July 29th, 2007
"An Egg or a Scorpion?"
An egg or a scorpion. Close your eyes, hold out your hand, and I will give you one or the other. Which would you like? I think we would all prefer the egg. But what happens when the egg looks like a scorpion, and the scorpion looks like an egg? Then I may think I want the scorpion, even though I really want the egg.
Today we hear from Jesus on prayer. Luke’s version of the Lord’s Prayer is a little different than the one we’ve all memorized, but essentially the same. It is the example, or model prayer for disciples of Jesus to pray. It teaches us how to pray, how to think about prayer, what prayer is all about. But not just prayer – in fact here we learn much more about our relationship with God. For instance…
He is our Father, and we are his children. Perhaps not something that shocks us, but it should, that the God of the universe would see himself as our loving Father.
We pray for his name to be kept holy, and his kingdom to come. These “things of God”, his identity and his rulership, should always be first priorities for his children.
We pray for daily bread – not just bread, but everything to sustain our lives – and we pray to him, because he alone provides those things. And he provides them every day.
We pray for forgiveness – which is the bread for the soul. It is what we need to live spiritually, and he provides it even more abundantly.
And we ask for continued guidance, to steer us clear from sin and temptation – all that would harm us, every evil.
So we pray. So we trust God to hear us for the sake of Christ. So we live and believe in him.
Here in our reading from Luke, Jesus provides some further commentary, too…
He speaks of eggs and scorpions, fish and serpents, and a pest who knocks on his neighbor’s door at the midnight hour. But in it all, he wants to show us how to pray, and to assure us that through him our Heavenly Father will answer our prayers by giving us good things.
Back to the example of the scorpion and egg, or likewise the fish and the serpent. The point here is that the father gives the children what is good for them. But the problem with this, from our perspective, is that we don’t know what is good for us.
Imagine if certain parents gave their children everything they ever asked for. Perhaps you know parents like this – that let their children go to bed when they want, have any toys that they want, eat whatever junk food they want, and generally misbehave to their hearts’ content. Our estimation of such parents would be that they are shirking their duties, and failing their children. And the children likely won’t be the better for it. Though the children think they are receiving eggs, they are really getting scorpions.
So it is with us, when it comes to prayer. We think we know what’s best for ourselves. We certainly know what we want. And sometimes that is what God wants us to have. But not always. God’s will for our lives, and his estimation of what is good for us is not determined by our often petty and sinful wants and desires. Even the “biggies” for us, like wealth and health and love – things for which most people pray fervently – God often says “no” to these requests. Such an answer doesn’t make sense to us. We may ask God why? And often no answer is forthcoming. Sort of like a parent, who tells a child, “Because I said so”.
But God is good, and he means good for us, his children. He knows what we need and knows it better than we do. And while he does bless us richly with physical, earthly blessings, sometimes we are blessed by not receiving them. All in accord with his will.
However, these earthly things are not the only kinds of blessings, nor are they most important. Just as it is more important for our children to learn kindness and integrity than to have the latest toy, so too God knows the things spiritual are better for us than anything physical could be. And here is where his sure promise is founded.
When Jesus says, “ask, and it will be given… knock, and it will be open to you”, he doesn’t mean to suggest God is a great candy dispenser or social welfare provider. God is not the eager bellhop who stands ready to do our bidding. Rather, when prayed in faith, according to his will, God will give us everything good for our blessing – especially those things spiritual.
Grace, mercy and peace. Forgiveness of our sins in Jesus Christ. Salvation. Eternal life. A clear conscience. The guidance of the Holy Spirit. These things we know are God’s will for us. These are the good gifts he guarantees.
How can God make such promises? Why does he esteem us, poorly behaved children that we are? On what basis does he provide so many and wonderful gifts to such petulant and wayward children? It’s because of Jesus Christ, of course.
Jesus who died on the cross – and there crushed the head of the serpent. Jesus who drank the cup of wrath, according to his Father’s will, that cup filled not with scorpion’s venom, but with the poison of our sins. He takes what is evil and sinful and wicked, and in return he gives us all good things.
And he calls on us to trust him, as in our prayers. That we would look to him for good things. For as an earthly father wouldn’t give his children something to harm them, how much more our Heavenly Father will give us good things.
And as an impatient neighbor gives in to a persistent neighbor, not out of love but to get rid of the pest, how much more will our patient and loving Father graciously give us good things simply because he wants to!
So, Christians, pray. Pray as Jesus taught. Pray for what he taught – earthly and spiritual blessings. Pray, knowing that your Heavenly Father hears you, and knows what is best – better than you do. Pray, trusting that he hears you, even though you are a sinner, only for the sake of Jesus Christ. Pray and expect that he will give you what is good. Ask. Seek. Knock. And all the while, trust. And you will receive what he freely gives, in Jesus’ Holy Name. Amen.