The Real Power of Prayer

Scripture Reading

Jesus said to his disciples:
“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; and the one who seeks, finds;
and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.
Which one of you would hand his son a stone
when he asked for a loaf of bread,
or a snake when he asked for a fish?
If you then, who are wicked,
know how to give good gifts to your children,
how much more will your heavenly Father give good things
to those who ask him.

“Do to others whatever you would have them do to you.
This is the law and the prophets.”
(Matthew 7:7-12)

Scripture Study

7:7 Before drawing the Sermon to a close, Jesus revisits the subject of prayer. He encourages disciples to ask, to seek, and to knock with the expectation that God will respond (7:7). Here we have a teaching about confidence in prayer. More than anything, Jesus wants to convince us of the generosity of the Father.

7:8 The promise is that everyone who petitions God in prayer will find a favorable response. On first hearing, this sounds rather grandiose, as though the Father will give us virtually anything we ask for, regardless of what is best for us. But we must consider the context. The Father wants to give all who will ask, seek, and knock the blessings that enable his will to be realized on earth as it is in heaven (6:10).

7:9–11 In order to expand our vision of the Father’s goodness, Jesus uses the example of a son asking his father for a loaf of bread or a fish. One could hardly conceive of a father, despite his human faults, giving his hungry son a useless stone or a harmful snake. The kind of Father we have in heaven is bursting with a more-than-human love and a more-than-human willingness to give good things to those who ask him.

7:12 Verse 12 marks the end of the Sermon proper. Not only does this “golden rule” encapsulate all of Christian morality into a single statement, but it stands as one of two bookends that hold together the main body of Jesus’ speech. Scholars find its endpoints in the phrase the law and the prophets, which appears in 5:17 and now here in 7:12.

But what of the golden rule itself? It is a summary of biblical morality that found similar expression in the Old Testament and ancient Judaism.5 Jesus formulates it in the widest possible terms: Do to others whatever you would have them do to you (7:12). His words are a mini-commentary on the Mosaic precept, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Lev 19:18). The underlying principle is the same in both: Everyone loves himself or herself and desires to be loved by others, so it is our moral duty to show love to all whose lives come into contact with our own. Confirmation of this link between the Mosaic law and the golden rule comes later in the Gospel when Jesus distills the message of the law and the prophets into the double commandment of love, the second part of which is “You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (22:39). Notice that Jesus places no restriction on the scope of this rule.

Scripture Reflection

Friends, today’s Gospel assures us of the power of prayer. When some people ask in a spirit of trust, really believing that what they are asking for will happen, it happens. Just as Jesus suggests in the Gospel, “Everyone who asks, receives; and the one who seeks, finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.”

The power of prayer is the confidence that we are being guided and cared for, even when that guidance and care are not immediately apparent. It is what allows someone to live in detachment from all of the ups and downs of life, in the language of Ignatius: “Lord, I don’t care whether I have a long life or a short life, whether I am rich or poor, whether I am healthy or sick.”

Someone that lives in that kind of detachment is free, and because they are free, they are powerful. They are beyond the threats that arise in the context of this world. This is the source of dynamis, real power. This is the power that Martin Luther King, Dorothy Day and John Paul II wielded, world-changing power.

– Bishop Robert Barron

May the virtues of faith, hope, and love go with you today – DV.