17th Sunday in Ordinary Time C

“Ask and you will receive; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.”  When things are going well, those words seem to perfectly depict our life with God.  But things do not always go well.  We know our prayers are not always answered.  Anyone who has had it rain every day of their vacation knows this.  There is not a fan of the New York Mets who believes that every prayer produces a positive result.

(Long aside.  People always think that I pray for the Mets.  That is inaccurate.  When I was ten years old, I told God that I would ask just once in my life for something for the Mets and I expected the correct response.  I waited until I was 21 years old and the sixteenth inning of the National Championship series.  The Mets had taken the lead in the top of the inning but looked like they were about to surrender it.  At the end of my rope and with a 3-2 count on Kevin Bass, I took my shot and prayed, “Lord make this a strike, or please just take me now.”[i])

Of course, of far greater concern is when we pray for those things that matter most:  a loved one’s illness, an addict’s disease, an issue of seemingly simple justice ignored by others.  When those prayers go unanswered, it hurts. We wonder, “Where is God?”   What happened to this promise to ask and receive, seek and find, knock and have the door opened when we have asked and been denied, sought and not found, knocked and had the door slammed in our face.

 I want to give you a few reasons why our prayers are not answered, or at least not answered the way we want them to.  But each reason is not an excuse to not pray, but to pray all the more.  The first reason we do get what we want in prayer is freedom.  God allows us to do our thing, even if our thing is bad or even evil.  Freedom is the price we pray to love, for we cannot love if we are controlled.  Love and fear can be placed side by side and often enough we will choose fear.  We can pray that the addict will not use anymore.  But God will not force them to stop.

Conversely, this challenges to pray all the more.  Because the only way for behavior to change is through love and prayer.  Prayer opens up the possibility of true freedom and true life, of better relationships and better health.  The choice cannot be forced, but without prayer there would be no choice at all.

Secondly, there is the challenge of perspective.  God sees more and knows more than we do.  We see what we want and focus on it.  God sees everything and knows what is best.  A wise person once said that we will spend all of eternity thanking God for prayers not answered!  We need the space to allow God to be God and do what is best for all.  But there is a need for prayer here as well so that we might align our perspective with God’s.  For how can we see with God’s eyes and hear with God’s ears without being in tune with God?  Isn’t that why we come to church, to hear more, to think of the other, to get away from ourselves?

Finally, we have a God wise enough to give us what we need, not what we want.  It is a lazy lover who only gives their beloved what they want.  What kind of parent gives their children everything they ask for other than parents whose kids are stuffed with chocolate and only know video games?  What kind of friend would you be if you never shared a challenging word of helped your friend to grow?  Giving people what they want all time is not love; it is bribery.  Doesn’t God know our needs better than we do?  Shouldn’t we trust God more than ourselves?

Still, we are left with the promise.  “Ask and you will receive; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.”  For all the legitimate reasons God does not give us what we want in prayer, how can this still be true?  The last line of the Gospel gives us the answer.  “How much more will the Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him?”  God is never fails is giving God’s self in the Holy Spirit.  God dwells within us.  God might not give us everything, but God gives us enough.  I have seen the impossible happen through prayer – miracles of courage, strength and unbending hope.  People who should have been defeated rise up in faith.  Causes that had always been rejected but triumph by the will of God placed in a faithful people.  Here are prayers that when asked for in faith never fail.  “Lord, help me to love more.”  “Lord, let me trust in you.”  “Lord, make me a channel of your peace.”  When we ask God to change us, to give us what we need, to build the kingdom, to share divine love, we understand that what Jesus said is true.  “Ask and you will receive; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.”

[i] Jesse Orosco threw a slider for a swing and a miss and the Mets went on the win the World Series in 1986.