26th February. Thursday of the 1st Week of Lent
1st Reading: Esther 4:29-42
Queen Esther’s urgent prayer wins God’s help in time of danger and crisis.
Queen Esther, seized with deadly anxiety, fled to the Lord. She prayed to the Lord God of Israel, and said: “O my Lord, you only are our king; help me, who am alone and have no helper but you, for my danger is in my hand. Ever since I was born I have heard in the tribe of my family that you, O Lord, took Israel out of all the nations, and our ancestors from among all their forebears, for an everlasting inheritance, and that you did for them all that you promised.
Remember, O Lord; make yourself known in this time of our affliction, and give me courage, O King of the gods and Master of all dominion! Put eloquent speech in my mouth before the lion, and turn his heart to hate the man who is fighting against us, so that there may be an end of him and those who agree with him. But save us by your hand, and help me, who am alone and have no helper but you, O Lord, who have knowledge of all things.”
Gospel: Matthew 7:7-12
Ask, and it will be given you!” Jesus teaches prayer.
“Ask, and it will be given you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you. For everyone who asks receives, and everyone who searches finds, and for everyone who knocks, the door will be opened. Is there anyone among you who, if your child asks for bread, will give a stone? Or if the child asks for a fish, will give a snake? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good things to those who ask him!
“In everything do to others as you would have them do to you; for this is the law and the prophets.”
Esther’s story exemplifies our Lord’s promise: “Ask and you shall receive.” God heard her plea and acted to save his people at a time of critical stress. Esther risked going to the Persian king on behalf of her people. She knew the initiative could cost her life, yet if she just hid in her ivory tower while her people were destroyed, she would be haunted with guilt. How often in life people prefer to turn a blind eye when a risky action is called for.
She prayed: “My Lord, our king, you alone are God. Help me, who am alone and have no help but you.” Times such as these lead to experiences of heightened prayer. Fantasies of ambition, selfish motivations, reliance upon wit and diplomacy and half-truths–all such contaminating elements are swept from our memory. Every crutch is taken away, and if we are to stand, it will be through God’s strength alone.
Prayer at such times is bound to be heard, because we are in touch with the best and deepest part of ourselves, with the loving Creator whose plan called us into life and who alone knows the secret of our future. We must place no conditions on what God can accomplish in us. “Which of you would hand their child a stone if the child asks for bread?” We must trust him and hand our lives over into his care.
Knocking and Asking
In today’s gospel, from the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus encourages us to ask, to search, to knock on the door. Earlier in the Sermon, Jesus had indicated what we are to ask for, what we are to search for. He does that above all in the prayer which he gave to his disciples, the Lord’s Prayer. We are seek for the coming of God’s kingdom, the doing of God’s will. We are to ask for our daily bread, for forgiveness for our sins, for the strength to remain faithful when temptation comes, when we are faced with evil. Elsewhere in the Sermon Jesus says, “Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness.” God’s righteousness is that way of life which corresponds to his will for us. As well as calling on us to keep on searching, to keep on asking, Jesus also tells us what we are to search for, what we are to ask for. More than anything else, we are to search for, to hunger and thirst for, what God wants, for a way of life that is in keeping with what God wants. If we keep searching for that, if we keep asking for it, today’s gospel assures us that our search will not be in vain. [Martin Hogan]