Thursday of the First Week of Lent | Readings: Esther C:12, 14–16, 23–25; Matthew 7:7–12
Although we would now have more than a bit of trouble with Queen Esther’s nationalism, prayer for hatred, and desire for vengeance, we still place this part of her long prayer into the lenten Lectionary for some other good reasons. It is an excellent example of how the biblical text itself reveals both a movement forward into a gradual discovery of God and a simultaneous movement backward into a self-centered using of God for our own purposes. Both are often in the same text.
Jesus then makes clear in the Gospel that when we ask for things from God, it first says something about God (God is trustworthy, God is listening, God cares), but it also says something about our present state and ourselves. How can we hear both?
Did you know that you only ask for what you have already begun to experience? Otherwise it would never occur to you to ask for it. Further, God seems to plant within us the desire to pray for what God already wants to give us, and even better, God has already begun to give it to us! We are always just seconding the motion, but the first motion is always and forever from God. The fact that you prayed at all means God just started giving to you a second ago. Isn’t that wonderful to know! He makes a further point that if we, “with all of our sinfulness,” would not fail to respond to another, then how much more God.
God is always much better than the most loving person you can imagine, Jesus is saying. It is not that we pray and God answers. It is that our praying is already God answering within us and through us.
The only trouble with Queen Esther is that like so many people she made the first motion (which reflected her own small agenda), when true prayer is always seconding the motion—which motion always comes from God. Now hear the old Scripture anew, knowing you will now pray for what God already wants to give you and prompts within you, and that is why it will always happen (admittedly, often in a very different way than we first imagined!). But that is our final and full act of trust in a God who always gives us “good things”!
“Ask, and you will receive. Seek, and you will find. Knock, and it will be opened to you. . . . If you, with all your sinfulness, know how to give good things to your children, then how much more will God give good things to those who ask.” —Matthew 7:7, 11
“Treat others as you would have them treat you: this sums up all the law and the prophets as well.” —Matthew 7:12
“God, if you ask us to treat others as we would have them treat ourselves, then help me to believe that you operate in just the same way. You must treat me exactly as I would want to be treated—at my truest and best level.”