It's illegal, it's immoral or it makes you fat
As I was walking past the Slimmers World tent at Hillington Square Fete, having just polished off a burger and hot dog I was asked, ‘do you know how many sins there are in that ice cream?’ ‘Madam', I replied, 'the sins in this ice cream pale into insignificance compared with the sins that are in me!’ It is interesting that Slimming World applies the term ‘syn’ to those acts of calorific excess, before a moment on the lips becomes a lifetime on the hips. If we cannot have something, we want it all the more. A medical diagnosis of high cholesterol, high blood pressure or diabetes can mean that we have to say no to certain foods, often the ones we like most of all.
It is hard to be told that we cannot have what we want, but as the Beverley Sisters advised:
‘if there’s something you enjoy, you can be certain that
it’s illegal, it’s immoral or it makes you fat.’
As a parent, it can be hard to have to say no to your children’s requests because you know that what they want is not good for them. A child that is given everything it asks for would be a spoiled child, a Veruka Salt horror! However the picture of God at the end of today’s gospel reading is of a beneficent father who has the best interests of his children at heart, a Father who will provide, a Father who discerns what we need from what we want.
Jesus illustrates his point by a vivid use of extreme contrasts. If we know that we would not give a child a stone that asked for bread, a snake instead of a fish, or a scorpion for an egg, how much more will God give us what we need. Things that we thought we wanted, might have turned out to be deadly gifts, things which we thought would be good for us, but would actually do us harm.
Do we really know what we need in life, and in faith? Some times we do not know how much we needed something until we after we have received it; a holiday perhaps, a break from the norm, a stimulating conversation, a jolly good laugh.
Jesus says that those who ask will receive. But do we know what we would ask for? Jesus often asked people who came to him, ‘what do you want me to do for you?’ The blind beggar Bartimaeus, replied without hesitation, ‘Lord I want to see.’ He could have remained begging by the road, but he knew above all else he wanted his sight and he pushed himself to get close to Jesus, despite the people trying to prevent him. Without the articulation of his desire and his determination to make it happen, the miracle would not have been completed. If, before we prayed we heard the Lord’s voice asking us, ‘what do you want to do for you?’ how would we reply?
The parable of the persistent friend could be taken as extolling the merits of nagging; what is nagging if not a verbal expression of the virtue of perseverance? If something is important, it needs to be done, it cannot just be left in abeyance. The persistence of the man calling at the friend’s house, reminds me of St Monica who prayed and prayed and prayed for the conversion of her son Augustine to Christianity. Her persistence had already brought the conversion of her pagan husband and mother-in-law. She stormed heaven with her petitions. When she despaired of his loose living, and his dodgy religious affiliations she was told by a bishop, ‘it is not possible that the child of so many tears should perish.’ And her perseverance reaped dividends as her wayward son converted and became a great saint and doctor of the church.
Abraham wanted to save his family his nephew Lot and his family from the destruction of the city of Sodom. Lot and his daughters escaped but the city was destroyed because ten virtuous people were not found there. But note how God says to Abraham that though there was a great outcry against the sinful behavior of the inhabitants, but God would check it out (it proved to be true) ; a reminder to us that God knows the truth of the matter, we are not the ultimate judge of any matter, it is not for us to condemn, we do not know the whole truth as he does.
The readings today might leave us with some curious ideas about how we can approach God: that we can ask God for anything we want, that if we go on enough, we will get it, indeed that we can even haggle with God. But what is key is what Jesus says, ‘how much more will God give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him?’ If we ask for the Holy Spirit to come to us, before we make our requests, we will try to think as God thinks and not through our narrow and mistaken perceptions. And we will pray: not my will but yours be done.