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Bible Reflections View Comments

With the Lord, It Never Hurts to Ask
By Diane M. Houdek
Source: Bringing Home the Word
Published: Sunday, July 28, 2013
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If we’re living in suburban America, we probably don’t have any everyday experience of the haggling that was commonplace in the bazaars of the ancient world—and still goes on in many places around the world. Providers and consumers work together to set a fair price—or a fantastic deal for one of the two participants. These transactions are governed by unspoken rules and each one knows that the other is acting on self-interest. It becomes as much a game as an economic transaction.

In today’s first reading, we might be shocked to discover Abraham bargaining with God to save Sodom and Gomorrah for the sake of ten worthy men. Like any good merchant, he starts high and works his way down. But we quickly realize that God was less interested in haggling over a specific number than in helping Abraham to realize that while divine mercy and compassion are infinite, there comes a point when even God says no, however regretfully. Abraham finally comes to terms with the fact that he can’t save a city whose inhabitants have no desire to be saved.

Abraham’s story provides a good example of the persistence that Jesus talks about in his Gospel story of the man who wakes his neighbor asking for bread to feed a visitor. Sometimes we can turn a no into a yes if we just keep asking. We’ve all heard the saying, “The squeaky wheel gets the grease.” Suffering in silence might show fortitude and forbearance, but it’s not likely to change the situation, at least not in the short term.

The entire Gospel passage finds several ways to say the same thing: God wants what’s best for us. The problem is that sometimes we don’t know what’s best for us. And sometimes we don’t know what we truly want. We waste time and energy asking for the wrong thing. Other times we don’t realize that we are indeed on the right track and we give up too soon. Fearing disappointment, we ask once and then abandon our desire. Most of the time, we simply don’t ask. And in the process, we lose sight of how much we’ve been given without asking. We feel cheated, but in truth we never asked.

Our gracious and abundant God thinks nothing of telling us, “Ask and you shall receive.” But because this is not usually our experience with other people, we’re afraid to ask. Instead we become fiercely independent, determined to go it alone. Maybe once too often our hopes were disappointed, our trust was abused, we were in fact handed a stone instead of the loaf of bread we needed. Asking isn’t always easy.

Jesus gives his followers a simple prayer to teach them how to ask for what they need. And not surprisingly, it begins with a reminder that God is greater than anyone we’ve ever known. The central petition in the Lord’s Prayer is, “Give us this day our daily bread.” This is at the heart of our learning to ask. Life is lived day by day. If we get what we need today, we aren’t as likely to fear tomorrow.

Psychologists tell us that our basic needs must be satisfied before we can trust in more complex matters. Each time we ask and receive, we’re able to ask for a bit more. Someone once defined economic justice as the ability not only to survive but to thrive a little. It’s that state of thriving that Jesus wants to help us reach.


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Athanasius: Athanasius led a tumultuous but dedicated life of service to the Church. He was the great champion of the faith against the widespread heresy of Arianism, the teaching by Arius that Jesus was not truly divine. The vigor of his writings earned him the title of doctor of the Church. 
<p>Born of a Christian family in Alexandria, Egypt, and given a classical education, Athanasius became secretary to Alexander, the bishop of Alexandria, entered the priesthood and was eventually named bishop himself. His predecessor, Alexander, had been an outspoken critic of a new movement growing in the East—Arianism. </p><p>When Athanasius assumed his role as bishop of Alexandria, he continued the fight against Arianism. At first it seemed that the battle would be easily won and that Arianism would be condemned. Such, however, did not prove to be the case. The Council of Tyre was called and for several reasons that are still unclear, the Emperor Constantine exiled Athanasius to northern Gaul. This was to be the first in a series of travels and exiles reminiscent of the life of St. Paul. </p><p>After Constantine died, his son restored Athanasius as bishop. This lasted only a year, however, for he was deposed once again by a coalition of Arian bishops. Athanasius took his case to Rome, and Pope Julius I called a synod to review the case and other related matters. </p><p>Five times Athanasius was exiled for his defense of the doctrine of Christ’s divinity. During one period of his life, he enjoyed 10 years of relative peace—reading, writing and promoting the Christian life along the lines of the monastic ideal to which he was greatly devoted. His dogmatic and historical writings are almost all polemic, directed against every aspect of Arianism. </p><p>Among his ascetical writings, his<i> Life of St. Anthony</i> (January 17) achieved astonishing popularity and contributed greatly to the establishment of monastic life throughout the Western Christian world.</p> American Catholic Blog Suffering is redemptive in part because it definitively reveals to man that he is not in fact God, and it thereby opens the human person to receive the divine.

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