25 October OS 2018 – Wednesday of the 6th Week of St. Luke; Holy Martyrs Marcian and Martyrius ; St. Tabitha the Almsgiver
The reading from the Holy Gospel today is Luke 11: 9-13.
The Lord said to His disciples: I say unto you, Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you. For every one that asketh receiveth; and he that seeketh findeth; and to him that knocketh it shall be opened. If a son shall ask bread of any of you that is a father, will he give him a stone? or if he ask a fish, will he for a fish give him a serpent? Or if he shall ask an egg, will he offer him a scorpion? If ye then, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children: how much more shall your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to them that ask him?
St. Theophan the Recluse uses a powerful, difficult-to-accept example to illustrate the meaning of the Lord’s teaching that, as good parents give children what they really need, so the Lord gives us what we really need and not what we think we need:
…A father and mother pour out heartfelt prayers for their son before God, that He arrange what is best for him, but in addition they express what they consider to be better for their son, that is, that he be alive, healthy, and happy. The Lord hears their prayer and arranges for their son what is best, no according to the understanding of those asking, but as it is in reality for their son: He sends a disease from which their son dies. Those who think that everything ends with the present life will feel that the Lord has not heard them, but rather did the opposite of what they asked, or left the person alone about whom they prayed to his own fate. But those who believe that the present life is only a preparation for the next life have no doubt that the son for whom they prayed fell sick and died precisely because their prayer was heard and because it was better for him to leave here than to remain here. You will say, “Why pray, then?” No, you must not refrain from prayer, but when praying for specific things you must always keep in mind the condition: “If Thou Thyself, O Lord, deemest this to be salvific…” — Thoughts for Each Day of the Year, pp. 238-239
For a parent to lose a child is about the worst thing he can imagine. St. Theophan chooses this example on purpose, to make his point as strongly as possible: God alone knows what is good for us, and everything He does is for our eternal good above all, not our temporary good.
There are several points to keep in mind here:
- The Lord commands us to ask for what we need, both temporal and eternal things. By asking for the temporal things we need – health, a home, a job, good success for our children, etc. – we are laying everything at God’s feet, placing all our trust in Him, and growing in faith and hope in His mercy. We are demonstrating our faith that all comes from Him. We are acquiring a child-like mind that sees things very simply by asking our Heavenly Father as a child would ask his earthly father for what he needs. Often we do not have even natural, this-world happiness because we do not ask God for it…we think we can do it all ourselves.
- The Lord knows what is truly good for us, and, as a good parent does not give a child what he imagines he needs but what he really needs, so the Lord gives us what we really need, for our salvation. He wants to give us both material and spiritual blessings, but only in precisely that way which is conducive to our salvation, which He alone knows. This is the meaning of the images that the Lord uses in His teaching, of the fish vs. the snake and the bread vs. the stone.
- The last statement of Christ in today’s reading is the punch line: If ye then, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children: how much more shall your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to them that ask him? The Lord wants to give us good things. He says so. But what are the truly good things? The truly good things are spiritual gifts. God is standing there, waiting to give us, desiring that we ask Him to give us, the truly good things: the desire for prayer, a love of heavenly things, hunger for Holy Communion, the mindfulness of death and God’s judgment, true humility…all kinds of the best things! But we do not ask. It is like a man standing at a street corner with a treasure chest full of gold and jewels, begging the passersby simply to ask him for some of it and he will give it…but they do not ask. They pass by. This is what Christians do who read Christ’s words in today’s Gospel and do not ask for spiritual gifts but only for earthly things.
May the merciful Lord grant us the desire for the things of heaven! May He grant us to feel undoubtingly and hungrily, at the center of our being, in the innermost tabernacle of our spirit, in the heart, that we are properly inhabitants not of this world but of the next. Then we will know what to ask for, and we will receive it.