Saturday, February 6, 2010

Lord, Give Your Servant An Understanding Heart.

Saturday of the Fourth Week of the Year

Reading I
1 Kings 3:4-13
Solomon went to Gibeon to sacrifice there,
because that was the most renowned high place.
Upon its altar Solomon offered a thousand burnt offerings.
In Gibeon the LORD appeared to Solomon in a dream at night.
God said, “Ask something of me and I will give it to you.”
Solomon answered:
“You have shown great favor to your servant, my father David,
because he behaved faithfully toward you,
with justice and an upright heart;
and you have continued this great favor toward him, even today,
seating a son of his on his throne.
O LORD, my God, you have made me, your servant,
king to succeed my father David;
but I am a mere youth, not knowing at all how to act.
I serve you in the midst of the people whom you have chosen,
a people so vast that it cannot be numbered or counted.
Give your servant, therefore, an understanding heart
to judge your people and to distinguish right from wrong.
For who is able to govern this vast people of yours?”

The LORD was pleased that Solomon made this request.
So God said to him: “Because you have asked for this–
not for a long life for yourself,
nor for riches, nor for the life of your enemies,
but for understanding so that you may know what is right–
I do as you requested.
I give you a heart so wise and understanding
that there has never been anyone like you up to now,
and after you there will come no one to equal you.
In addition, I give you what you have not asked for,
such riches and glory that among kings there is not your like.”

Today we have our first reading about King Solomon. It tells of the source of Solomon’s proverbial wisdom. In the second part of the chapter, which we will not be reading, is the story of that wisdom in action when Solomon solved a dispute between two women over which of them was the real mother of two children, one living, one dead.

We are told today that Solomon goes to Gibeon to sacrifice. Gibeon lay to the north-west of Jerusalem and was in the territory of Benjamin. At the time of the conquest of Canaan by the Israelites, the Gibeonites tricked Joshua and Israel into a peace treaty at the time of the conquest of Canaan. The city was subsequently given to the tribe of Benjamin and set apart for the Levites. David avenged Saul’s violation of the Gibeonite treaty by the execution of seven of Saul’s descendants (see 2 Sam 21:1-9 and Monday’s reading of this week).

The reason for Gibeon’s importance was the presence there of the tabernacle and an ancient bronze altar. These must have been salvaged after the destruction of Shiloh by the Philistines. There Solomon made a huge offering of 1,000 holocausts. (Later, of course, the tabernacle will be moved to the new temple that Solomon will build.)

While still in Gibeon, the Lord tells Solomon in a dream to ask for anything he wants.

Before the time of the prophets, dreams were one of the main channels by which God communicated with people. But in the New Testament also we see Joseph being spoken to by God three times in a dream (Matt 1:20; 2:12,22) and there is the vision of Peter in the Acts (10:10-16). It is not clear what would be the distinction between a dream and a vision.

In response to God’s command, Solomon praises the Lord for all that had been done through his father David. And these favors continue by God seating a son of David on his throne. But Solomon is very young and knows little about administration. The birth of Solomon is generally placed in approximately the middle of David’s 40-year reign, meaning that Solomon was about 20 years old at the beginning of his own reign and hence lacked experience in assuming the responsibilities of his office.

Moreover, he is king of a very large number of people, “too numerous to count”. Something of an exaggeration, of course, but from the small beginnings of a single family living in Egypt, the Israelites had increased to an extent approaching that anticipated in the promises given to Abraham and Jacob.

Solomon, therefore, asks the Lord to give him "an understanding heart" so that he can rule with equity and distinguish right from wrong. He prays for wisdom in practical affairs. It is a generous request, made not for himself but for the benefit of the people over whom he rules.

The Lord is deeply pleased that Solomon has not asked for what Near Eastern rulers traditionally looked for: long life, great wealth, the destruction of enemies. He has asked for wisdom, for deep insight into what is and good. And so the Lord gives him what he asks: "I give you a heart so wise and understanding that there has never been anyone like you up to now, and after you there will come no one to equal you."

And, because of his integrity and concern for the good of his people, Solomon will also get those things which he did not ask for – riches and glory, the like of which had never been seen until that time.

And indeed, Solomon would become famous both for his wisdom and also for his great wealth.

God today puts to me the same question he put to Solomon: "Ask something of me and I will give it to you." What will I ask for? What do I really want? What do I really need? Let me not be too hasty in answering the question. Remember the promise of Jesus: "Seek first the kingdom and all these things will be added to you" (Luke 12:31)

The answer I give to this question can be very revealing of my attitudes, my values, my priorities and where I stand in my relationships with God, others and self.

+++ +++ +++ +++
Psalm 119

Lord, teach me your statutes.
How shall a young man be faultless in his way?
By keeping to your words.
Lord, teach me your statutes.
With all my heart I seek you;
let me not stray from your commands.
Lord, teach me your statutes.
Within my heart I treasure your promise,
that I may not sin against you.
Lord, teach me your statutes.
Blessed are you, O LORD;
teach me your statutes.
Lord, teach me your statutes.
With my lips I declare
all the ordinances of your mouth.
Lord, teach me your statutes.
In the way of your decrees I rejoice,
as much as in all riches.
Lord, teach me your statutes.
+++ +++ +++ +++

Mark 6:30-34

The Apostles gathered together with Jesus
and reported all they had done and taught.
He said to them,
“Come away by yourselves to a deserted place and rest a while.”
People were coming and going in great numbers,
and they had no opportunity even to eat.
So they went off in the boat by themselves to a deserted place.
People saw them leaving and many came to know about it.
They hastened there on foot from all the towns
and arrived at the place before them.

When Jesus disembarked and saw the vast crowd,
his heart was moved with pity for them,
for they were like sheep without a shepherd;
and he began to teach them many things.

Today we have the second of two multiplication stories found in Mark. The first with 5,000 people was in a predominantly Jewish area while this one with 4,000 people is in mainly Gentile territory. Jesus is reaching out to both groups. The people have nothing to eat and are hungry. The meaning is both physical and spiritual.

Once again we see Mark indicating the emotional response of Jesus. He is filled with compassion for the people in their need. “I feel compassion for all these people… If I send them off home hungry they will collapse on the way… Some have come a great distance."

They will collapse “on the way”, on the road. Jesus is the Way, the Road. To walk the road of Jesus, we need a certain kind of nourishment. This is what Jesus came to give.

The disciples, interpreting Jesus literally, as they usually do, ask: “Where could anyone get bread to feed these people in a deserted place like this?” In the presence of Jesus, the question answers itself but the disciples have not yet clicked. In Mark’s gospel they are often shown to be without an understanding of just who their Master is. That is because they represent us.

The disciples are asked what they can supply. Seven loaves and a few fish is all they have.

There is a strong eucharistic element in this, as in the former story. The people are told to sit down. "He took the seven loaves, and after giving thanks (eucharistesas, in the Greek), he broke them and handed them to his disciples to distribute. And they distributed them among the crowd."

Again we note that Jesus himself does not give out the food the people need. It comes from him but is distributed by his disciples. The same is today. It is our task to feed the hungry – both physically and spiritually. All were filled – 4,000 people altogether – and even so there were seven (a perfect number) baskets left over. A sign of God’s abundance shared with his people.

Again, as before, “He sent them away and, immediately, getting into the boat with his disciples, went to the region of Dalmanutha”, back to Jewish territory. Jesus was leaving no room for any misinterpretations of what he had done. The disciples too are quickly removed from the scene. There was to be no self-congratulation or glorying in their connections with Jesus the wonder worker. Through the miracle the teaching had been given and that was it.

Lord, teach me to serve you as you deserve;
to give and not to count the cost;
to fight and not to heed the wounds;
to labor and seek no reward
save that of knowing that I do your holy will.


Sarah in the tent said...

'Ask something of me, and I will give it to you.'

These words of God to Solomon are very similar to Herod's words to Herodias' daughter in yesterday's reading: “Ask of me whatever you wish and I will grant it to you.”
Herod had become an idol.

Fr. John L. Sullivan said...

Very good insight, Sarah! King Herod's words echo the words of God to Solomon. Human persons in positions of authority and power: ruler, judge, counsellor, are tempted to believe that they have authority equal to (or at least similar to) the authority of the Creator. And this is true -- but only if they strive to conform their own will (and their own decisions) to the will of God. Otherwise, as you suggest, they become "idols" -- mere humans who think they are divine.