1 March 2007. Thursday of the 1st Week of Lent
Matthew 7, 7-11 On Prayer
There is a part of this Gospel that is puzzling to us. When Jesus reasoned to the Jewish Rabbis, he means that God will not refuse the requests of his children just as a father cannot refuse the needs of his children. Jesus thus gives us two examples as Matthew relates it. Luke, adds a third (If a son asks for an egg, will he give him a scorpion?). Let us just tackle Matthew’s examples.
First, Jesus said, if his son asks for bread, will his father give him a stone. Remember they were living near the shore. The stones on the shore, like the river stones we use for Zen fountains and gardens, look like loaves of bread. Thus, if a son asks for a loaf of bread, will a father mock him by giving him a stone to eat — or something impossible to eat?
Second, Jesus said, if a son asks for a fish, will his father give him a serpent. In the old days, the eel was a forbidden animal to eat because they consider it as unclean. Leviticus (11: 12) says that anything in the water that do not have scales or fins is an abomination. Thus, if a son asks for a fish, will a father mock him by giving him something forbidden to be eaten? Would a father make a joke of his son’s hunger?
Thus, God will not mock our supplications and our pleas when we pray. So, how do we pray? When we ask, and ask, and ask repeatedly. When we seek for answers, we pray repeatedly about what we are searching. When we knock at God’s door, we knock repeatedly, perhaps a little insistently, and God will open the doors for us. It is said that our sincerity and the intensity of our need is seen at our insistence and perseverance.
And how does God answer our prayers? The prayers that we have need answers, whether it is a yes or a no. A refusal is also an answer: Jesus’ plea at the Garden of Gethsemane was a refusal, an answer to His prayers. You see, God’s answers are never mocking: He gives what is good for us, even waiting for the right time to give it.
This is entirely different from the Greeks. When the Greek gods answers the prayer, there is sometimes a bait. When Aurora, the goddess of the dawn, fell in love with a mortal youth named Tithonus, Zeus, the king of the gods, offered her any gift that she would give Tithonus. Aurora asks that Tithonus live forever, but forgot to ask that he retain his youth. So Tithonus grew older and older and older but could not die. Eventually, the gift became a curse.
Not so with God.