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Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Sermon on the Mount, Twelfth

The next passage from the Sermon contains some more very familiar verses.
Ask, Seek, Knock
"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; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened.
"Which of you, if his 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 First off, the last sentence, which I included because of the section breaks in NIV translation, doesn't have anything to do with the rest of the section. I mean, I accept that the Golden Rule may sum up the Law and the Prophets, but that is not what the other sentences are talking about.

Second, I don't think the passage means you can ask god for bread or fish. In other words, I don't think the passage means that if you pray for physical things they'll be granted you. I say that because the first part talks about seeking, and knocking and opening doors. I think the passage means that those who pursue faith will find it, just like an earthly father would give his kids a fish, so your heavenly father will grant you faith.

But that doesn't necessarily save the relevance of this passage. Aren't there people who search for faith and don't find it? Aren't there people who wished that they believed but just cannot? I would love to hear from folks who find comfort or meaning in this passage.

P.S. The opposite advice, "God helps those who help themselves" comes from Benjamin Franklin.

UPDATE: I've emailed this post to members of the clergy in my address book. I would be delighted if they would share their wisdom, or if that's too intimidating, their shared befuddlement.

5 comments:

JimII said...

This is from Rev. Rick Jensen. (There was some problem with posting directly, which I hope was localized to Rick's intereface with the blog and not a more global trouble.)

Obviously, we have to be careful about assuming the text means that if we ask God for something we're automatically going to get it. That would make petitions to God something mechanical and God is not Deus ex machina, God the machine. Your instinct about it having to do with faith, however, is more on track, though, again, this isn't a push-button kind of deal either since faith tends...tends to be slower to develop: more like an oak grown from an acorn than a lightning strike. Such faith is more lasting and a life-long pursuit, even though people have had death-bed conversions.

It may be helpful also to put this text from Matthew beside Jesus' comment (also in the Sermon on the Mount) about not being anxious about our life: our longevity, the food we eat and the clothes we wear--because God doesn't overlook a sparrow falling to the ground and we are of more importance than they! But side-by-side, these 2 texts suggest that God is sensitivity to our propensity for anxiety and fear as the masters of our emotional world rather than faith in God Who is more able to provide than we give God credit for.

One thing we know for sure: God isn't heavy-handed and won't push faith on us. God isn't a bully. God is instead One Who wants to answer our prayers, but can't unless we let God in--consciously and unconsciously.

This is my 2-cents worth for now.

Rick Jensen

Anonymous said...

For me, faith and works
freely given are more likely to return quality elements in the long term. There is hope that sparks every day' s existence, but
may also give at the end of
the year.

Hi Jim,

hope this short opining
contributes to your issue
about this piece of Beatitudes.

Blessings, Jim Corner

Anonymous said...

For me, faith and works
freely given are more likely to return quality elements in the long term. There is hope that sparks every day' s existence, but
may also give at the end of
the year.

Hi Jim,

hope this short opining
contributes to your issue
about this piece of Beatitudes.

Blessings, Jim Corner

Matt Dick said...

Rick Jensen: One thing we know for sure: God isn't heavy-handed and won't push faith on us. God isn't a bully. God is instead One Who wants to answer our prayers, but can't unless we let God in--consciously and unconsciously.

Aside from a sort of growing consensus amongst modern, liberal theologians, I don't see how one can come to this conclusion with the positive evidence we have. Can you support the conclusion that "God is instead One Who wants to answer our prayers, but can't unless we let God in"?

Anonymous said...

Bill Shea, a bit late ...apologies.
Ask and you shall receive etc. Hardest set of sentences to take seriously. No evidence that these statemenets are universal or can be taken as they appear to say.
Me...I think that they are a test of faith. Do I really think/believe that Jesus' version of what life is about is real, truly possible? If the "asking", "knocking", "seeking" are about the kingdom as Jesus preached, do I believe enough to make it happen, to live it out in the world that apparently for good reason rejects this vision of humanity...WHo are we kidding, turn the other cheek, be perfect, give the shirt off your back. To me as much of Jesus preaching as we get it, is confrontational, in your face. I am too much a product of my past and my world to have the nerve to demand the world be as Jesus teaches =ask,knock,seek. I am more like the blind man in Mark who is cured = sees, but men look like trees walking around. Simply put I think I am afraid to ask, I am chicken, afraid that I might get what I asked for. Bill