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A wise heart

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I THINK the Lord was also testing Solomon when he told him to make a wish. Would he or would he not make a good King, a good leader to God’s people? People reveal a lot about their character by the kind of things that they wish for. What would you have asked for if you were in Solomon’s place?

We can relate this to our Gospel reading yesterday when the Lord said to James and John, “You do not know what you are asking for.” They wanted positions of authority; they wanted political power for themselves. Political power need not be negative in itself if it is used for the common good. But we all know that power can be like the enchanted Ring in the Lord of the Rings. It can also turn people into ugly beasts that can cause a lot of destruction on society. Remember the saying, “Take care what you ask for?”

The writer tells us the Lord was pleased with the wish that Solomon made. By the kind of wish that he made, Solomon revealed what was in his heart. He was praised by God because he did not wish for the typical things people ask for: wealth, long life, revenge. What he asked for was not really for himself but for the people he had been asked to lead. He asked for wisdom of heart.

The Lord knows that there are people who become monsters the moment they are given a taste of power. Some can get intoxicated with it; they play god or think themselves wiser than God. They can use it to enrich themselves; they can abuse it to perpetuate themselves in authority. And one of the worst signs is when power unleashes vindictiveness in those who wield it. It is then that they begin to use it for their personal whims and interests, instead of serving the common good.

What was it that Solomon asked for and which God was pleased about? A different kind of INTELLIGENCE. I have said on many occasions that mere rational intelligence is not the key to the survival of the human race. We take pride of our superiority as a species and identify ourselves as Homo Sapiens, believing that our rational intelligence is our real source of strength. And yet it is becoming clear to us how we can also use our intelligence to manipulate, to oppress, to destroy each other and the world.

Our first reading refers to the gift that Solomon asked for as WISDOM OF HEART, as distinguished from the wisdom of the mind. Perhaps in modern language we can call it SPIRITUAL INTELLIGENCE. The gift of discernment, which the Gospel tells us, is what it takes to be an agent of God’s Kingdom in this world.

Jeremiah 31 prophesies that the time will come when he will bestow this gift to all his people. “I will place my Law within them and write it upon their hearts (so that) I will be their God and they shall be my people.” He looks forward to the fulfillment of the covenant, when people can grow from individuals competing with each other, into families that care for each other, communities that have compassion for the weak and vulnerable, and societies that preserve the common good.

Our 2nd reading from Romans 8 suggests that this promise is not fulfilled until the coming of Jesus Christ, our new covenant, in whose image we are destined to be conformed. Our model is Jesus Christ, in whom we discover our true worth and dignity, not just as human persons, but as children of God.

In Jesus, we are supposed to discover the Wisdom of Heart that the Gospel describes as the gift of discernment that enables us to find what is truly of value and give up everything for it. In the first parable, the analogy emphasizes the fact that the treasure is hidden, waiting to be discovered. It is not yours until you have given up everything to acquire it.

We get basically the same idea in the parable of the Pearl of Great Price. The analogy emphasizes the fact that what is of value is not that obvious to everyone. The parable makes us imagine a pearl of great price looking ordinary, looking like all the others until an expert eye is able to spot it out.

The Gospel adds two more parables, also about wisdom of Heart. This time it is about the gift that it takes to learn to “sort things out”: the good and bad, the new and old. People who are unable to sort things out will tend to mess up things.

Have you ever wondered what St Luke means when he tells us twice in his infancy narratives that Mary “kept these things in her heart. I think he is describing to us the wisdom of heart that enabled Mary to sort things out. She definitely didn’t keep everything. Not everything is worth remembering anyway; there are certain things that are better forgotten. The problem is when we forget what needs to be remembered andremember what needs to be forgotten. We can clutter our souls with toxic things when we are unable to let go of resentments and negative memories.

Wisdom of heart likewise enables us to sort out between the new and the old. It is to be able to find value both in new things (rerum novarum) and old things (rerum antiquarum). Not everything new is worth welcoming and accepting, just as not everything old is worth throwing away. Perhaps that is why the Church is founded on old things (tradition) but needs to constantly renews herself (ecclesia semper reformanda).

Tomorrow, as we listen to the president making his SONA, may we have the wisdom of heart, the spiritual intelligence to truly sort things out, for the good of our country.

(Homily for the 17th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Mat 13:44-52)

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