Wednesday, June 10, 2009

20. Imaging God's Goodness (Mt 7:7-14)

"Teach me to seek you, and reveal yourself to me as I seek, because I can neither seek you if you do not teach me how, nor find you unless you reveal yourself."

- St Anselm

Mathew 7:7-14

'Ask, and it will be given to you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened to you. For the one who asks always receives; the one who searches always finds; the one who knocks will always have the door opened to him. Is there a man among you who would hand his son a stone when he asked for bread? Or would hand him a snake when he asked for a fish? If you, then, who are evil, know how to give your children what is good, how much more will your Father in heaven give good things to those who ask him! So always treat others as you would like them to treat you; that is the meaning of the Law and the Prophets. Enter by the narrow gate, since the road that leads to perdition is wide and spacious, and many take it; but it is a narrow gate and a hard road that leads to life, and only a few find it.'

Christ the Lord 

Because we are wounded by sin, we are continually tempted to perceive God in a distorted way. Every person we encounter in this fallen world, even a truly loving parent or an exceptionally devoted spouse, is flawed. No one is exempt from selfish, hurtful tantrums or ignorant, erroneous points of view. These encounters sometimes damage our own attitudes and emotions, making us suspicious and self-protective. Trust becomes hard. Self-sufficiency becomes more comfortable - both in our relationships with other people, and also in our relationship with God. How much of a hold the world can have on us!

Even so, we still experience flashes of goodness and generosity - more frequently the more closely we follow Christ. These small triumphs of virtue resonate in our soul, because our souls were created for that. In this passage, Jesus latches on to this limited but real experience of goodness (for example, the image of a father giving good gifts to his children) to help correct our suspicious perception of God. God is perfect goodness-goodness without the slightest shadow of selfishness, weakness, or fault. He is eager goodness, ready and waiting to give us what we most need. Our Lord is like an overflowing, rushing river of pure goodness. How he longs for us to dive in and allow him to refresh our souls!

Christ the Teacher

 Jesus presents us with another apparent contradiction. He says that the entire law and the prophets (all of God's revelation about how to life a fulfilling life) can be summed up in the simple command to do to others whatever we would have them do to us. Then, in the very next sentence, he tells us that the path to this fulfilling life is narrow and hard and that few people actually find it. Why is loving your neighbor as yourself so easy to say and yet so hard to do?

We have to go back to original sin to resolve the paradox. The human family was created in the image and likeness of God. But God is a community of Persons - Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Thus, the human person is created for community, created to achieve fulfillment through coming to know and be known by others, through coming to love and be loved by them. When our first parents, influenced by the devil, freely decided to rebel against their Creator, the harmony with which their relationship was originally endowed disintegrated. Adam was alienated from Eve, Eve from Adam, and the human family no longer reflected the image of God. Instead, it began reflecting the image of the rebel against God (the devil) whom they had obeyed rather than God.

The human vocation is to love and to be loved, because the life of God in whose likeness we are made is love. That's why the law and the prophets (again, God's revelation about how to lead a fulfilling life) can be summed up so easily: treat others as another self, give them the same unconditional acceptance you give yourself, seek what is good for them just as you seek what is good for yourself; this is how we image God. But sin attacked that image of God within us, and so what should be most natural for us has become most burdensome - it is a difficult path and a narrow gate.

Christ the Friend 

Friendship cannot be forced, not even friendship with God. Since Christ wants us to relate to him as friends, not as zombies, he refuses to force us to follow him. He lets us seek happiness in the world's many empty wells and false promises, if we so choose. And yet, he wants us to look for it in him. Imagine how eagerly and energetically he pronounced this threefold command: "Ask! Seek! Knock!" It's as if he is pleading for us to turn to him, to let him be our guide and coach and Savior and friend. It's all his heart wants. Why do so many refuse the invitation?

Christ in My Life 

Certain things always remind me of your goodness: the beauties of nature, the crucifix, the love of my family... How many there are! Right now I want to contemplate them, to remember them... Strengthen my conviction, Lord, that you are the perfect Father who loves me even more than I love myself. Always remind me of your goodness, so I will never, ever walk away from you...

I believe in you, Lord, and so I believe you when you say that the meaning of life and the quality of my discipleship corresponds to the way I treat my neighbor in thought, word, and deed. And isn't that how you lived? Your whole life was one continuous act of self-giving that reached its climax on the cross. Teach me to give my whole self to you. Jesus, meek and humble of heart, make my heart more like yours...

Whenever I have really asked/sought/knocked, you have always rewarded me with a new experience of your goodness. Why don't I ask more? Is it because I think I can give meaning and fruitfulness to my life all by myself? That is foolish, I know. But I am a fool, Lord. I need your wisdom and grace to transform me...

Yours in Christ, Father John Bartunek, LC

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