July 21, 2010
Genesis 18: 20-32; Psalm 138; Colossians 2:6-15; Luke 11:1-13
I heard a lecture by the philosopher Dallas Willard once in which he said that he believes that God wants to fulfill all of our desires and give us everything we want. Of course, he said, there must be much work of transformation on the wanter before this can happen. I am reminded of this as I read the Gospel for this week in which Jesus gives his disciples a prayer that will come to define their way of life and tells them, “Ask, and it will be given you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you. For everyone who asks receives and everyone who searches finds, and for everyone who knocks, the door will be opened.”
This is a radical opening for relationship, a possibility for fulfillment and actualization beyond anything else. And what is it that is given for this asking? The parallel passage to Luke 11:5-13 in Matthew 7:9-11 says that our Father in heaven will “give good things to those who ask him.” But Luke doesn’t say that the gift awaiting the asker will be “good things,” but rather the Holy Spirit.
The two gospels are not as in conflict here as they might seem because the Holy Spirit is not simply a “good thing,” but the grounding and possibility of “good things.” The Holy Spirit is what makes possible the transformation of the wanter.
Jesus tells us that a good parent will not “give a snake instead of a fish” when a child asks for a fish. Our problem is that often we ask for a snake when what we should have asked for, what will truly fulfill the desire that precedes the request, is a fish. It is only by living “our lives in him, rooted and built up in him and established in the faith” (Colossians 2:6-7) that we will want what is truly good and good for us. Of course as Colossians goes on to tell us, this transformation is only made possible through the burial and new life of baptism and the cross of Christ (2:12-14)—formational realities.
The prayer of the Our Father that Jesus gives at the beginning of Luke 11 also has this formational nature—making possible the asking that comes next. As Robert Karris, OFM points out in The New Jerome Biblical Commentary this giving of a distinctive form of prayer “was the mark of a religious community…Jesus’ bequest of the Our Father to his disciples will not only teach them how to pray, but especially how to live and act as his followers.”
Both Luke and Colossians would indicate that the Christian practices of common prayer, baptism, Eucharist, etc. are not merely nice traditions, but key formational practices, formational practices that will help us speak and ask in truth so that we can truly get what we want (with that want free of the competing, mendacious formation that comes from the “rulers and authorities” that Christ disarmed with the cross (Col. 2:15)).
When we are formed by and with the Church into the body of Christ we will be able to say with the Psalmist, “When I called, you answered me” (Ps. 138:4a) and we will be able to pray with Abraham that our cities be preserved for the sake of the righteous remnant (Genesis 18:20-32).