Year B, Pentecost 12
1 King 2:10-12, 3:3-14
A couple years ago I came across a journal entry from college. It said, “I have figured out the Trinity.” The Trinity….one of the greatest mysteries of the Christian faith. Brilliant theologians and scholars have been debating this doctrine for millennia and I had it figured out before I graduated college. Apparently I had just read a book that explained it clearly and I thought, “Well there it is. I am glad I have that behind me.” I think about that journal entry whenever I am teaching or preaching about the Trinity. I wish I had the same assurance now as I did then. Yet it would seem, like so much in life, the more I think about it, the trickier it gets.
I imagine that most of us can think back on things that we were pretty sure about at one point in our lives; but our opinions shifted over time. That’s what growth is, the ability to learn new things and even adjust our perspective. Our perspectives evolve in a variety of ways, but part of the way they evolve is through our interactions with other people. We learn from one another.
King Solomon is often described as wise. This wisdom is often attributed to a dream that he had when he was about 12 or 14 and a newly appointed king. His father (King David) had just died and he was the heir. One night he had a dream and in that dream God appeared to him. In the dream God said, “Ask what I should give you.” Think about that for a moment. If God came to you and told you to ask for something, what would you ask for? My guess is that we all have some ideas that spring to mind pretty quickly. We might ask for the perfect job, for health for ourselves or our family, financial stability, or if we are more ambitious, perhaps an end to world hunger.
Solomon could have asked for anything. He started by telling God of the steadfast love that God had shown to his father David. He then prefaced his question by saying, “You know I am pretty young and I am not sure what I am doing.” Because of that, he asked for, “an understanding mind to govern your people, able to discern between good and evil; for who can govern your great people.” Obviously, God was pleased with this request. It proved that young Solomon was already wise beyond his years because he knew what his limitations were. In addition to that he knew how important God’s people were and that his responsibility was to take care of them. This also indicated that Solomon was humble and willing to learn.
God was so pleased by what he asked for that he decided to give the king not only what he asked for, but what he did not ask for. He would give him a wise and discerning mind as well as riches and honor. God ended by saying, “If you will walk in my ways, keeping my statutes and my commandments, then I will lengthen your life.” All Solomon had to do was follow a few rules and commandments and walk in the ways of God. This should not have been a problem because he had been given a discerning mind so that he would always know the difference between good and evil. That was God’s dream for this new king, that he would be a great king, a wise king, and a merciful king.
But here’s the thing about most dreams. They only last until we wake up. Then reality sets in and God seems further than he was that night. There are temptations, especially for Solomon. Do you know that he had 700 wives and 300 concubines? He had power. He had money. He had a divine mandate. While he continued to display wisdom, he lacked humility. He forgot about the dream, or more likely the dream was manipulated by his own desires. In the dream he asked for an understanding mind. Another translation of an understanding mind is a listening heart. A person with a listening heart is someone who will be attentive to the needs of those around them, a person willing to acknowledge that maybe they are not the smartest person in the room. And even if they are the smartest person, that does not make them right.
In the dream, Solomon asked for this gift and received it. But his heart did not remain open and his mind stopped understanding. He became selfish. God’s dream was replaced by his dream. He didn’t listen to the people. He used them as slave labor. He is known for building a magnificent temple, but it was built on the backs of abused people. King Solomon treated people the same way that the Pharaoh had treated the enslaved Hebrew people. The story of Exodus tells us that Pharaoh had a hard heart. While Solomon surely knew these stories, he did not learn from them. His heart became hardened. The people were also taxed unfairly. The burden was almost unbearable. They began to resent him. Soon after he died, there was a rebellion and the kingdom was split in half.
I am not saying that Solomon was an evil king. He wasn’t. Much like his father he had both good qualities and bad ones. This is true for us all. Both King David and Solomon were given a huge responsibility by God. God chose them to care for his people. Their major sins were committed when they forgot about the needs of the people…when their success demanded that other people suffer. God has a dream for each one of us. First, we need enough wisdom to allow ourselves to dream. Then after we have discovered God’s dream for us, we cannot let it go. We have to hold on tight in our waking hours as well as our dreaming ones. We also must be vigilant and make sure that God’s dream for us is not manipulated by our own desires. We have to remember that God has a dream for all of us.
If the only way to achieve our dream is to lay waste the dream of another, then we will know that we have let pride and desire cloud God’s dream. When that happens we have to become like a child—like young Solomon, allow our heart to be tender again, tender enough to experience God, tender enough to dream and believe that the dream can become our reality.