instruere...inlustrare...delectare Disputations

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Repetitive learning

The Gospel reading Saturday included this statement from Jesus' Last Supper Discourse:
And whatever you ask in my name, I will do, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If you ask anything of me in my name, I will do it.
Sunday's Gospel included this, from later in the same discourse:
If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask for whatever you want and it will be done for you.
A few verses later, Jesus says, "It was not you who chose me, but I who chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit that will remain, so that whatever you ask the Father in my name he may give you." In Chapter 16 comes:
Amen, amen, I say to you, whatever you ask the Father in my name he will give you. Until now you have not asked anything in my name; ask and you will receive, so that your joy may be complete.
When a saying of Jesus is recorded four times in three chapters, it's probably something important.

And yet, don't we sort of have to explain it away? "Ask for whatever you want and it will be done for you" is, as it stands, about as demonstrably false a statement as can be made. And I don't just mean the canonical example of asking for a new bicycle for your birthday. I mean asking for healing, or for a loved one to return to the Faith.

It's been said God answers every prayer of supplication in one of three ways: "Yes"; "Yes, but not yet"; and, "I've got something even better for you!" A careful reader, though, will notice that two of those three answers are not, "Yes," which seems to be the answer Jesus promises those who remain in Him and ask for something in His name.

So we handwave. "Oh, you didn't ask, you didn't ask the Father, you didn't ask in Jesus' name, you didn't recognize that in some unrecognizable sense you were given what you asked for."

But maybe in this case, we should put off the most natural question -- "Why doesn't it work?" -- until we've explored some other questions, like, "Why does Jesus really want us to know it?"