19 August 2016

Matthew 7:7-12

“In everything do to others as you would have them do to you; for this is the law and the prophets.” (v. 12)

Psalm: Psalm 137:1-7


Janis Joplin famously sang 'O Lord, won't you buy me a Mercedes Benz?' That's not exactly the picture of prayer we get from this passage. When Jesus tells his disciples to ask so that they will receive, to seek in order to find and to knock so as to gain entry he's not suggesting that prayer is mechanical and automatic, a kind of vending machine to give us whatever we fancy. It's much more about expecting good things from God, about exploring the fullness of God's abundant provision.

This passage gives us a more positive picture of what it means to live in the light of the kingdom of God. One writer comments on these verses: "the antidote to worry is a robust confidence in God's willingness to give his people all that they need". Of course, there is still the perennial problem of unanswered prayer, or of prayer that is not answered in the way that we hope. That is an experience that Jesus himself entered into in Gethsemane as he prayed "if it is possible, let this cup pass from me" (Matthew 26:39). Yet even in that extreme situation Jesus ' final prayer was that God's will be done.

Today's passage ends with perhaps the saying of Jesus that is best known, even by those who don't consider themselves Christian. At the time of Jesus it had become quite popular for leading rabbis to summarise the Jewish law. The famous rabbi Hillel was challenged to teach the Torah standing on one leg. His response was very similar to Jesus, but put negatively: do not treat others in a way you would not want to be treated yourself. Jesus' version of this 'golden rule' (as it is often called) is more positive and effectively summarises the ancient Jewish instruction to love your neighbour as yourself.

To Ponder

  • What do you most want to ask from God?
  • What has been your experience of answered - or unanswered - prayer? 

Bible notes author

The Revd Dr Richard Clutterbuck

Richard Clutterbuck is a minister of the Methodist Church in Britain but since 2004 has served the Irish Methodist Church as principal of Edgehill Theological College in Belfast. His ministry has been divided between pastoral appointments in North London and theological education in the South Pacific (Tonga), Britain and Ireland.