Narrative Lectionary Reflection for October 26, 2014
Give your servant therefore an understanding mind to govern your people, able to discern between good and evil; for who can govern this your great people?” 1 Kings 3:9
As a youngster, I found the story of Solomon and the dispute between the two prostitutes both horrifying and mesmerizing. How could two women argue over an infant? How could the great king be so seemingly cavalier about this infant’s life? What would I have done had I been one of the mothers? The monarch? Now that I’m in mid-life, the story still holds my attention, but my questions, responses, and ponderings are not the same. I would like to think that I’m a little bit wiser, albeit not a real “wise guy” like Solomon.
At this point in my life I see the justice issues more clearly. I notice that the women, marginalized at best, have no names. As a mother, I feel the pain and anguish of their dilemma and loss. With knowledge of the way power does and does not work in the world, I find my impression of King Solomon much more nuanced and complex; he is no cardboard stock character like King Vitaman from the land of sugary cereals or Burger King of the fast food realm. Did he give pause to what might happen in response to this infant’s life hanging in the balance? Oh, and just what sort of future did this child have? What about the rest of the story?
In this lesson we learn that God asks Solomon what he wants. And the king asks for wisdom, for knowledge and discernment to be fit to rule. It appears that he is already a pretty wise guy to ask for something like wisdom. Because he answers wisely, he gets all the prizes including great wealth. Not too bad, eh? Solomon’s dream sounds like a good one.
How do we interpret this story today? First and foremost, we are reminded of God’s interaction and that God is God and we are not. It is God who chooses, equips, and is with us as we serve and lead. God also asks us to respond to the same sort of question asked of Solomon. What do we want? What will we desire for the Creator of the Universe to give to us? What shall our answer be? I wonder.
Secondly, we can rest assured that God works through a variety of people, all of whom are flawed and imperfect. Even the real wise guys don’t do everything perfectly. Yet still God raises the right people at the right time to do what is right in God’s sight. There is great hope and possibility in this knowledge and much that we can learn from Solomon’s example.
Finally, there is always a need for discernment and justice. The story of the two women reminds us that things aren’t always as they seem. Leadership demands careful listening and practiced discernment. Leadership must be bold, and leaders must walk confidently in their God-given authority. God provides the tools for leadership and the wisdom to lead if we will but follow God faithfully.
If God suddenly appeared in your dream asking, “Ask what I should give you,” how would you respond. Notice this sentence is not phrased as an interrogative but rather an imperative. God demands to know. God is insistent that we search our own hearts and ask. God is there ready to hear, ready to respond, and ready to equip. Encourage worshipers to look around at the congregation, at the community, and at their own gifts, talents, and abilities. God is asking. How shall we respond. Remind the congregation that choosing not to answer is a response, as well; however, is it the response that we want to give?
Consider how deciding for justice can be a risky and dangerous thing. The king was in a position of supreme power. The two women of “ill repute” were marginalized. Yet they still were granted an audience with the king. Their complaint and lament were heard. In light of events in our own world, how is choosing to pursue justice risky? How is taking a stand difficult? The king had power. What kind of power do we have? Do we exercise it well? Who is marginalized? How can we listen to them and discern and really hear them? A conversation like this one will probably raise more questions that can be answered, but that can be a very good thing.
God is Still Speaking! I truly appreciate the United Church of Christ’s slogan “God is still speaking.” And, I believe it to be true. Consider exploring with the children how God speaks to them. You will need props such as a letter, a cell phone, an iPad, and perhaps (if you can arrange it) a booming voice over the sound system. Ask the children how God speaks to them. Entertain all answers. Use your props for questions: “Does God speak to you by phone?” “Does God send you a letter in the mail?” “Does God contact you via Facebook or Instagram or send you an email?” “Do you hear God’s voice booming from on high?” (Have someone with a deep voice say “HELLO! This is God calling.” over the sound system.
Then invite the children to consider how God speaks through scripture, through proclamation (i.e. sermon), through the Sacrament, through other Christians, and even through dreams and visions. Remind children that the important thing is that God IS still speaking to us today just as God did to Solomon. Finish with a simple prayer asking for guidance and wisdom.
(Photos: Andy Rennie, Senix Magister, and photosteve101, Creative Commons. Thanks!)