Wisdom – Thinking with the Heart
How many times have we all heard these kinds of statements, sometimes addressed directly to us? It’s a common understanding in Western culture that decision making is best done with the mind, a.k.a. the head. We think of the heart as the center of emotions, and emotions are not regarded as the best sources of good decisions.
In ancient Israel, the heart was seen as both the center for emotions and the center for decision-making. When the Lord came to King Solomon in a dream at night and asked what gift Solomon would like to receive, Solomon gave an unusual answer. He had become king at a young age and had to defeat many enemies, including one of his brothers, to establish control over the kingdom. Once that was settled, still a young man, he began to build his own palace and a Temple for worship of the Lord. Up to that point, the tablets of the Law had been kept in the Ark of the Covenant. Now it was time for a permanent home for them and a center for worship and sacrificial offerings.
Solomon recognized his inexperience and the challenges ahead of him in governing a large group of people. So, he asked for “an understanding heart to judge your people and to distinguish right from wrong.” (1 Kings 3:5, 7-12)
This pleased the Lord, who had expected a request for the usual kinds of things people wanted – long life, riches, conquest of enemies and so forth. But Solomon had asked for an understanding heart. The Lord’s response was heartfelt: “I give you a heart so wise and understanding that there has never been anyone like you up to now…”
Solomon is known to this day as Solomon the Wise. His reputation for wisdom spread throughout the ancient world and people traveled long distances to meet with him. As long as his decisions were based on the wisdom that came from thinking and listening with his heart, they bore good fruit. Later in life, when he forgot some of his earlier experience with the Lord and good decision-making, things didn’t always go so well. But the reputation from his earlier years remains. Solomon the Wise.
St. Paul spoke of something similar in his letter to the Romans. (Rom 8: 28-30) “All things work for good for those who love God.” Paul used a term in his letter that is often misunderstood today. Predestined.
We tend to think the word predestined means that everything is set up firmly and unchangeably ahead of time. Nothing anyone can do will change it. Some will succeed. Some will fail. It’s like a sports activity in which the winner is determined before the match begins and the competitor who may be better will deliberately compete more poorly, to meet the predetermined setup. On the big picture, spiritual side of things, some will go to a heavenly reward and some will go to eternal damnation. This can lead to a belief that we can tell who is going to be rewarded in heaven by how monetarily successful they are here on earth! Entire cultural systems have been set up based on this premise. We do our best and if we are pleasing to God, we will prosper. If we aren’t pleasing, then nothing we can do will help and no matter how hard we are working, we will be eternally punished.
What a terrible way to go through life! Who would want a God who would treat people that way? And yet, if that’s all we’ve ever heard, that’s likely to underlie much of our understanding of life.
Fortunately for all of us, predestined in the sense used by Paul doesn’t mean the same as what we expect. Predestined in this context means that God has decided to call us and help us become like Christ, ready to be in a positive, loving relationship with God both now and into eternity. Paul assures us all that God has chosen us from all eternity to become like his Son, the one firstborn of the many humans who will join together as sisters and brothers in the family of God. This is something worth celebrating and allowing to be a foundation of our lives.
So, what is this family of God, the Kingdom of God to be like? Jesus spent a lot of time trying to explain what the kingdom is. (Mt 13:44-52) “The kingdom of heaven is like a treasure buried in a field.” The kingdom of heaven is like “a pearl of great price.” Those who find the treasure or the pearl put it back where they found it in Jesus’ parables. Then they go and sell everything they have in order to buy the field (and the treasure) or the pearl. They don’t set up a spreadsheet and compare their assets and liabilities and determine whether this new asset will be more beneficial than sticking with their existing plans. No, they simply drop everything and choose the greater prize, the one they have marvelously come upon.
Jesus tells stories of wheat growing alongside weeds and fish, good and bad, swimming in the sea. Life is not set up with only good things happening to the good people and bad things happening to the bad people. There’s a share of good and bad for all. The trick is, how do we respond? And how do we respond to others whose situation may be more difficult than the one in which we find ourselves? Do we use our heads and try to protect what we already have at all cost? Or do we sometimes go out on a limb and saw madly behind us, hoping to help someone who is struggling or in need of a hand?
Wisdom is thinking with our hearts. As our hearts are soft, or softened, they become more pliable, more ready to love as our Lord has loved.
As we move through this week, let’s pray that areas of our hearts that are hardened will be softened, so that we can hear and think with the freedom and abundance of our God.
Readings for the Seventeenth Sunday in Ordinary Time – Cycle A