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 taught.

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 wrong."

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.

Interpreting reality

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 old."

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.