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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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Augustine of Hippo: A Christian at 33, a priest at 36, a bishop at 41: Many people are familiar with the biographical sketch of Augustine of Hippo, sinner turned saint. But really to get to know the man is a rewarding experience. 
<p>There quickly surfaces the intensity with which he lived his life, whether his path led away from or toward God. The tears of his mother (August 27), the instructions of Ambrose (December 7) and, most of all, God himself speaking to him in the Scriptures redirected Augustine’s love of life to a life of love. </p><p>Having been so deeply immersed in creature-pride of life in his early days and having drunk deeply of its bitter dregs, it is not surprising that Augustine should have turned, with a holy fierceness, against the many demon-thrusts rampant in his day. His times were truly decadent—politically, socially, morally. He was both feared and loved, like the Master. The perennial criticism leveled against him: a fundamental rigorism. </p><p>In his day, he providentially fulfilled the office of prophet. Like Jeremiah and other greats, he was hard-pressed but could not keep quiet. “I say to myself, I will not mention him,/I will speak in his name no more./But then it becomes like fire burning in my heart,/imprisoned in my bones;/I grow weary holding it in,/I cannot endure it” (Jeremiah 20:9).</p> American Catholic Blog Silence is the ability to trust that God is acting, teaching, and using me—even before I perform or after my seeming failures. Silence is the necessary space around things that allows them to develop and flourish without my pushing. God takes it from there.

 
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