A “Ask, and it will be given you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you. 8 For everyone who asks receives, and everyone who searches finds, and for everyone who knocks, the door will be opened. 9
B there anyone among you who, if your child asks for bread, will give a stone? 10 Or if the child asks for a fish, will give a snake?
B If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good things to those who ask him!
A “In everything do to others as you would have them do to you; for this is the law and the prophets.
I have ‘history’ with this text!
Given the history with my son being so unwell and so many other painful experiences with other friends in and out of hospital, a relentless unfolding of disappointment and tragedy. I often thought of this text..
Something especially about fathers and sons (in earlier translations).
And I found myself angered. The anger combined with frustration and disappointment and led to a prolonged departure from Christian faith.
And let’s be honest, who of us hasn’t come up against a wall with this one.
Jesus seems to be promising something which clearly he doesn’t deliver on…
All of us will have known disasters and unanswered prayers. We live in a world steeped in suffering. The words could almost seem to mock the sufferings of others.
Why say this?.. what are we meant to say….how do we respond?
Well one way is to try to conform experience into the mold of dogma… So this means something – I just need to obey, be patient maybe, or conform my asking to the kind of things God wants me to ask for…
Hmm.. I’m not convinced this is sust…
The alternative, (maybe?), is to conform dogma to experience; to say that my experience doesn’t confirm therefore something in what I believe had to change.. I cannot belief against experience..
Now this is a more fruitful – and risky – area to think – I suggest.. and suddenly liberates the bible from the tyranny we project on to it, and the same tyranny on God.
It’s worth thinking here about how Jesus spoke, and what he expected his listeners to do with his teachings…
We can remind ourselves of this; a simple contrast between Greek and Hebrew thinking and teaching.
Greek thinking was led from the front, it was about finding meaning in text, in idea, about finding a truth.. that once revealed everyone would say, ‘oh yes – that’s the truth – we all see it clearly!”
Hebrew thinking was almost opposite.. the rabbinic tradition (Jesus) was about dialogue and discussion.. people studying religious texts were expected to come with questions and arguments. Everyone was supposed to enter a fray of discussion, dialogue, even argument.. and ‘the truth’ existed somewhere in the middle of that – not settled, but literally residing in the wrestling.
And Jesus was coming from the Hebrew tradition. So maybe.. maybe.. what he was doing was asking a question of his listeners.. Posing a problem, leaving a riddle, a conundrum.
And remember too that in the Hebrew tradition prayers are often for blessings and thanksgiving; blessings upon food, or for a good crop, or for a new child. Prayer as petition is not so prevalent.
So I have no clear answer for this text.. all I can say is that it still frustrates me… but that’s ok, I hope it frustrates you too!
We are not called upon to slavishly follow the words of the bible, or to take them at face value.. faith is not about accepting the things we are told… it is about a living relationship of trust, doubt and hope.. it is like Jacob wrestling the Angel, it is about engaging your thoughts, asking questions .. this church (especially in café is really good at this!).
And to take that to its final conclusion .. to say “sorry I do not believe this” shows – to my mind at least – as much faith as to say “yes I do.”
To doubt then; to question, to seek, to ask, to knock… is the realistic and human process which will enable the door to a realistic faithful life to be opened.
GS Collins March 2019
Painting by Andrew Gadd, (b.1968)