bible blog 523


This blog provides a meditation on the Episcopal daily readings along with a headline from world news

1 Kings 3:1-15

3Solomon made a marriage alliance with Pharaoh king of Egypt; he took Pharaoh’s daughter and brought her into the city of David, until he had finished building his own house and the house of the Lord and the wall around Jerusalem. 2The people were sacrificing at the high places, however, because no house had yet been built for the name of the Lord.

3 Solomon loved the Lord, walking in the statutes of his father David; only, he sacrificed and offered incense at the high places. 4The king went to Gibeon to sacrifice there, for that was the principal high place; Solomon used to offer a thousand burnt-offerings on that altar. 5At Gibeon the Lord appeared to Solomon in a dream by night; and God said, ‘Ask what I should give you.’ 6And Solomon said, ‘You have shown great and steadfast love to your servant my father David, because he walked before you in faithfulness, in righteousness, and in uprightness of heart towards you; and you have kept for him this great and steadfast love, and have given him a son to sit on his throne today. 7And now, O Lord my God, you have made your servant king in place of my father David, although I am only a little child; I do not know how to go out or come in. 8And your servant is in the midst of the people whom you have chosen, a great people, so numerous they cannot be numbered or counted. 9Give 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?’

10 It pleased the Lord that Solomon had asked this. 11God said to him, ‘Because you have asked this, and have not asked for yourself long life or riches, or for the life of your enemies, but have asked for yourself understanding to discern what is right, 12I now do according to your word. Indeed I give you a wise and discerning mind; no one like you has been before you and no one like you shall arise after you. 13I give you also what you have not asked, both riches and honour all your life; no other king shall compare with you. 14If you will walk in my ways, keeping my statutes and my commandments, as your father David walked, then I will lengthen your life.’

15 Then Solomon awoke; it had been a dream. He came to Jerusalem, where he stood before the ark of the covenant of the Lord. He offered up burnt-offerings and offerings of well-being, and provided a feast for all his servants.

The biblical witness about Solomon is contradictory: either he’s the wisest king who ever lived or he’s a self-regarding clown who goes after foreign Gods. There’s no coherent narrative which reconciles these opposites. Probaly there was so little evidence about Solomon that the story tellers could more or less do what they liked. The wisdom tradition in the writings of Israel took Solomon as its exemplar attributing to him the Song of Songs and the books of Proverbs and Ecclesiastes. The legalistic tradition saw in him the weaknesses which eventually destroyed Israel and Judah. In this extract, we get the story of Solomon’s choice of wisdom, that is, practical wisdom, to govern the people well. In the folk-tale mode of the story he gets the best of all worlds: wisdom and wealth. Its important to note that in the Old testament tradition, wealth and wisdom can co-exist, the one increasing the splendour of the other. This continues in Judaism into modern times. Some of the Hasidic masters of the eighteenth century were fabulously wealthy and kept great houses. In the New Testament revelation on the other hand, the disciple has to make a choice between earthly treasure, which can be stolen or destroyed, and heavenly treasure, which lasts for ever. “Solid joys and lasting treasure/ none but Zion’s children know.”  To Christian believers the ideal of the splendidly wealthy, wise man seems remote and improbable, because overall Christian faith takes a more sceptical view of all worldly splendour than either Judaism or Islam. 

Mark 14:1-11

14It was two days before the Passover and the festival of Unleavened Bread. The chief priests and the scribes were looking for a way to arrest Jesus by stealth and kill him; 2for they said, ‘Not during the festival, or there may be a riot among the people.’

3 While he was at Bethany in the house of Simon the leper, as he sat at the table, a woman came with an alabaster jar of very costly ointment of nard, and she broke open the jar and poured the ointment on his head. 4But some were there who said to one another in anger, ‘Why was the ointment wasted in this way? 5For this ointment could have been sold for more than three hundred denarii, and the money given to the poor.’ And they scolded her. 6But Jesus said, ‘Let her alone; why do you trouble her? She has performed a good service for me. 7For you always have the poor with you, and you can show kindness to them whenever you wish; but you will not always have me. 8She has done what she could; she has anointed my body beforehand for its burial. 9Truly I tell you, wherever the good news is proclaimed in the whole world, what she has done will be told in remembrance of her.’

10 Then Judas Iscariot, who was one of the twelve, went to the chief priests in order to betray him to them. 11When they heard it, they were greatly pleased, and promised to give him money. So he began to look for an opportunity to betray him.

The anointing of Jesus is of course the recognition that he is God’s anointed, the Messiah. But the circumstances of this anointing tell of the gulf between traditional expectation and the reality of Jesus. It takes place not in the temple or palace but in a leper’s house-a cured leper we guess, as otherwise there could be no gathering. Nor is he anointed by the high priest or by a prophet but by a woman, who breaks all the rules of deportment in making this gesture. The pouring out of rich ointment is also a symbol of the breaking open of the riches of her soul. Jesus accepts the gesture, not as signifying his royal status, but as preparing his body for burial, a gesture of love towards himself. All of these factors elevate the woman’s act into the most complete response to Jesus’ ministry recounted in Mark’s gospel. That’s why he dignifies it with language which echoes the words of the Holy Supper, “in remembrance of her.” Worldly wealth and human life become rich in being poured out for Jesus whose divine riches are broken open and poured out on the cross.

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