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Reflection – To Be Understood, As To Understand

In the mid 1990’s, singer Joan Osborne sang What If God Was One of Us, which asked the question: “If you were faced with Him in all His glory, What would you ask if you had just one question?”  Then, and now, I am with Solomon – understanding and wisdom. 

When charged by God with “Ask what I should give you,” Solomon responds “an understanding mind to govern your people able to discern between good and evil.”  You have before you a woman who has a secret fear of ever being called for jury duty.  The huge responsibility that rests on the shoulders of those who serve us in that capacity, to determine what the future will look like for one who stands accused of a crime, is one I hope never to face.  I have struggled to even determine who is telling the truth when my children, as youngsters, would come before me with ‘he said … she did …” expecting me to know what actually happened and dole out the appropriate punishment for the misdeed, the hurt inflicted, the pain caused.  Facts, I have learned, may well be facts, but they are not necessarily truth. 

Wisdom and understanding, in my experience, is not something that there is an abundance of.  The psalmist assures us that “the unfolding of [the Lord’s] words gives light; it imparts understanding to the simple.”  I must be brilliant, because that understanding quite often eludes me.  Understanding may help to reach truth – the third piece of every story, as in my version, your version and THE truth.  Understanding of why people make seemingly irrational decisions.  Understanding of why I was privileged to be born in this country, into my birth family, find the life partner I found, am surrounded by the loving support of family and friends, as others, equally deserving of all the blessings I receive, struggle daily to simply feed, clothe and shelter themselves and their loved ones.  Understanding of why we can’t seem to see those different in their beliefs, culture, background, education as beloved children of God just as we are.  Understanding of why some live to celebrate their 100th birthday, and others die as infants. 

At the conclusion of this Sunday’s Gospel reading, a continuation of Matthew’s Chapter 13 we have heard for the past two weeks, Jesus asks his disciples, “Have you understood all this?”  They respond yes.  But we, with the benefit of knowing the outcome of the story, know they are a long way from complete understanding.  Just as we, who so often respond in the affirmative to the same question, are living the same reality.

I have a dear friend with a rich prayer life.  This prayer life has helped them to re-evaluate a reactionary response out of anger or hurt to a given situation with a more thoughtful, life giving, and appropriate response.  Prayer has provided opportunity for deeper reflection on why they responded as they did, and courage to change that response.  However, even then, complete understanding eludes them because we are unable to see the soul of another and know fully the why of how they behave. 

My request for understanding and wisdom doesn’t come from the need or desire to govern well, as Solomon’s did.  My request comes so that I can live in the peace and hope that God wants for us.  It comes from the longing for the kingdom of heaven which Matthew has spoken of for the last three Sunday’s – that same kingdom we pray will come each time we pray The Lord’s Prayer.  I used to think that it was something we were rewarded with upon death.  Maybe there are many who also had, still have, that understanding.  What Jesus came to share with us through his Good News, is that the kingdom of heaven is available to us now – it is an eternal life with God upon death, and it exists today, right now, when the compassion, forgiveness, mercy of which Jesus speaks is lived in our daily lives.  This isn’t easy.  It involves understanding, wisdom, patience, love.  I have lots of questions for God when I am face-to-face with him; but understanding, for me, is probably the most important.

Ellen Bennett
Archdiocese of Moncton, Office of Faith Development

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