterly destroyed. Yahweh will scatter you among the peoples, only a small number will remain.
If however, from there, you start searching once more for Yahweh your God, if you search for him honestly and sincerely, you will find him. You will suffer everything I have said but in the final days you will return to Yahweh your God and listen to his voice.”
What this passage suggests is that God isn’t promising the Jewish people a rescue from their devastation, but rather an open door to welcome them home when they seek to be close to him.
I think that we have too readily thought of this asking, seeking and knocking in terms of our physical needs and current situation. I think what Jesus is talking about is deeper. His is a view to our outlook and attitude towards life, our trust in God. Will we be overwhelmed and give up or no matter what happens will we make the best of it? Even if “the best” means working through really difficult situations. I don’t think God promises us that life will be easy, or that he will rescue us from physical peril. I do think God offers us the chance for life to be rich, full of wonder, beauty and meaning. God says if we come looking we will find life offers us that outlook, a faith that allows us to see the big picture and be happy with our place in it. Isn’t that what we really want, a life of meaning, to see where good comes from. To know that we counted for something, that we made a difference in this world. I think we can all put up with difficult and even devastating times if we knew the result was worth it.
Let me give you one simple and concrete example. We’ve all seen stories on TV about the family whose house is destroyed but no one is hurt. All they can say is how glad they are that all the kids are OK and they’ll figure out what to do next because they’re so glad everyone is still together. That’s the kind of deeper meaning and values that are addressed by the seeking that Jesus is talking about. When everything has gone wrong with the way we think things should be and we can we still see that life itself is good and worth living then God has opened the door and we have been given what we were looking for.