Mar 10, 2022: Thursday of the First Week of Lent

1st Reading – Esther C:12, 14-16, 23-25

Queen Esther, seized with mortal anguish,
had recourse to the LORD.
She lay prostrate upon the ground, together with her handmaids, 
from morning until evening, and said:
“God of Abraham, God of Isaac, and God of Jacob, blessed are you. 
Help me, who am alone and have no help but you,
for I am taking my life in my hand.
As a child I used to hear from the books of my forefathers
that you, O LORD, always free those who are pleasing to you.
Now help me, who am alone and have no one but you,
O LORD, my God.

“And now, come to help me, an orphan.
Put in my mouth persuasive words in the presence of the lion
and turn his heart to hatred for our enemy,
so that he and those who are in league with him may perish.
Save us from the hand of our enemies;
turn our mourning into gladness
and our sorrows into wholeness.”

The Book of Esther is named after its Jewish heroine. Its story takes place in Susa (modern-day Iran) during the reign of the Persian King Xerxes I (486-465 BC), and shows a young Jewish girl’s unlikely rise to prominence. In God’s providence, she becomes queen at a time of persecution against the Jews, and through her intervention, her people are saved from genocide.

Today’s first reading is Esther’s fervent and confident prayer to God in her distress.

Queen Esther, seized with mortal anguish, had recourse to the LORD. She lay prostrate upon the ground, together with her handmaids, from morning until evening, and said:

Other translations have that Esther “fled” to the LORD, taking off her splendid royal robes and putting on the garments of mourning.

“God of Abraham, God of Isaac, and God of Jacob, blessed are you.  Help me, who am alone and have no help but you, for I am taking my life in my hand. As a child I used to hear from the books of my forefathers that you, O LORD, always free those who are pleasing to you. Now help me, who am alone and have no one but you, O LORD, my God.

Esther’s prayer has a tone of familiarity and trust in God that is closer to the New Testament style of prayer than anything in the Old Testament. In a kind of litany reminiscent of the style of Psalm 136, she reminds God of things he has done on behalf of the people, as a context for her plea.

“And now, come to help me, an orphan. Put in my mouth persuasive words in the presence of the lion and turn his heart to hatred for our enemy, so that he and those who are in league with him may perish. Save us from the hand of our enemies; turn our mourning into gladness and our sorrows into wholeness.”

Esther implores God’s help, confident that he who has done so much for his people over the course of history will not leave them unprotected in their present need.

Psalm 138: 1-3, 7c-8

R. Lord, on the day I called for help, you answered me.

Today’s responsorial psalm is an individual prayer of thanksgiving addressed directly to God.

Attributed to King David, this psalm reflects with gratitude on his experiences of God’s goodness and looks forward with comfort to the continued outpouring of God’s grace.

I will give thanks to you, O LORD, with all my heart, for you have heard the words of my mouth; in the presence of the angels I will sing your praise; I will worship at your holy temple and give thanks to your name.

The psalmist has come to the temple to worship and witness publicly to the goodness of God.

The presence of angels (’elōhîm) suggests the court of heaven, where they stood in reverence around the throne of God. Since the temple was thought to be the earthly representation of the heavenly divine dwelling, it was not unusual for Israel to believe angels were somehow in the same kind of attendance in the temple on earth. Therefore, standing in the temple in the presence of God, the psalmist would also be in the presence of the attending angels.

Because of your kindness and your truth; for you have made great above all things your name and your promise.

The reason for the psalmist’s gratitude is God’s faithfulness to the covenant commitment. This is clear from the presence of technical covenant language: lovingkindness (hesed) and truth (’ěmet).

When I called, you answered me; you built up strength within me.

Evidently the psalmist had previously called upon the Lord while in trouble,  was heard, and had been inwardly strengthened. This is the reason for the prayer of gratitude.

This divine rescue was not the result of the psalmist’s virtues but of God’s loving fidelity.

Your right hand saves me.

The psalmist confesses his trust in the Lord and his purposes, for he knows that the Lord is faithful.

The LORD will complete what he has done for me; your kindness, O LORD, endures forever; forsake not the work of your hands.

The prayer of thanksgiving is concluded on a note of confidence that God’s covenant commitment will endure forever.

Having been made by God, God will not forsake him. God is not only faithful to past promises but will be faithful into the endless future.

Gospel – Matthew 7:7-12

Jesus said to his disciples:
“Ask and it will be given to you;
seek and you will find;
knock and the door will be opened to you.
For everyone who asks, receives; and the one who seeks, finds;
and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.
Which one of you would hand his son a stone
when he asked for a loaf of bread,
or a snake when he asked for a fish?
If you then, who are wicked,
know how to give good gifts to your children,
how much more will your heavenly Father give good things
to those who ask him.

“Do to others whatever you would have them do to you.
This is the law and the prophets.”

In today’s gospel reading, Jesus teaches us in a number of ways about the effectiveness of prayer.

Prayer is the raising of the mind and heart to God to adore him, to praise him, to thank him, and to ask him for what we need.

Jesus said to his disciples: “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. 

Jesus emphasizes the need for petitionary prayer, which is the first spontaneous movement of a soul who recognizes God as his Creator and Father. As God’s creature and child, each of us needs to ask him humbly for everything.

For everyone who asks, receives; and the one who seeks, finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.

Note the lack of any restrictions: “Everyone who asks, receives.”

Which one of you would hand his son a stone when he asked for a loaf of bread, or a snake when he asked for a fish?

There is a resemblance between a stone and a round loaf of bread and between a serpent and the smooth, scaleless fish called a barbut that is found in the Sea of Galilee.

If you then, who are wicked, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give good things to those who ask him.

Jesus compares God’s concern for his people to that of a father for his children, noting that God is an infinitely better Father than any earthly parent.

“Do to others whatever you would have them do to you.

Here we have one of the most famous sayings in all of Scripture. Known since the eighteenth century as the “Golden Rule,” it is found in both positive and negative form in pagan and Jewish sources, both earlier and later than the gospel.

This edict gives us a guideline to realize our obligations (and the love we should have) for others. However, we must be careful to interpret it correctly, lest it becomes a source of selfishness; i.e., “I give you something so that you will give me something.” The teaching here is that we should do good to others unconditionally. After all, we are clever enough not to put any limits on how much we love ourselves.

This rule of conduct will be completed by Jesus’ “new commandment” (John 13:34), where he teaches us to love others as he himself has loved us.

This is the law and the prophets.”

The Old Testament has many teachings concerning our duty towards our neighbor; all that is found there may be reduced to this “golden rule.”

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