Starting with a Promise


“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.”  (Matthew 7:7-8 NRSV)

This promise from Jesus in the collection of his teaching known in the church as the Sermon on the Mount (contained in the Gospel of Matthew, chapters 5-7) has been and remains very important to me.  This passage of just two verses is also very easily misunderstood if taken out of context.

Jesus’ promise does NOT fit into the company of such vaporous, positive-thinking aphorisms as, “You can be whatever you want to be,” or any of the “You can get whatever you really want in life” type of self-confidence boosters for go-getters.  Even less does the promise belong in the company of assurances that if we pray hard enough and believe hard enough, God will give us what we desire, as though God were the supreme genii in some mystical Aladdin’s lamp.

The context for this promise is formed by (1) Jesus’ announcement of the nearness of the coming kingdom or reign of God which will change human life entirely, (2) his healing ministry which actualizes what is truly the will of God for suffering humanity, and (3) his teaching about the nature of the reign of God and the kind of redeemed and transformed human nature we need in order to welcome it and live together in it.  See in the passage just prior to the Sermon of the Mount, Matthew 4:23:

Jesus went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the good news of the kingdom and curing every disease and every sickness among the people. (NRSV)

The hiddenness of God and the elusiveness of God’s justice and compassion have always been severe problems for people who have longed for such divine intervention in an unfair and often cruel world.  At the outset of this collection of teaching, in the section we call the Beatitudes (Matthew 5:1-10 or 12), Jesus blesses the losers in this world – the poor, the hungry, the grief-stricken, the ones who long for justice and kindness but are denied them, the rejected and persecuted.  He blesses them, not because he imagines their plights to be somehow virtuous or beneficial, but because God is coming near to set things right and they (the losers) are the ones open to God’s redemptive work.

The assurances are that God, while not readily available to be used, longs for relationship with human beings and that what God truly wills for human life is wholeness and fulfillment, not disappointment, grief, and bitterness.  God is not indifferent to us.  That assurance, which Jesus demonstrates in his own ministry, means everything to those who hunger and thirst for justice and, so far, are not satisfied.  God is never indifferent.

The way is not easy because it is worth everything to pursue.  God is not readily on call because God is not to be presumed upon or used for my purposes.  God remains hidden because the world has been turned over to itself and its own ways and God’s hidden way must be sought.  But, Jesus promises, God wants to be found, wills to open the door to life, longs to give us what we need to be truly human together, meaningfully alive, and free.

Out of the Babylonian exile came the promise to a dejected Israel, a destroyed Judah, that Jesus presents as ripe for fulfillment:

For surely I know the plans I have for you, says the LORD, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope. Then when you call upon me and come and pray to me, I will hear you. When you search for me, you will find me; if you seek me with all your heart, I will let you find me, says the LORD, and I will restore your fortunes and gather you from all the nations and all the places where I have driven you, says the LORD, and I will bring you back to the place from which I sent you into exile.  (Jeremiah 29:11-14 NRSV)