King Solomon whose reign is normally dated from around 970/960 BCE to 930/920 BCE is best known for being extremely wise, extraordinarily wealthy and as a supremely powerful monarch. He is also described as a great lover, with the legendary harem of 700 wives and 300 concubines. He was probably also very busy 😉
He is listed as the tenth of seventeen sons of King David in 2 Samuel 3, born to Bathsheba as her second son; or in 1 Chronicles 3 he is listed as the tenth son of nineteen sons, being born to Bathshua as her fourth son. He was said to reign for forty years – like his father David – or the equivalent of a single generation. He is still young when he becomes King and has not yet reached adulthood, after a bitter dispute with his other brothers; David is still alive during the first few years of his reign, but he grows increasingly fragile and perhaps even senile. It is in the fourth year of his new reign that Solomon lays the foundation stone of the temple – which his father David had wanted to build but the Lord had not allowed this. When the temple begins, 480 years have passed since the Exodus from slavery in Egypt. The temple construction takes seven years, and the building of the rest of the citadel and palace takes another thirteen years so that the project is completed 500 years after the Exodus. Most of these dates should be understood as symbolic which is the reason that the dating of Solomon is so difficult.
When we meet him today in 1 Kings 3, he is still in his youth. The burden of becoming King is weighing heavily upon him. He is deeply aware of his own sin – and as the fruit of the adulterous union between David and Bathsheba, he is also aware of the consequences of sin in his beloved father. So when the Lord appears to him in a dream while he is at the northern shrine of Gibeon and offers him whatever he would ask, Solomon to his credit first acknowledges his frailty and need – yet still requests a heart wise and shrewd.
Solomon probably wrote some of the Proverbs (just as his father David had composed a good number of the Psalms) but the remainder of both books would only achieve final form many centuries later. Other books are ascribed to him – Ecclesiastes, Song of Solomon (or Canticle, or Songs) and Wisdom of Solomon – but these were all written likewise centuries later. His wisdom comprises three kinds – administrative, encyclopedic and aphorisms and riddles. Although his prayer for wisdom is answered, in his maturity he fails to live from within the blessing of this promise and allows his heart to be led astray, especially because of the influence of so many of his foreign wives and the worship of their gods.
Today we bring to a close the thirteenth chapter of Matthew’s gospel which is jam-packed with parables and their explanations with these three short parables drawn from ordinary life. The chapter lies at the very centre of this Gospel, and it seems that we are being invited to be the scribes who draw out of our storeroom things both new and old. The new things are this brand new and magnificent vision that the kingdom of heaven is bringing; the old things are the wisdom of the centuries and the witness of the people of Israel and her stories and hopes. The way of the Gospel is about planting the new deep down within the old and allowing the ancient wisdom to come to fresh and exciting expressions in the new.
The shape of this gospel is meant to remind the careful reader of the first five books of the Bible – the Torah, or the Books of Moses; but the content of this gospel is new and explosive. There is a decision that has to be made urgently. It was fashionable then as it remains fashionable now to imagine that there were many pearls or many treasures that you could collect in the various religions that are on offer; no, says Jesus – there is only one pearl and one treasure which is the Gospel of the kingdom of God which Jesus was declaring and living out.
Besides all this Jesus declares that the world is not just going around in circles – but it has a clear direction and is heading in a straight line towards its goal in the final judgement. It continues to move towards that glorious day when God will remake the whole world in truth and justice.
These parables continue to challenge us to both understand them and to place them into action as the wise scribes that we are urged to be. We are called in our thinking, speaking and living to be firmly rooted in the old and also the bearers of the fresh new work that God is doing. Today we are invited to carefully reflect upon our lives to make sure that the fruit of our lives is both old and new.
Recorded at St Mary’s, Leppington 8am (10’09”)
Sunday 17, Year A
Most Australians awoke on Friday morning to the devastating news of the destruction of Malaysian Flight MH17 after being shot down by rebel forces in the Ukraine with the loss of 298 lives, including 37 Australian residents and citizens and some medical professionals who were heading to Australia to attend an AIDS conference in Melbourne. In the midst of the incomprehensible grief and numb confusion was a basic question – how can God allow this kind of senseless violence to continue. In the meantime, the atrocities committed in the continuing military action by Israel in the Gaza Palestinian territory had led to the deaths of more than 270 civilians. Where was God?
Once the question is asked an immediate reply is called for – where would the limit of this divine action be? How evil does the act have to be before God would sweep in to issue his divine judgement and punishment? Should every evil thought or intention within my heart be immediately judged and punished? The three parables by Jesus that we have in Matthew 13 today all begin to address this question: God is acting, but the overall call in the midst of history is for the need for patience. God has already acted in a complete and massive way in the death and resurrection of Jesus, but the outworking of this victory will only be complete at the final judgement.
Recorded at St Paul’s, 10am (6’55”)
Sunday 16, Year A Gospel: Matthew 13:24-43
Jesus put another parable before the crowds, ‘The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a man who sowed good seed in his field. While everybody was asleep his enemy came, sowed darnel all among the wheat, and made off. When the new wheat sprouted and ripened, the darnel appeared as well. The owner’s servants went to him and said, “Sir, was it not good seed that you sowed in your field? If so, where does the darnel come from?” “Some enemy has done this” he answered. And the servants said, “Do you want us to go and weed it out?” But he said, “No, because when you weed out the darnel you might pull up the wheat with it. Let them both grow till the harvest; and at harvest time I shall say to the reapers: First collect the darnel and tie it in bundles to be burnt, then gather the wheat into my barn.”’
He put another parable before them, ‘The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed which a man took and sowed in his field. It is the smallest of all the seeds, but when it has grown it is the biggest shrub of all and becomes a tree so that the birds of the air come and shelter in its branches.’
He told them another parable, ‘The kingdom of heaven is like the yeast a woman took and mixed in with three measures of flour till it was leavened all through.’
In all this Jesus spoke to the crowds in parables; indeed, he would never speak to them except in parables. This was to fulfil the prophecy:
I will speak to you in parables
and expound things hidden since the foundation of the world.
Then, leaving the crowds, he went to the house; and his disciples came to him and said, ‘Explain the parable about the darnel in the field to us.’ He said in reply, ‘The sower of the good seed is the Son of Man. The field is the world; the good seed is the subjects of the kingdom; the darnel, the subjects of the evil one; the enemy who sowed them, the devil; the harvest is the end of the world; the reapers are the angels. Well then, just as the darnel is gathered up and burnt in the fire, so it will be at the end of time. The Son of Man will send his angels and they will gather out of his kingdom all things that provoke offences and all who do evil, and throw them into the blazing furnace, where there will be weeping and grinding of teeth. Then the virtuous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father. Listen, anyone who has ears!’
Isaiah chapter 55 begins in a very awesome and utopian way – “Come all who are thirsty, come to the water; and you that have no money – come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price.” This is certainly a beautiful vision and description of the abundance of God’s invitation to his people. If anyone continues to cling to an old vision of a stingy and mean God, this scripture should be enough to dispel those images. Our verses for today, from Isaiah 55: 10-11 should be read in the light of the opening paragraphs of this chapter – there is always this abundance in God’s grace. His word is always creative and always effective – just as the rain and the snow always bring new life and allow growth to occur. Jesus provides a similar emphasis in the Gospel today – one of the longer of the around forty parables that Jesus tells with the most detailed explanation which unlike the parable which is told to the crowd, the explanation is only directed towards the disciples. Again the sower of the seed is abundant and generous.
Recorded at St Paul’s, 5.30pm (6’10”)
Sunday 15, Year A. Isaiah 55:10-11; Matthew 13:1-43
Even though across its long history Israel had very little to make it stand out – one thing that is notable is the honesty with which it tells its story. So although it could never claim to be the largest, wealthiest, most powerful or most influential nation, perhaps it can lay claim to being the one nation that told its own story with a brutal truth. The prophecy that forms our first reading today, taken from Zechariah 9 is a great example. Zechariah writes around 520BC – around 20 years after the people have returned from their fifty plus year Exile in Babylon. Although they are now back in their own land, they have very little to show for it. The Persians have allowed them to return and provided some funding to rebuild both the city and the temple, but all that they have to show at the moment are the foundations for a new temple and a partly rebuilt wall. The city is not yet rebuilt and the surrounding countryside is still suffering from the destruction that the Babylonians had unleashed upon the small forces of Israel’s army. So I imagine that the people would have listened with great delight when Zechariah began the prophecy – the call to ‘Rejoice heart and soul, daughter of Zion! Shout with gladness, daughter of Jerusalem!’ The next line must also have been heard with great delight: “See now, your king comes to you; [and then it gets even better – after all their defeats] – he is victorious, he is triumphant!’ But then the prophecy begins to turn very strange indeed, and very characteristic of Hebrew prophecy: He is “humble and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.” Surely the people would have expected that a victorious and triumphant king would come on a great stallion warhorse – but no, this long-expected king is going to overthrow the way of war and triumph by a new system of peace…
Recorded at St Paul’s, 10am (7’57”)
Sunday 14, Year A. Zech 9:9-10; Mt 11:25-30
(Patronal Feast of the Immaculate Heart of Mary)