The late scholar of biblical Wisdom literature,
Rev. Roland Murphy, always began his classes with the first reading (I Kings
3: 5, 7-12). He believed it contained the best definition of the subject he
Yahweh tells Solomon, "Ask something of
me, and I will give it to you." The king surprises everyone, not by
asking "for a long life..nor for riches, nor for the life of [his]
enemies." Instead, he makes this request: "Give your servant an
understanding heart to judge your people and to distinguish right from
Father Murphy always emphasized that a
biblically wise person is someone who looks at life with an
"understanding heart." In the culture of the I Kings author, the
heart was thought to perform many of the functions that we today attribute
to the brain. It wasn't just the organ of emotions; it was the source of
thought and reasoning.
That's why Solomon desires a proper heart;
one which would help him judge reality with the understanding with which
Yahweh judges it. If beauty is in the eye of the beholder, then
understanding is in the heart of the believer.
As we hear in the second reading (Rom 8:
28-30), Paul has such a heart. Notice the statement he makes at the
beginning of the passage: "We know that all things work for good for
those who love God, who are called according to His purpose."
The Apostle presumes everyone experiences the
same basic reality. What's important isn't what happens in life; it's
how we interpret what happens. Paul is convinced that our faith provides our
interpretation. With-out an understanding, faith-filled heart, we have no
basis for judging the everyday events of our lives.
Matthew's Jesus continues what He began in
last week's Gospel: providing more parables to help us better understand
God working in our midst (Mt 13: 44-52). But, unlike last week's images,
today He zeroes in our response to that presence.
"The kingdom of heaven," Jesus first
teaches, "is like a treasure buried in a field, which a person
finds." Then he offers a parallel idea, "Again, the kingdom of
heaven is like a merchant searching for fine pearls. When he finds a pearl
of great price...." In each case, the finder "goes and sells all
he has and buys" the treasure.
Jesus' message is clear: If discovering God
at work in our lives is the most valuable dimension of our existence, then
we should be willing to sacrifice anything and everything to acquire it.
Good and bad
Of course, such a long-sought-for experience
doesn't happen in isolation from everything else that runs through our
lives. That's why Jesus adds one more parable: "The kingdom of heaven
is like a net thrown into the sea, which collects fish of every kind. When
it is full, they haul it ashore and sit down to put what is good into
buckets. What is bad they throw away."
Though Matthew's Gospel interpretation
springs from his concept of the "last judgment," scholars believe
the historical Jesus originally intended the separation of good from bad to
pertain to our role in the process. Day by day, we must use our
understanding hearts to determine what is from God in our lives and what isn't.
No wonder Matthew ends the passage with Jesus
describing the evangelist himself: "A scribe... instructed in the
kingdom of heaven...who brings from his storeroom both the new and the
Only someone wise in the faith knows what to
keep of the old and what to discard of the new. An understanding heart is
always able to figure out the proper combination.
If we don't, then God's kingdom is solely
something which happened in the past or an event we're anticipating only
in the future, not an experience for followers of God right here and now.