The heavenly Father gives good things to those who ask Him, said Jesus. But, as we’ve seen in previous reflections, there are certain conditions placed on this asking, like first abiding in Jesus’ word and asking according to the will of God. Why, though? Why can’t we simply be trusted to ask what is good for us according to our own judgment? Well, I think we already know the answer to that one. If we had received whatever we asked for, we would by now probably be dead or in jail or hopelessly addicted to something or other. The Father doesn’t give us a stone when we ask for bread, but neither does He give us a stone when we ask for a stone. Whatever is good for us, especially for our eternal happiness, God will give us, but it must be on his terms, for only He is wise and far-seeing enough to give us not only what we need, but also how and when and in what measure we need it.
I’d like to share something here from Pope Benedict’s new book, Jesus of Nazareth. This long-awaited book, which is really just the first in a series (it covers only the events from the Baptism of Jesus to his Transfiguration), is a profound reflection on the mystery of Christ as presented in the Gospels, and I highly recommend it. The point I want to look at now is something I never noticed, a connection between two events in the Gospel of Matthew, which shows how good only comes when we accept things on God’s terms.
There are two mountains that the Pope has noticed: one on which the devil takes Jesus to view all the kingdoms of the world, and one upon which Jesus gathers his disciples after his resurrection. On the first, Jesus is offered authority and power over the world—on the devil’s terms: first He has to worship him. On the second, Jesus announces that full authority has been given Him—on God’s terms. And God’s terms are the ones by which his power in heaven and on earth are established forever. Let us listen to the Pope:
“The devil takes the Lord in a vision onto a high mountain. He shows him all the kingdoms of the earth and their splendor and offers him kingship over the world. Isn’t that precisely the mission of the Messiah? Isn’t he supposed to be the king of the world who unifies the whole earth in one great kingdom of peace and well-being? …
“The risen Lord gathers his followers ‘on the mountain’ (cf. Mt 28:16). And on this mountain he does indeed say ‘all authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me’ (Mt 28:18). Two details here are new and different. The Lord has power in heaven and on earth. And only someone who has this fullness of authority has the real, saving power. Without heaven, earthly power is always ambiguous and fragile. Only when power submits to the measure and judgment of heaven—of God, in other words—can it become power for good. And only when power stands under God’s blessing can it be trusted.
“…Jesus has this power in virtue of his Resurrection. This means that it presupposes the Cross, his death. It presupposes that other mountain—Golgotha, where he hangs on the Cross and dies, mocked by men and forsaken by his disciples. The kingdom of Christ is different from the kingdoms of the earth and their splendor, which Satan parades before him. This splendor…is an illusory appearance that disintegrates. This is not the sort of splendor that belongs to the kingdom of Christ…
“God’s power works quietly in this world, but it is the true and lasting power. Again and again, God’s cause seems to be in its death throes. Yet over and over again it proves to be the thing that truly endures and saves. The earthly kingdoms that Satan was able to put before the Lord at that time have all passed away. Their glory, their doxa, has proven to be a mere semblance. But the glory of Christ, the humble, self-sacrificing glory of his love, has not passed away, nor will it ever do so.”
Anything that is good in itself must be received on God’s terms, for it can be corrupted or shown to be only an apparent good if we try to take it on our own, or worse, on the devil’s. Temptations always present things as good, in some way or another, so that we will be seduced into choosing them. But we must have an a priori determination to do only God’s will, to accept things only on his terms, lest we decide for the sham power and glory instead of that which is from God, which is genuine and eternal. “…they loved the glory of men more than the glory of God” (Jn 12:43).
God’s terms are the only ones that come from love and from a wisdom far beyond our narrow and often self-centered perspective. Let us always turn to our heavenly Father, who gives good things to those who ask Him. But let us remember, as the saying goes, that God always gives the best to those who leave the choice to Him.