At the Master’s feet - Week 4: The Generosity of God
Read: Matthew 7:7-12
First of all some context:
Once again our reading from Matthews Gospel is set in the context of the sermon on the mount. The extended time of teaching that Jesus gives, aimed primarily at those who we might call followers or disciples.
In this extended teaching Jesus is presented by Matthew as being the giver of a new law, the second Moses if you like – and it’s clear to see the parallels between the two. Both Moses and Jesus go up a mountain, both Moses and Jesus teach the people the ways of the Lord. Jesus builds his teaching on the law of Moses, but instead of merely underlining or inforcing it, he uses it as a spring board to issue a call to a radical and new way of life – the way of the Kingdom.
What follows in the sermon on the mount then is not so much a set of parameters that if met can deliver blessing, but rather an indication of what an authentic expression of faith and spirituality looks like for those who have already received the blessings of the Lord.
We notice of course that all these expressions of authentic faith are rooted in daily life and require action of some kind – and this is in keeping with Jesus attitude towards faith and love throughout his ministry – that neither are valid, or perhaps can be said to be real, unless they are worked out in action and deeds.
As Jesus taught his hearers in the sermon on the mount he spoke of a kingdom and a ruler unlike any kingdom or ruler that his hearers had previously encountered. He spoke of a ruler who rather than taking away, gives. A ruler who was benevolent rather than vindictive. A kingdom of justice and mercy rather than persecution and oppression. In short a new type of King, a new type of Kingdom, and therefore a new way of life for those who would sit under the Kings rule.
And so we come to Matthew 7:7-12
With this ‘new King’ in mind Jesus says:
“Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks the door will be opened.”
Now here is something different! The rulers that Jesus hearers were used to could have the very opposite said about them:
“Ask and it won’t be given to you; seek and you’ll not find; knock and the door will remain closed in your face. For everyone who asks gets nothing; he who seeks is disappointed; and to him who knocks there is rejection.”
So Jesus asks his hearers to change their expectations of kingship and rulers and authority – and to be open to something radically different.
How do you think of, picture, and experience authority? What has shaped this understanding?
How do you think of, picture and experience the rule of God in your life?
To what degree is your understanding of the rule and kingship of God influenced by your experiences of worldly authority? To what degree is it different?
What does this passage of scripture say to challenge your understanding of the kingdom rule of God?
Priorities in light of the kingdom rule of God…
In this next section we’re going to think about our response to the kingdom rule of God. This is one particular track, there may be other tracks that you want to follow from this passage. It might be helpful to ask the group if there are any particular things they want to pick up and make a note of them at this stage.
As with much of the other teaching in the sermon on the mount the opening phrase of this section is likely to have been well known to Jesus hearers and would have made an immediate connection in their minds with an event in the history of Gods people Israel.
The phrase is this “Ask and it will be given to you…”
Can you recall another point in the scriptures when an individual was encouraged to ask God for whatever it was that they wanted…?
Ancient minds would have skipped back to what we call the Old Testament, and an account in 1Kings 3 in which YHWH tells King Solomon to ask him for whatever he wants and he will give it to him.
The story is well known, Solomon asks for wisdom to know right from wrong so that he may do right by his people and ensure Justice is done. God commends Solomon for his choice which demonstrates that his priorities are in line and keeping with the priorities of YHWH. And in return God gives Solomon the wisdom he asked for and a whole lot else besides. Gods deep pleasure is surely because Solomons priorities are in line with Gods kingdom priorities – i.e Justice and the well being of the community.
These priorities also emerge from Jesus sermon on the mount as priorities in the radical new way of life that is lived under the kingdom of God.
Making it personal:
What we most desire, what we ask for when faced with the promise of ‘anything’ demonstrates our priorities and I think Jesus draws our attention to this very deliberately. He’s been talking about the kingdom of God, the blessing of receiving it, and the authentic outworking of it, and in doing so he’s painted a picture of a new kind of life with new priorities.
And says Jesus, for those who do desire the kingdom and the blessing of the community and the justice that is part of it, for those who would be bold enough to ask, like Solomon for something of real value…well, just as God gave Solomon his wish, so God will not leave us with our desire unfulfilled.
For all those that would ask for this kind of life, God responds with a resounding yes. To all that would search out the way of the kingdom, God will reveal it. For all who come to the door will find that it is answered and opened.
We are perhaps tempted to think about this as a one-off sort of arrangement, but in reality living under the kingdom rule of God is a daily matter. So the question is not whether one has asked at some point, but whether one asks daily.
The challenge to us I think is relatively straightforward. We like Solomon demonstrate our priorities in what we desire. So what do we desire? Do we desire things that are for our benefit alone, or do our desires reflect the kingdom call to bless others? Do our desires reflect the kingdom priority of justice for all, or are they self serving? If we desire the kingdom of God, made known in and by the person of Jesus, then we desire justice, mercy, peace, and more.
Question: What is your desire? For what do you ask God?
Jesus continues to expand his point by reminding his hearers that God is good, and that when we ask him for something that is good he will not give us something that harms us.
And this is important too.
Sometimes in aligning our priorities with the kingdom priorities some may judge that our personal interests are harmed, or at least neglected – and in a sense this must be true if we put the needs of the community, the well being of others and justice beyond our own self-interest…but Jesus makes the point that even this being the case, what we do receive as we ask in line with kingdom priorities will not harm us, even if it costs us dearly.
Finally Jesus says “Do to others are you would have them do to you”
It may seem a strange way to sum up this section and perhaps the link between this and what goes before it is obscure, but to my mind there is a link and it is this: What Solomon asked for was for the good of others. He asked for wisdom that he might know right from wrong and rule the people with Justice. What he desired for himself he desired for others. What he would have wanted to receive from the hands of others was what he desired to do for them.
Jesus says that this attitude sums up the Law and the Prophets. The entire corpus of the Law and the teaching of the prophets, which had grown to be voluminous and intricate, detailed, the preserve of the teachers of the Law and the scholars…perhaps deliberately kept obscure and complex to keep the power biased towards those who were ‘in the know’ – is made simple. Clear. Put into the language of the everyday rural poor.
Suddenly they are given power over their spiritual lives, the uncertainty is removed, what is required of them – they understand. What is required? To live under the rule and reign of God, to ask like Solomon, share this same sense of priority – a sense of priority which is in line with the kingdom values,..Ask for what you need to do this, and in doing this the Law and the Prophets are satisfied.
We begin to see why Jesus teaching in the sermon on the mount was so revolutionary…
So in closing, the challenge to us is perhaps as clear and strong as it was to those original hearers. As we receive the blessings of the kingdom we are to undergo a transformation of priorities and desires, that our priorities and desires may be aligned with those of God. And it is for these that we should ask…and if we want to know where our priorities and desires lay…well we just need to look at what we ask for…
.Close in prayer:
Perhaps pray for The courage to ask, seek and knock
A fresh revelation of the kingdom rule of God
An aligning of our priorities with the kingdom priorities
Revd Simon Butler