Sunday Reflection for April 19, 2020

Daily Prayers and Easter Answers

“And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.” Matt 6:7-8

One of the saddest ironies of Easter is that for almost all of the “bad guys” involved, the events that played out during those wondrous days, actually fulfilled their greatest and deepest longings. It is just that they couldn’t understand what God was doing. For centuries, God’s people had hoped and yearned for Him to fulfil his promises to Abraham, Moses and David.  They were an impoverished and suffering people. First had come the Assyrians, and then the Babylonians. Then came the Greeks, and now the Romans. Nation after nation had crushed and oppressed them and, for a great many, it was now only in the promised Messiah that Israel had any hope of freedom. What else could they possibly need more than a rescuer who would defeat their enemies and free their nation from tyranny’s bitter taint? How could anything else possibly be more important? 

I have never felt very kindly towards the Jewish leaders who set themselves against Jesus, but I sometimes am drawn to sympathy for Jerusalem’s crowds. In my better moments, I can’t help wondering if their stark change in cry from praise to “crucify” was not so much an expression of their inherent malice as it was an expression of their despairing frustration and disappointment. They had hoped for so long. They had been disappointed so many times. Now, at last, it seemed that with the arrival of this famous Rabbi from Nazareth, their time of deliverance had finally come. But, as the next days played out, it became very clear that in Jesus they would not come close to finding the answers to prayer they had longed for. 

It is all too easy for us to be the same. You may know the story of the little boy who prayed on Christmas night after his mum had given birth to a beautiful baby girl. “Dear God,” he said, “thank you so much for my new baby sister. But what I asked for was a puppy!” Sometimes, we can be just as disappointed with the answers God gives to our prayers.

Like many in that first pascal season, we, too, can be convinced that we know exactly what God needs to do in our lives. We can be ‘certain’ of what we need God to send, to provide, to do for us to know the peace and contentment we long for. Those gathered for Passover in Jerusalem that first Easter, longed for a great leader, a mighty warrior, for political and material freedom. At first sight it seemed that Jesus came to bring absolutely none of that.  He came on a donkey as a prince of peace, to free them from their own wrongdoing, to bear the cross as a suffering servant. The Jewish people wanted a conquering Lion, but Jesus came as a sacrificial lamb. And yet, in Jesus, God had provided the most incredible and profound deliverance for their, and every person’s, deepest needs.

Easter reminds us that we can all miss the far greater thing that God is wanting to do when we insist that His plan should be ours.  Such insistence leads only to our unrest, discouragement, and, frequently, to babbling in our prayers. Easter reminds us that whatever comes –  even in the trial of Gethsemane  or the darkness of Good Friday – we can be certain that our heavenly Father has heard us, knows our needs even before we ask, and will provide us with precisely what we truly need.