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 you."

The king's response is immediate and to the point: "Give your 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 experience?

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 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 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.