EXAMINING YOUR HEART (Mt 13:44-52): 27 July 2008 (17th Sunday in Ordinary Time)

EXAMINING YOUR HEART (Mt 13:44-52):  27 July 2008 (17th Sunday in Ordinary Time)

Today’s Readings

Reading today’s parable made me recall a story I read somewhere about an emperor and a beggar.  It goes this way:

Once there was an emperor who met a beggar as he was coming out of his palace for his morning walk. He asked the beggar, “What do you want?”

To the emperor’s surprise, the beggar laughed and said, “You are asking me as though you can fulfill my desire!”  

Of course the emperor was offended. He said, “Of course I can fulfill your desire. What is it? Just tell me, and I will give it to you.”

The beggar said, “Think twice before you promise anything.”

Actually, the beggar was no ordinary beggar.  He was a powerful wizard who wanted to teach the emperor an important lesson.

The emperor insisted, “I will fulfill anything you ask. I am a very powerful emperor.  What can you possibly desire that I can not give to you?”

The beggar said, “It is a very simple desire. You see this begging bowl? Can you fill it with something?”

The emperor said, “Of course!” He called one of his officials and told him, “Fill this man’s begging bowl with gold coins!”

The official went and got a sack of gold coins and poured them into the bowl.  But to his great surprise, the coins immediately disappeared. He poured more and more coins, but in an instant, every single coin he poured into the bowl disappeared, and the begging bowl remained empty.

The story quickly spread throughout the land, and a huge crowd gathered. The emperor felt that his prestige was at stake. He said to his officials, “Even if the whole kingdom is lost, I am ready to lose it, but I refuse to be defeated by this beggar.”

And so they filled the beggar’s bowl with diamonds and pearls and emeralds, but the begging bowl seemed bottomless.  Just like the gold coins, every diamond and every pearl and every precious tone disappeared as soon as it fell into the bowl.

Finally it was evening, and the palace treasury was now totally empty.  The people stood there in utter silence as the emperor dropped to his knees before the beggar, admitting his defeat.  He told the beggar, “You win, but just tell me one thing before you leave: What is your mysterious bowl made of?  Why does it consume everything and remain empty?”

The beggar laughed and tossed his bowl, “It is no secret.  The bowl is none other than the human heart–a heart filled with worldly desires. ”

The emperor didn’t understand the beggar’s words, but the lesson that the beggar was teaching him is quite valuable and universal.  We all of us have that same begging bowl in us because all of us have worldly desires. One minute we want one thing, and the next we want another.  Even if we make sure we get every single thing we fancy, unfortuntately we will still feel empty.  Just like that mysterious begging bowl, our desire can consume everything and yet leave us empty.

Think about it:  What have you been craving for lately?  Isn’t it the case that if we give in to our desires either we get frustrated because for some reason we don’t get it, or if we do manage to acquire it, our excitement eventually fades away anyway.  Either way our desires leave our hearts empty like the beggar’s bowl.

If we keep on yielding to our desires, we only end up feeling empty, and we will remain a beggar all our lives, always wanting something more and something else, never satisfied with what we have.

In today’s parable the Lord compares our heart not to a beggar’s bowl, but to a field with a priceless treasure hidden within, a pearl of great price buried deep inside us.  In the parable, a man discovers the buried treasure and decides immediately to sell all that he has to buy the field so that he can own the treasure.  He is never the same again because his discovery has changed him and shaped his life!

I think the point of the parable is that our heart is like this field with the hidden treasure.  In the other story, the beggar’s bowl stands for worldly desires that make us crave for everything, but always leave us empty.   And if the field stands for the human heart, then we already have that most precious and most priceless of treasures inside us!   But what is this treasure?

Our faith tells us that we possess in our hearts a desire that is deeper than any other desire, a desire that will outlast all others.  Philosophers and theologians have called it an “existential desire.”  This desire is none other than our desire for God.

We don’t always feel this desire for God; that’s why it is hidden in our heart. It is buried beneath layers upon layers of other desires. We think we want so many other things aside from God, but actually it is God that we want the most.  Actually, it is our Creator whom we long for with the greatest, most aching need. The only problem is, too often we don’t know it.  You could almost say that most of us are in denial about this.  So we allow our other more superficial worldly desires to run and shape our lives.   Some people’s lives end up becoming nothing more than an endless series pursuits of these worldly desires: things—or people—we want to possess, honor and accomplishments, or power over others.

Let’s face it:  Our hearts are always looking for something. That’s part of the human condition.  U2’s 1987 hit song “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For” captures this unceasing searching and existential restlessness of the human heart for God.  The song enumerates all the things that the singer has done to find his heart’s desire–but despite and after all that, he’s still looking.  If we look in the wrong places, our searching can be nothing more than a tragic vicious cycle.

St. Augustine puts it so well:  “Our hearts are restless until they rest in God.”  We run around like headless chickens, pulled–and running–in every possible direction.  But we need only one thing really–except unlike Augustine, we often aren’t quite sure what it is we’re looking for.

St. Ignatius of Loyola, the founder of the Jesuit Order whose feast we will celebrate in a few days, puts it another way:  “We have been created to praise, reverence, and serve God.”  In other words, God is “the first without a second.”  Only when we discover and claim the treasure hidden inside us—our deepest desire, which is our desire for God—and allow this desire to shape our lives, influence our decisions and actions, will we receive lasting joy and fulfillment.

So here’s a Quick Question for you:  “Is your heart more like a beggar’s bowl, always wanting something more and something else, never satisfied with what you have, and therefore somehow always empty?  Or is your heart more like the field with the hidden treasure, a treasure that makes you constantly seek ways to grow closer to the one most valuable thing in our lives–God?”

Think about it, and if you feel up to it, share a thought, a feeling, or a question. Who knows?  Your sharing might help some reader.

Note:  Here is a moving live performance of the song “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For” by U2 with–believe it!–Bruce Springsteen.  This was shot during the “Rock and Roll” Hall of Fame Awards.  Or click here to watch the video.  Below the clip are the lyrics of the song.


I have climbed highest mountain
I have run through the fields
Only to be with you
Only to be with you

I have run
I have crawled
I have scaled these city walls
These city walls
Only to be with you

But I still havent found what Im looking for
But I still havent found what Im looking for

I have kissed honey lips
Felt the healing in her fingertips
It burned like fire
This burning desire

I have spoke with the tongue of angels
I have held the hand of a devil
It was warm in the night
I was cold as a stone

But I still havent found what Im looking for
But I still havent found what Im looking for

I believe in the kingdom come
Then all the colors will bleed into one
Bleed into one
Well yes Im still running

You broke the bonds and you
Loosed the chains
Carried the cross
Of my shame
Of my shame
You know I believed it

But I still havent found what Im looking for
But I still havent found what Im looking for
But I still havent found what Im looking for
But I still havent found what Im looking for…

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