Jesus’s Manifesto: The Sermon on the Mount
Ask, Seek, Knock
Ask, and you will receive. Search, and you will find. Knock, and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks, receives, [and the searcher finds, and the knocker has the door opened.] Who among you will give your children a stone when they ask for bread? Or give them a snake when they ask for fish? If you who are evil know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give good things to those who ask him. (Matthew 7:7-12, NRSV)
- One thing that strikes me about these verses is how emphatically universal they are. Everyone (πᾶς, pas) who asks receives. Not just some. Everyone. For example: The seeker? Finds. The one who knocks? The door gets opened. Jesus speaks with certainty. Whether you are asking, seeking, or knocking, God will act.
- The analogy Jesus uses is powerful. You are God’s child, and God wants good things for you.
- Jesus also calls back his earlier language of our parent “in the heavens.” The creator of the cosmos wants to give good things to us.
- “If you who are evil…” Jesus is not calling us evil. He is using an ancient rhetorical form called “from the lesser to the greater”—if X is true under these conditions, how much more is X true under greater conditions. God’s goodness is so complete that God want to meet our deepest needs.
- These verses often sound disjointed, like a collection of random thoughts. But I believe there is a consistent thread here. I will paraphrase to show how they are related: “Don’t judge others, because you’ll be judged in the same way. Sure, you may think you are helping by taking the speck out of someone’s eye, but you are not qualified to be their surgeon. And you may think you are giving them something holy, but they probably won’t appreciate it, the way swine won’t appreciate pearls. So don’t judge. Everyone who asks, including the person you want to judge, will receive what they need most. The one who seeks will find, and the one who knocks will be let in. So look after yourself. It isn’t your place to tell someone they aren’t seeking properly.”
- Jesus seems to be saying, “Seek your own path, instead of worrying so much about your neighbor. Let them seek their own.” Do it with confidence, trusting both your neighbor and yourself to God. Everyone who is seeking will find what they are seeking.
- I’m willing to consider that Matthew has just taken a grab bag of Jesus’s sayings and dumped them in this last chapter in no particular order. But I prefer reading these as related statements.
- Later, in Chapter 18, Jesus will tell his disciples, “If two of you agree on earth about anything you ask, then my Father who is in heaven will do it for you” (18:19). Like here, these words follow instructions on judging or correcting our siblings. So I don’t think Jesus means God will give us money, fame, or whatever we ask, like some “Name it and Claim it” pastors say. I think he’s talking specifically about spiritual truth—the kind that has to do with correction and community life.
- Jesus said earlier to seek the kin-dom. Seeking, asking, knocking — these are verbs we use about enlightenment, about “The Way.” From context, I don’t think the “good things” Jesus mentions are things we can possess. I think they are more like enlightenment, or places we arrive on a shared journey.