When Solomon, in 1 Kings 3:5, 7-12, is given the opportunity to ask of God anything he wished, he first takes into account all that God has already provided him. He notices how young he is and how many people God has given him to shepherd. He also notices that he wants to be a shepherd after the heart of God. And so, he asks for an understanding heart.
God notices what he doesn’t ask for. Solomon fails to ask for a long life for himself or a short life for his enemies. He doesn’t ask for riches and glory. God is impressed. An understanding heart is not first of all worried about ego or holding power. It is more interested in listening and being with the other in the midst of his or her situation. An understanding heart is not trying to prove a point or win an argument or battle but truly trying to get into the mind and heart of the other person. What a gift it would be if we all lived with an understanding heart, especially as we hear and try to live out the Gospel for the 17th Sunday in Ordinary Time.
In order to notice a buried treasure or a pearl of great price (Matthew 13:44-46), we need an understanding heart. We are all attracted to “shiny objects.” What is the latest trend, fad or fashion is important to many of us. How we are perceived in others’ eyes sometimes affects our choices. How much money we have or the kind of job we have can affect our image of ourselves and our image of others. We can be preoccupied with trying to control the things that are out of our control and trying to stay up with all those around us. Sometimes we fail to see the buried treasure in ourselves and treat ourselves as less than the child of God that we are. An understanding heart allows each of us to hear, see and notice our own story and the stories of all those around us.
Prejudices and areas of unforgiveness keep us from understanding, since our minds and hearts are already set and convinced. An understanding heart allows us to know and believe that God has created us as a masterpiece (Ephesians 2:10) even though we may not be living up to our potential at that particular moment. We can then see others in the same way, knowing that they too are God’s masterpieces. With an understanding heart we can also know that, no matter what we have done, God wishes us to be reconciled and longs for our coming home (Luke 15: 11-32). Then when we notice the sinfulness of another, we can be as understanding with them as God is with us.
As we try to live this Gospel in the weeks ahead, can we take some time to quit praying for a shortened life for our enemies or for more riches and influence for ourselves? Can we instead pray for an understanding heart? This is not just playing at praying but this is praying with the intent to change our lives. God does not work magic in us but certainly magnifies our choices with power. Can we pray and change our lives to become more understanding and less self-seeking? Can we allow the treasures that our hiding in ourselves and others to come to the surface and be cherished and respected, even though they are different than our own? I join you in this journey of faith and conversion!
Father Wester is pastor of All Saints Parish in St. Peters.