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JULY 27, 2008: Seventeenth Sunday of the Year


1 Kings 3:5, 7-12
Romans 8:28-30
Matthew 13:44-52

The late Fr. Roland Murphy always taught the key to understanding biblical wisdom is found in today's I Kings pericope. Our sacred authors, concerned their readers live the life God wants them to live, define the "wise" person as the individual who's able to pull that off. That's why all people of faith are listening intently to how Solomon responds to Yahweh's unbelievable offer: "Ask something of me and I will give it to you."

The king's response is immediate and to the point: "Give your servant . . . an understanding heart to judge your people and to distinguish right from wrong."

In biblical culture, one thinks with the heart, not the brain.  Quite different from our practice of locating thought in the mind and emotions in the heart. (In Scripture, our kidneys were believed to the source of emotions.) So when Solomon asks Yahweh for an understanding heart, he's basically requesting the ability to judge things, circumstances and people as Yahweh judges them. In other words, he's asking, "Let me think your thoughts; let me see reality as you see it."

Our biblical writers presume "reality" is the same for everyone. Most of us see and experience parallel things, circumstances and people. But what do we really see and experience? The frame of mind we bring to reality will always be our main tool for interpreting that reality. It's this mentality which people of faith work on developing, so that day by day we create a more understanding heart.

Paul, for instance, encourages members of the church at Rome to begin their faith-looking from the perspective "that all things work for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose." Certainly not always easy in the middle of pain and problems to surface good. Yet Paul believes such a frame of mind is essential for those who try to meld their thoughts with God's thoughts.

As I've mentioned in the past, the reason the historical Jesus so often employed parables in his preaching was to demonstrate the gap between our mentality and God's. Parables don't give new information; they simply supply us with a new way of processing the information we already have.

In today's pericope from Matthew, Jesus begins by making certain his disciples are seriously interested in surfacing the kingdom of heaven in their midst. He realizes that for many who claim to have faith, experiencing God working in their everyday lives is just a peripheral interest; not something at the heart of their existence.

Years ago I was working with a friend digging post holes. With each thrust I succeeded in digging out one or two tablespoons of dirt. After a few patient minutes, my friend suggested I take a break. He picked up the tool and within a very short time dug down at least two feet. When he handed the post hole digger back to me, he smiled and said, "My old man always said, "when you want to dig a hole, you'll do it!"

He was right. Digging that hole wasn't my top priority.

Jesus asks, "What if finding God in your life were as important as finding a buried treasure or a pearl of great price? What would you sacrifice for it?"

Perhaps we've put too much emphasis in the past on knowing the correct answers to catechism questions instead of developing a frame of mind that would surface the questions God wants us to ask.