Thursday, March 1, 2012

The Cost of Asking

Queen Esther, seized with mortal anguish,
had recourse to the LORD.
She lay prostrate upon the ground, together with her handmaids,
from morning until evening, and said:
"God of Abraham, God of Isaac, and God of Jacob, blessed are you.
Help me, who am alone and have no help but you,
for I am taking my life in my hand.
As a child I used to hear from the books of my forefathers
that you, O LORD, always free those who are pleasing to you.
Now help me, who am alone and have no one but you,
O LORD, my God."

Esther C:12, 14-16, 23-25

Jesus said to his disciples:
"Ask and it will be given to you;
seek and you will find;
knock and the door will be opened to you.
For everyone who asks, receives; and the one who seeks, finds;
and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened."

Matthew 7:7-8

Hearing these readings side by side this morning in chapel made me realize anew how faith is a struggle. Faith is a fight, every day. I am not referring to the struggle to have faith, common as this is. Instead I am referring to the struggle against foes and forces that aim to deprive us of the goods we seek by faith.

God gives to everyone who asks in faith; everyone who seeks will find by faith; every door opens to the ones who knock on faith. Jesus affirms this in the Sermon on the Mount. God the Creator and Sustainer denies us nothing we really need to live. With God as our provider, our ready helper, we cannot fail to receive what we rely on to survive. God is plenitude and the source of our good fortune. God has never been, and never will be, the cause of our poverty.

However, we in our sinfulness impoverish by taking. We do not receive; we rape. We do not come into an inheritance; we conquer. Thus we conspire to starve, parch, strip, sicken, uproot, and imprison ourselves and one another. Of course, we have deluded ourselves into thinking that we enrich ourselves by our own strength, according to the wisdom of the world. This is why the humble poor, are so despised. Those who have no power to take anything by force, be it cunning or violence (or both), are chastised for their weakness or laziness or worthlessness (or all of these). These poor, who submit bravely to death rather than counter evil with evil, prove their faith when they cry out for mercy and justice, whether or not they profess a particular religious belief.

And the more the "strong" prove their faithlessness. The more any people ask for their daily bread, the more their cries rise to God are intercepted by the very people who are already denying them what is rightfully theirs. The truly wicked in our world, of whom there are very few, will deliberately increase the afflictions they bring upon their subjects. They will take what was not given to them because they can. They refuse belief. They are faithless. Most sinners, on the other hand, are merely obstinate, like Peter, not malevolent, like Judas. They do not realize that they are taking what was not given to them. They do not realize other people are gifted. They do not believe -- maybe never did because they do not know how. They, too, are faithless, but not ruthless.

You know what faith is? It's not merely trusting God the Father to give you your daily bread. Faith is confronting your adversary and telling them to get out of the way of God's grace. Stop hindering the children of God from receiving their food from their open-handed Father. Faith is standing up to your enemies, both self-avowed and unavowed, and telling them, "Get behind me, Satan. I will receive what God has promised me, no more and no less." We will not threaten our enemies, but we will make clear that we will not be moved. Our desires will be satisfied. We have asked, sought, and knocked, and we will be given.

Those who love God -- or, put another way, who love what God loves -- show us daily how high the cost of asking is. Consider Moses, who risked the destruction of his people when he told Pharaoh, "Let my people go." Consider the patriarchs and matriarchs, the judges and prophets. Consider Queen Esther, the storied heroine of God's people in exile, who saved them from destruction when she told King Ahasuerus, at the risk of her own life, of the plot against the Jews in his empire. Consider John the Baptist in the court of Herod. Consider Jesus most of all.

I have lived a life of tremendous privilege. I have received so much from God, but I have also taken so much of what does not belong to me. Now as I enter into religious life I aspire to let go of everything except what God genuinely gives me. And I hope to ask for only those things that I really need, and to do a lot more asking for what others need and have been so long denied, not by God, but by a world of sinful people who treat them like strangers. What is more, I hope to ask so well that the adversaries of the poor begin to notice me and oppose me, too, so that I may justly pay the cost of asking. Considering the gain God promises me, it is a precious small price to pay.

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