SNAKES AND SCORPIONS

This reflection is based on Luke 11:1-13.

This Sunday’s Gospel has much to teach us about prayer, but it’s our Lord’s explanation of his parable of the desperate friend that struck me:

“Knock and the door will be opened to you…
What father among you would hand his son a snake
when he asks for a fish?
Or hand him a scorpion when he asks for an egg?
If you then, who are wicked,
know how to give good gifts to your children,
how much more will the Father in heaven
give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him?”

 

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The point is well taken. God Who is all-wise and all-good wants only the best for us, and though He may not necessarily always give us what we want–and He may sometimes take His time–we believe that He certainly will eventually give us what we need, whatever it is that’s best for us.

But what about the times that life deals us a bad hand? How do we make sense of those moments when we’ve not received the fish or egg we ask for or pray for, but when instead we’re handed snakes and scorpions? When people hurt us in ways we don’t understand, or life turns tragic in ways we’ve never imagined–what do we do then?

Last Monday night, a young Math teacher from our high school was murdered on his way home. He was shot at the back, and when he fell to the ground, was shot two more times in the head. It was as if the gunman–still unidentified!–wanted to make sure he was dead. He was only 24 years old! After university, he had returned to his old high school to join his parents, both long-time teachers. His students, colleagues, and friends are shocked, brokenhearted, and confused: How could such a senseless, unimaginable thing befall someone like him?

It leaves even those with the strongest of faith shaken, and we can’t help but ask the question that has bewildered and agonized so many all throughout human history: “Why do bad things happen to good people?”

If we truly believe that God is all-good and all-wise, there is no way we can say that God actually wills the terrible tragedies that cause people to suffer so much. The most we are allowed to say is that He allows them to happen. But then we can’t help but ask: “So, why does He allow such things?”

Theologians tell us that the best possible answer to such an ancient and painful question will have to do with human freedom. God seems to value it so much He is willing to pay the price for it. Just think of what happened to His only Son: Because of the abuses of human freedom, Jesus was murdered too. And God, Who could not possibly want such a terrible thing to happen to His Son, allowed that too. He must have a very good reason for it!

But even then this attempt at an explanation isn’t quite satisfactory. How can any answer to such a question be? So maybe a more helpful question to ask is: “What do we do when these things happen?”

In the musical “Hamilton,” written by the brilliant Lin-Manuel Miranda, the lead characters Alexander and Eliza lose their son, Philip, in a senseless, unnecessary duel. Their hearts are shattered; their lives fall apart. In one of the most moving moments in the play, Eliza’s sister, Angelica, describes their situation in the song “It’s Quiet Uptown”:

 

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There are moments that the words don’t reach.
There is suffering too terrible to name.
You hold your child as tight as you can,
And push away the unimaginable.
The moments where you’re in so deep.
It feels easier to just swim down.
The Hamiltons move uptown,
And learn to live with the unimaginable.

When we can’t understand what befalls us, we need to do what we must to “learn to live with the unimaginable.” In the case of Alexander and Eliza, they withdraw from the world, and fight to survive–one day at a time–because that is all they can afford to do. They do what they must–prayer, the most mundane routines, even just small talk, but especially love and forgiveness. All this–especially love and forgiveness–entails faith and hard work.

In other words, in our Lord’s words, we keep knocking, praying for whatever we need even when there seems to be no answer and even when we don’t feel like it. And especially when we don’t understand, we keep knocking–desperately, if we must–because it is when it doesn’t seem to make sense that prayer matters the most.

Note: Here is the song “Quiet Uptown” from the musical “Hamilton.” It captures all the small but significant things that people need to do to survive their tragedies.

 

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12 thoughts on “SNAKES AND SCORPIONS”

  1. Dear Fr Johnny,

    You ask the eternal question of evil. Wars, terrorism, natural disasters gives it an invasive reality and a currently relevance . This becomes pregnant for everyone when tragedy knocks on his door, and reaches a close relative or directly himself.
    “Why does God allow such things?” you ask.
    In your homily you give us the true answer: God granted us freedom, and therefore we can transgressing the law of love which founds the Tables of the Law. I think they are less commandments as recommendations because the justice of God does not act in the manner of human justice. God forgives, and in the Prayer of the Our Father, Jesus also invites us to forgive as you highlight it: we must love and forgive all evils befall us, even to nastiest.
    This is a recommendation of an extreme requirement that imposes crossing the narrow gate. (Mth 7: 13-14) If evil raging always and again in the world, it is because we do not quite turn our eyes toward God. By carelessness, indifference, pride, selfishness?
    In the parable, Jesus reminds us that we must insist with an shameless audacity. So pray to God with constancy, and we will not need to pray to Him with shameless audacity when we need his help.
    Thank you so much Fr Johnny

  2. I battled with breast cancer for 17 months. My diagnosis of an early breast cancer this time right breast whose aggression is higher than high was unsettling put me out of balance. I dont have a family that can surround me with a loving healing environ and my funds were limited for the expensive treatment. But I surrendered everything to God like the way Mary did when she said, “Behold the Handmaid of the Lord, be it done to me according to His Word.” I was able to weather through the 17 month chemo treatment, God in the absence of a family provided me with friends and a Catholic community who walked with me in this difficult journey. I was given assistance by PCSO and the drug company that paid for almost 70% of my 22 cycle chemo treatment. Friends and friends of friends whom I havent even met gave me financial assistance. My oncologist waived his PF’s. I suffered joyfullly beyond my imagination and now I am well, strong and healthy. Faith and Prayers had it all.

  3. My father had been in the ICU now for a month. He had deteriorated severely and had been struggling everyday. This morning we got a call saying that we needed to rush to the hospital now because he wasn’t looking so good. On the way to the hospital I was wishing that God will hear my prayer and keep him alive. When we got there I saw his face and realized that this time God decided to answer his prayer instead.

  4. Father John when my husband died in a road traffic accident I questioned the Lord but I did not recourse to prayer but I shielded myself from the church for 5 years.
    Now, i have realized what wrong i have done to the Lord, turning my back on him.
    I have come to realized my mistakes and now I talk to Him and at peace with myself. Most of all back to His loving arms.

  5. It is almost always hard to fathom why bad things happen to good people or why snakes and scorpions come into our lives to tornent us. Before we rush into judgement or even condemnation of God, we need to know that everything happens for a reason, maybe not to us personally, but certainly to some others. The test of our faith comes in patiently waiting for that reason to unfold.

  6. There are several Hamiltons in my life right now. My friends whose daughter, a young mother of 2 girls, with cancer of the blood vessels, are braving the unimaginable. Another friend waiting for the results of the biopsy of her kidney braving the unimaginable. A sister, whose husband survived a burst aneurism with a shunt in his brain for 9 years but the shunt was inexplicably exposed and had to be removed, now braving still the unimaginable.
    Last Sunday, we were reminded of Mary’s prayer, sitting at the feet of Jesus, listening to him; of Martha’s prayer–her kitchen apostolate. We can also recall Job’s anger at his misfortunes–the snakes and scorpions dealt to him by God. Three ways of Praying. May we all find it in our hearts to pray for the Hamiltons in our lives now braving the unimaginable.

  7. When an unpleasant event takes place in my life, through prayers, I seek what God is telling me, what message He is sending me. Knowing that He is a father who wants what is good for His children, I dwell in the idea that I am lead to a path where I can become a better child of the Lord, a path where I can serve Him more.

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