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Seventeenth Sunday of the Year

Asking and Being Asked

When we ask a question we expect an answer. In the course of our lives, we ask, and we must ask, many questions. We ask questions for different reasons in different contexts. We ask for directions when we are not sure where we are. We ask when we do not know something, and we want to learn and understand. To understand something well, we have to ask many questions.

If we wish to learn, at a deep and important level, we ask deep and important questions. Knowing about God means knowing things at a very deep level, so many deep and important questions have to be asked. In the course of our Christian lives we encounter many things, about which we might want to ask questions.

In today's reading from the book of Genesis, Abraham is engaged in a dialogue with God, and is asking questions. Abraham, our father in faith, responded with faith to God's call to go on a journey, a long and difficult journey; on that journey he was sustained by a promise, that he would become to father of many nations, and that his descendants would be more numerous the sands of the sea-shore; he travelled in faith and hope.

But he had a question. In the course of his journey he discovered that God willed to destroy the sinful cities of Sodom and Gomorrah. Abraham was concerned about this, as it would mean that the just would be destroyed as well as the sinners. He questioned and challenged God, asking if this is what God wanted; did God want to destroy something created, and would the cities be spared if it could be shown that some just people could be found in them?

God listened to Abraham and answered that he would spare the cities if even ten just people could be found. Abraham's question was answered. The cities were destroyed, but Abraham learned that it was possible to talk to God, question him, and learn more about the will of God and his plan for the salvation of mankind.

In the Gospels, the disciples frequently questioned Jesus. They wanted to know more, to understand more deeply what he said and did. Jesus answered their questions. Sometimes their question was answered by another question, which invited further questions, thus making it possible to reach a deeper level of knowledge and understanding. The disciples were learners, and asking led to a deeper knowledge of his teachings, which later they would be commanded to preach to all the nations of the earth.

They noticed that Jesus on many occasions prayed to the Father; they knew that this was important, and they wanted to share in it it, so they asked him to teach them to pray. Jesus listened to them and answered their question. He taught them, and us, the Lord's Prayer (the longer, more familiar and deeply-loved version is found in Saint Matthew's Gospel).

When they, and we, pray we must praise God and his holy name and ask that his kingdom be realised; we should ask for what is needful for the day, acknowledge our sinfulness, ask for forgiveness, forgive others, and pray that that we be not tempted. The prayer tells us how to respond to God's love for us, but it also tells us how we should treat our neighbour. The disciples, and we, are encouraged to ask and to be persistent:

Ask, and it will be given to you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be open to you.

Jesus, however, told the disciples, and us, that we too could be asked, and how we must respond; requests, needs, must always be met, no matter how inconvenient; the neighbour and his needs, his persistent knocking, his request for food for his unexpected guest, must be met. If we are asked for bread or fish, we should give bread and fish, and not a stone or a serpent.

This teaching is absolute, and very demanding, going as it does to the heart of our understanding of our relationship to God and our neighbour. It is what we pray for when we say the Lord's Prayer.

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