Friday, February 10, 2017

Not Alone

Reflection on Thursday's Daily Texts:

By awesome deeds you answer us in righteousness, O God of our salvation. - Psalm 65:5 (NASB)

Jesus said, "Everyone who asks receives, and everyone who searches finds, and for everyone who knocks, the door will be opened." - Matthew 7:8

Two-year reading texts: Psalm 22:1-8; 2 Chronicles 12:13-13:22; Acts 20:17-31

It was just about a week ago, I wrote about John 16:24, in which Jesus "Ask, and you will receive," much like his words in Matthew 7:8 today. In fact, all four gospels record Jesus saying something similar. I notice that Matthew adds the following explanation (which Luke 11:10-13 also records, with a few small differences):
Is there anyone among you who, if your child asks for bread, will give a stone? Or if the child asks for a fish, will give a snake? 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!
So it's the good things that God is most interested in giving us. What we translate as "good things" here is a rich word that can mean: good in a moral sense,  good in performance, good in quality, beneficial, useful, productive, valuable, helpful. God doesn't give stones to those in need of bread, or snakes to those hungry for fish. But God, like a wise parent, might indeed give bread to those who ask for cotton candy, or fish to those who ask for chili dogs! As I wrote before, there seems to be something about the act of asking. One of the good things - maybe the best thing of all, seems to be the living connection and conversation with God.

I can't help but notice the contrast between Matthew 7:8 and the beginning of Psalm 22: "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" For years now, I've had Psalm 22 read in worship on Maundy Thursday, after the "stripping of the altar" that prepares the church for Good Friday and represents the humbling, the self-emptying, of Jesus as he prepares for the cross. Psalm 22 lends itself to being read by two separate voices. The first voice cries out in anguish, returning again and again in the psalm to lift up the pain and suffering and humiliation of the present moment. The second voice, often beginning with the word "Yet...", keeps remembering the faithfulness of God in difficult times. For example, from today's section: "Yet you are holy, enthroned on the praises of Israel. / In you our ancestors trusted; they trusted, and you delivered them." The psalm gives the last word to this second voice, with hope and trust that despite the present suffering, "a people yet unborn" will proclaim God's praise. Christians, of course, see this fulfilled in the resurrection of Jesus, which changes everything forever for everybody.

It's easy to get caught up in our current needs, and cry out for relief. Jesus acknowledges, and in fact embodies, that pain. (And Matthew 7:8 is one place that does encourage us to pray for our individual needs! It's translated as a plural to avoid excluding women, but more literally, Jesus says, "For each one who asks receives, and the one who searches finds, and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.") It's also easy to forget how many good things we're receiving when we're not in pain.

Whatever we're going through right now, it's helpful to remember that although we suffer and cry out in a singular sense ("the one who asks / searches / knocks"), we are not alone.  We're part of a whole community of faith, and part of the history of God's people who have witnessed God's faithfulness, love, and mercy all along. We ask and search and knock together. And we trust in God for good things for all. I pray today for all who are in need. And I pray that I, and the church as a whole, can be signs of God's love and faithfulness wherever we're able. We are not alone!

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