March 9th, 2017: Matthew 7:7-12.
I received an e-mail recently about a man who had complained that God hadn’t answered his months-long prayer that he would win the lottery. God answered the man’s complaint by telling him: ‘Give me some help, will you? Buy a ticket.’ Jesus tells us something similar when he says: “Ask and you will receive.” The very act of asking is an expression of faith.
But why ask when God knows our needs already? Doing so reminds us of our dependence on God. When things are going well for us and the sun is shining, it is easy to forget that we still need the Lord. Asking also strengthens our desire, much as regular exercise strengthens the heart, muscles, and lungs. St. Gregory the Great, who was pope from 590 to 604, wrote: “All holy desires grow by delay. And if they do not grow, they were never holy desires.”
Jesus also says, “Seek and you will find.” The Trappist monk who helped me over the threshold of the Catholic Church over a half-century ago wrote: “To fall in love with God is the greatest of all romances; to seek him the greatest human adventure; to find him the highest human achievement.”
Jesus tells us finally: “Knock and the door will be opened to you.” If we know that a house, or a room, is empty, we don’t bother to knock. So knocking too is an expression of faith – that there is someone there to open the door.
To strengthen our faith, Jesus asks two rhetorical questions: “Would you give your son a stone if he asked for bread, or a snake if he asked for fish?” Our wonderful Pope Francis asks simple, challenging questions like that. If his hearers don’t answer the question, he will repeat it until they do. You are certainly not saints, Jesus says; yet you know how to give gifts to your children. Do you suppose, then, that your heavenly Father will be less generous than you are? That is a “how much more” question, and Jesus uses it often. “How much more will your heavenly Father give good things to those who ask him.”
Today’s gospel reading closes with the Golden Rule: “Do to others whatever you would have them do to you.” That is not unique to Christianity. We find it, in some form, in all the great religions of the world. Treat others, the rule says, as you would like them to treat you.