Friends of mine in Annapolis, Maryland have two Jack Russell dogs – as smart and human-like as any animals I’ve ever seen. I confess that I enjoyed their company almost as much as that of my hosts! The first time we sat at table, Jack & Jill sized me up as an easy touch and sat at the base of my chair, their snoots uplifted and their eyes unmistakably asking for food. So, on the QT, without their owners seeing what I was doing, I fed them with generous portions of my meal.
I fed them for two reasons: the pleasure of treating them and seeing their affectionate reaction and also the relief of getting rid of them and putting an end to their begging!
Human giving is not always pure charity or simply concern for others: often enough, we give in order to get something back.
Jesus’ story in today’s Gospel excerpt begins with that kind of giving: the householder was broken down by the persistence of the neighbor in need and finally gave in, not primarily to help someone in need, but to get rid of the pest who was disturbing his rest.
Jesus is not saying that that’s the way it is with God and us, that if we persist in “annoying” God with our petitions, God ultimately relents and gives us what we ask for. No, that would be the worst kind of anthropomorphism — attributing human behavior to the unseen God. For example, we are accustomed to saying, “God will be angry if…” when the truth is that there is no human-like God who gets angry or punishes or pouts or takes revenge or shuns us or any such thing. Only we do. God is pure and infinite love, compassion, mercy, forgiveness, acceptance. It’s virtually impossible for us to conceive of love except as coming from a person like ourselves. But God isn’t someone like ourselves, someone who loves; God is love itself!
So, quite the opposite is true: There is no need ever to badger God with endless prayers of petition, like a small child saying, “Please, Daddy, please, please!!” Divine Wisdom includes our needs, our legitimate desires, and all we have to do is be open to it.
I confess to you that my own prayer is almost 100% praise and thanksgiving. I ask God for nothing, except in the traditional prayers that we are required to say at Mass, for example. I know that my needs are secure in the divine love, and I have learned to trust in that loving wisdom.
The lesson of Jesus’ story in today’s Gospel excerpt is that we are to seek God in all things, everywhere, always. That we be open to the surprises of the Spirit; that we be patient when it seems that God is absent or uncaring.
A bittersweet story that I adapt from the writings of the Jewish Martin Buber makes a good point to end with: A boy was playing hide & seek with his friend. He found a good hiding place and then waited for his friend to find him. After a long, long time, he came out of the hiding place and saw that his friend was nowhere around. He realized that his friend hadn’t looked for him from the beginning of the game. So he ran to his grandfather, Rabbi Baruckh, and told him what had happened. Tears came to the rabbi’s eyes as he said, “God says the same thing: I hide, but no one wants to find me.”