July 27, 2014
Seventeenth Sunday in Ordinary Time
The tone of the first reading of today's mass is shaped by the ancient Greek
translation of the Old Testament, made nearly three hundred years before the
birth of Christ. Classical Greek language and culture had a strong intellectual
and conceptual focus, often seeking to capture ideas and realities in abstract
terms. This stood somewhat in contrast to Hebrew language and thought, which
was intensely earthy and visceral. An example of the differences in the Greek
and Hebrew ways of thinking shows through in this text from the First Book of
Kings. In the translation influenced by Greek idiom we hear King Solomon ask
for the gift of "an understanding heart", whereas in the Hebrew original we read
that he asked for "a listening heart".
Matthew 13: 44-52
The mental faculty of understanding is without a doubt at least part of what
Solomon was asking of the Lord when he requested "a listening heart", yet
somehow the abstract term "understanding" seems to miss out on the richness of
the original expression. We know of course that the heart cannot really listen,
but then again it cannot "break", or "sink", or "leap", or "rejoice" either.
When we characterize our emotions by associating them with elements of our
bodily nature, as Solomon does, we indicate how deeply they touch us and shape
our lives. The earthy Hebrew words convey this, while the smoothed-out
translation we hear falls somewhat short in this regard.
St. Benedict had a great appreciation for the depth of human thought and
emotion, and for their poetic quality. In the very opening words of his Rule
for monks, Benedict urges his would-be disciples to "listen carefully" to his
teaching "with the ear of your heart". This is certainly sound advice from a
tried and true source, perhaps not one as wise as the legendary Solomon, but one
whose counsel has stood the test of many centuries and has led countless men and
women to Christian holiness.
Today we ought to listen carefully to the words of the gospel-really straining
with the ear of our heart, and not simply passively hearing -so that we can
catch Jesus patiently presenting yet another in a long series of parables
intended to teach us the awesome nature of the Kingdom of Heaven. The Kingdom,
Jesus tells us, is like a treasure buried in a field, which a person realizes is
so valuable that he is willing to give everything he has for it. Similarly the
Kingdom is likened to a merchant who quickly sells all his wares in order to buy
one unique pearl of great price. The lesson is that one who lives as a member
of the Kingdom-one who has a listening heart, and who is a devoted follower of
Christ-recognizes the Kingdom as the one thing that is truly valuable and
pursues it single-heartedly.
Listening is an essential step in this process. When we are humble enough to
pause in the stream of our own thoughts and words, and to allow the gospel to
speak to us, we open ourselves to the possibility of seeing our lives
transformed by an encounter with the risen Christ, and to the invitation to live
in this newness of life as a herald of God's Kingdom. Through the intercession
of King Solomon, renown for his wisdom, and St. Benedict, the master of prudent
and receptive listening, may we be given the insight to recognize the Kingdom of
Heaven present in our midst and the courage to live joyfully as members of it.
Fr. Edward Mazich, O.S.B.