“And I tell you: Ask and you will receive. Seek and you will find. Knock and the door will be opened to you.” – Luke 11:9
Though we are focusing on the Hebrew scripture readings in worship this month, the gospel reading for this coming Sunday includes the above, beloved verse. It comes as part of a larger passage where Jesus is instructing his disciples in how to pray. After making some specific suggestions, which we now know as the Lord’s prayer, Jesus tells them a story to illustrate the importance of asking.
To paraphrase, Jesus says, “Imagine that you call upon a friend in the middle of the night. Another friend of yours has arrived and you have nothing to offer in terms of a meal, so you bang on the first friend’s door asking for bread. Will the friend say, ‘don’t bother me! Everyone’s in bed; we’re not coming out until morning’? Probably not. Even if the poor sleeper isn’t moved out of friendship, she’ll rally due to having been so unexpectedly startled in the middle of the night.”
I come from a family of people who “don’t like to impose,” and I often fall into that trap myself. I can’t imagine the situation where I’d have the audacity to bang on a neighbor’s door at three in the morning, even if there was an urgent need for sustenance. Yet Jesus makes clear that it is always worth asking for what you need, and even dares to promise that God will deliver.
In tumultuous and unsettling times, it can be even harder than usual to ask for what we need, whether in prayer, of our neighbors, or of the systems and institutions we take part in. “What do our concerns matter in the greater scheme of things?” we might ask ourselves. “With all that’s going on, who would have time for _____?” In other words, “I don’t want to impose.”
The gospel call, however, is to impose early and often. Several weeks ago, we heard Jesus command his disciples to go out in mission without so much as a wallet or extra set of clothes. They were to show up unannounced on the doorsteps of strangers and rely upon others’ hospitality. Here, Jesus encourages the same when it comes to prayer: “don’t pretend you’ve got everything you need,” he says, “ask for it!“
In a culture of independence and self-reliance, of needing to make it financially (and otherwise) “on one’s own,” asking both of God and neighbor can be a challenge. Yet, as one might summarize the beatitudes, “blessed are they who know their need of God.” God does not roll over in a half stupor and send the needy away empty, but rather delights to be asked. And while our human responses aren’t always as generous, we may also find that being vulnerable in front of our friends and neighbors—sharing our concerns, questions, and needs—leads us to a place of deeper relationship and more fruitful cooperation.
In word, in deed, in prayer, may we ask, seek, and knock with the confidence that the door will be opened.