The late Rev. Roland Murphy always taught that
the key to understanding biblical wisdom is found in Sunday's first reading
(1 Kings 3:5,7-12).
The sacred authors, concerned about their
readers living the life God wanted them to live, define the "wise"
person as the individual who is 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
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 the heart
In biblical culture, one thinks with the heart,
not the brain. That's quite different from our practice of locating thought
in the mind and emotions in the heart. (In Scripture, by the way, kidneys
were believed to be 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 that
"reality" is the same for everyone. Most of us see and experience
parallel things, circumstances and people. But what do we really see and
The frame of mind we bring to reality will
always be our main tool for interpreting that reality. It's that mentality
that people of faith work on developing, so that -- day by day -- we create
a more understanding heart.
St. Paul, for instance, encouraged members of
the Church at Rome (Romans 8:28-30) 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, it is not always easy in the middle
of pain and problems to surface good. Yet Paul believed that such a frame of
mind is essential for those who try to meld their thoughts with God's.
At the heart
The reason Jesus so often employed parables was
to demonstrate the gap between our mentality and God's. Parables don't give
new information; they supply us with a new way of processing the information
we already have.
In Sunday's Gospel (Matthew 13:44-52), Jesus
begins by making certain that 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's working in their everyday lives
is just a peripheral interest and not something at the heart of their
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
He picked up the tool and, within a very short
time, dug down at least two feet. When he handed the 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.