1st Week of Lent, Thursday

Queen Esther in today’s First Reading is working up the courage to face death for the sake of her people after living in the lap of luxury. Her pagan king has issued a decree, due to the selfish machinations of a member of his court, to destroy all the Jews in his realm, and Esther is the only one who can convince the king otherwise. However, she is not allowed to enter the king’s presence under pain of death unless he chooses to summon her. The king may pardon her, but due to the laws and the workings of the court he may just as well have her killed, and then not only will her people die, but she will die as well. The stakes are big not just for her people, but for herself. Therefore it’s understandable that her prayer is filled with angst, but it also reminds us, as Our Lord reminds us today in the Gospel, that the angst in our prayer should not be self-inflicted.

Angst is normal when we are facing something dramatic and the outcome is unclear, but we can suffer a lot of needless angst if we lose sight of the fact that we are asking something from Our Father and not a king in the style of the king Esther is about to risk her life trying to see. In today’s Gospel Our Lord reminds us, just as he did last Tuesday, that God is Our Father. He knows what we need, and he’s not some fickle and cruel despot. A father wants to give good things to his children. Our Father wants to give us good things, all we have to do is ask.

Why at times do we inflict more angst on ourselves? Because we examine our hearts and don’t think we deserve good things or a good Father. Because the deals and promises we try to make in exchange for God’s favors are so big that not even we believe we’ll keep them. Because he’s helped us in the past and we’ve been ungrateful. Because we want to work things out on our own. That’s not a relationship of Father-child; that’s deal brokering with nothing to bring to the table. In short, we know we don’t merit Our Father’s help, yet we need it and can’t offer much in return.

Our Lord tells us in today’s Gospel not to worry. Esther’s prayer was heard; ours will be as well. Ask for what you need with the trust and simplicity of a child.

Readings: Esther C:12, 14–16, 23–25; Psalm 138:1–3, 7c–8; Matthew 7:7–12. See also 27th Week in Ordinary Time, Thursday.