The Family Business
There once was a man. He was a powerful man. Blessed with riches and resources beyond what most people know. He was in charge of a large territory and he defended that territory. Over time he made enemies of other powerful individuals. At times they would go to war with one another to settle disputes or to vie for territory.
As the man grew older he began to make truces with his opponents. Uneasy cease fires were established. The peace lasted for a long time, the man was powerful and his opponents feared him. However, the man knew that eventually his time on Earth would come to an end. So he confided in his son as to who his enemies were and gave him a list of scores to settle.
The old man’s time eventually came. His son assumed control of the territory and within days of his father’s funeral the son eliminated all of his father’s old opponents ensuring that no one would contest his reign.
The son in this story is not Matthew Corleone of Francis Ford Coppolla’s movie The Godfather. Rather it is the story of Solomon’s first days in power after his father David’s death.
The Lectionary which we read this morning does a very nice job of dancing over the nasty bits in this story. Our reading from the Old Testament this morning deals with the death of David, accounting for the time that he ruled. The text then skips ahead to Solomon demonstrating his love for the Lord. The bulk of the text is devoted to demonstrating Solomon’s penchant for wisdom. What is missing in the omitted versus is one of the bloodiest sections of the Old Testament where death is reigned down upon the enemies of David by his son Solomon.
These first chapters in the 1 Kings are all about Solomon settling the family business. It’s nasty stuff, it is the Old Testament at its most brutal. Perhaps only Joseph being sold into slavery by his brothers is as nasty.
So we can focus on the peaceful death of David and of Solomon asking for wisdom, we can carve out the nasty business and focus on the good attributes. But these good attributes are embedded in some real violence, sin and mayhem. As much as we might like to ignore it, we can’t because it’s there. Of course that doesn’t make it easy to swallow.
Now I likely could have focused on just the good stuff, hoping that if someone was reading along they would skip over the bad parts and not ask questions about them. However, I believe there is some value in looking at the dark side of David and Solomon’s rule. That by examining the political intrigue and the violence that is contained in these passages we can take something away. There is the very poignant reminder that even though these two men were chosen and anointed by God, that they were human. David and Solomon were amongst the best that humanity had, Solomon may have been the wisest king to ever live and yet we realize that these two men were so deeply flawed that salvation could never emerge from them.
I mean Solomon’s suitably, even his wisdom could be argued in one of the first sentences we have about him. We read that ‘Solomon showed his love for the Lord by walking according to the instructions given him by his father David, except that he offered sacrifices and burned incense on the high places.’ The words ‘high places’ here is reference to worshiping pagan gods. Maybe Solomon was wise, but just lacking in some common sense at times.
When God asked Solomon for whatever he wanted, Solomon replied that he wanted a discerning heart to govern people and to distinguish between right and wrong. A wise request that provided greater wisdom and insight for Solomon. Because he did not ask for riches, God bestowed them on him anyway. Solomon was known as a wise king. To the point that he would often provide words of great wisdom. I imagine it got to the point where whenever anyone heard something profound they simply attributed its origins to Solomon.
But for all his wisdom Solomon was flawed, he was still human. He often strayed from his devotion to God. As much as he kept God’s commandments, he also offered sacrifices to pagan gods.
David and Solomon represent the height of prosperity for the Israelite people. After their reign the kingdom would split and good and godly kings would become a rarity. Eventually, both the northern and southern kingdom would be conquered and the people sent into exile.
If we consider the whole of the Old Testament reading, not just the parts we read but also the section which was omitted it might be hard to find the gospel. It might be difficult to find the Good News amongst all the violence and blood.
However, what is abundantly clear is the need for the Good News, for something better than what the best humanity has to offer.
What Solomon’s story does for us, amidst the violence, the treachery, the politics; through all of it, what we are able to see is that God works with and through his people. In spite of all of Solomon’s mistakes, despite all of his transgressions, despite all the mistakes the Israelites make, the call for loyalty to God, the need for God’s divine wisdom does not end. The text emphasises that David taught Solomon to walk in the ways of the Lord. This desire, this need to walk in the way of the Lord, to walk with God never ends.
We are able to see the grace of God in the story of David and Solomon. Through all of David and Solomon’s failings, God remains faithful to them.
Friends, I think that is a powerful reminder to us. That despite our failings, our shortcomings, our bickering and disputes that God remains faithful to us. David and Solomon demonstrate both the worst and the best in human behaviour.
It’s a reminder that even when we really step over the lines and do something we realize that we shouldn’t that God is still with us. That no sin is to great that it can’t be forgiven through and in the love of Jesus Christ.
Friends, I personally find this story about David and Solomon refreshing. We do not have a fairy tale story here where all ends well. It deals with real people in the real world. Scripture does not gloss over the failures of David or Solomon and make them out to be individuals they were not. I like that kind of honesty, I find it compelling. Because God was able to use broken and flawed people like David and Solomon. This is not to say that we are set to fail, or that we should revel in our defeats, nor should we make excuses or try to turn our failures into successes.
What we should take from this is that failure does not have to destroy us, nor does it stop God’s work in the world. If God can work through an adulterer like David and an idolater like Solomon then perhaps, just maybe God can use each and every one of us.
And friends God is faithful. God brought to earth, not a king like Solomon who on occasion would have something deeply profound to say. But wisdom incarnate, the living, breathing word of God. The Bread of Life.
In our Gospel reading from John, Jesus tells us “I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats this bread will live forever.”
This is the King that God would have us follow, his Son Jesus Christ. One who embodies wisdom, peace, charity, hospitality and love. Jesus provides us with our example.
While David and Solomon assure us that ordinary people are fit for God’s work. Christ provides the example of what we should aspire to. Christ provides the assurance that even though we stumble we are forgiven, that we should not loose heart but continue in our work.
So remember, the next time your life seems to take a chapter from a movie, hopefully not the Godfather or an episode of your favourite sitcom, remember that God is working through you and in you. Carry that with you and trust in a God who performs the miraculous with ordinary people like you and me. Amen.