Matthew 13: 44-52
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”.
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, OSB