A Reading from the First Book of Kings (2:10-12, 3:3-14)
David slept with his ancestors, and was buried in the city of David. The time that David reigned over Israel was forty years; he reigned seven years in Hebron, and thirty-three years in Jerusalem. So Solomon sat on the throne of his father David; and his kingdom was firmly established. Solomon loved the Lord, walking in the statutes of his father David; only, he sacrificed and offered incense at the high places. The 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. At Gibeon the Lord appeared to Solomon in a dream by night; and God said, “Ask what I should give you.” And 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 toward you; and you have kept for him this great and steadfast love, and have given him a son to sit on his throne today. And 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. And your servant is in the midst of the people whom you have chosen, a great people, so numerous they cannot be numbered or counted. 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?” It pleased the Lord that Solomon had asked this. God 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, I 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. I give you also what you have not asked, both riches and honor all your life; no other king shall compare with you. If you will walk in my ways, keeping my statutes and my commandments, as your father David walked, then I will lengthen your life.”
I will give thanks to the Lord with my whole heart, *
in the assembly of the upright, in the congregation.
2 Great are the deeds of the Lord! *
they are studied by all who delight in them.
3 His work is full of majesty and splendor, *
and his righteousness endures for ever.
4 He makes his marvelous works to be remembered; *
the Lord is gracious and full of compassion.
5 He gives food to those who fear him; *
he is ever mindful of his covenant.
6 He has shown his people the power of his works *
in giving them the lands of the nations.
7 The works of his hands are faithfulness and justice; *
all his commandments are sure.
8 They stand fast for ever and ever, *
because they are done in truth and equity.
9 He sent redemption to his people;
he commanded his covenant for ever; *
holy and awesome is his Name.
10 The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom; *
those who act accordingly have a good understanding;
his praise endures for ever.
A Reading from the Letter of Paul to the Ephesians (5:15-20)
Be careful then how you live, not as unwise people but as wise, making the most of the time, because the days are evil. So do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is. Do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery; but be filled with the Spirit, as you sing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs among yourselves, singing and making melody to the Lord in your hearts, giving thanks to God the Father at all times and for everything in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.
The Holy Gospel of Our Lord Jesus Christ according to John (6:51-58)
Jesus said, “I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats of this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.” The Jews then disputed among themselves, saying, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?” So Jesus said to them, “Very truly, I tell you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood have eternal life, and I will raise them up on the last day; for my flesh is true food and my blood is true drink. Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me, and I in them. Just as the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever eats me will live because of me. This is the bread that came down from heaven, not like that which your ancestors ate, and they died. But the one who eats this bread will live forever.”
by the Rev. Michael Kreutzer
Solomon prayed, “Give your servant… an understanding mind to govern your people, able to discern between good and evil.” And God replied, “Indeed I give you a wise and discerning mind; no one like you has been before you and no one like you shall rise after you.”
The wisdom of Solomon is legendary. People throughout the ages, up to and including our own, have reacted to seemingly intractable problems by throwing up their hands and declaring that “it would take the wisdom of Solomon to solve this one.” But if you asked them what it was that Solomon did that was so wise, most of them would have no idea. A few might recall the story about the two women, each claiming that a certain baby was theirs; but most people would have no answer at all. They just know that, for whatever reason, Solomon is renowned for his wisdom. People just don’t know why.
I have a suggestion. To me, Solomon shows his greatest wisdom in the story told in today’s first reading. God appears to him in a dream and offers to give him whatever he asks for. He could have, as the story suggests, asked for riches and honor, for victory over his enemies and for a long life for himself. He could also have convinced himself that he knew exactly what he and the country needed and could have asserted boldly that that is what he wanted God to give him.
But Solomon was much wiser than that. Solomon knew his limitations. He recognized all that he did not know, and he was willing to admit it. Instead of trying to pretend that he had all the answers, he asked God for wisdom that he might know what he needed to do in order to fulfill the new responsibilities that he had inherited. Basically, he knew that he did not know. Now there is the mark of a wise person!
All kinds of grief and suffering have been brought on people by those who have managed to convince themselves that they had the only valid and correct answers to some of the important questions in life. In the mid-19th century, American humorist Charles Ferrar Browne, who wrote under the pseudonym “Artemus Ward,” commented: “What causes so much trouble is not what people don’t know, but what they think they know that just ain’t so.”
It’s not hard to find people like that: people who think they know, who think they have all the answers. Just look back on the financial leaders at Bear Stearns and Salomon Brothers who knew beyond a doubt that those derivatives were a great investment for their companies. Or just look at the one-man rulers in Tunisia and Egypt and Libya who knew for a fact that their citizens couldn’t possibly overthrow them. Or just look at a commentator who wrote in a Dayton newspaper in 1903 that “Men will never be able to fly; and if they ever do, it won’t be anybody from Dayton.” Each of them seemed absolutely certain; and each of them was absolutely wrong.
One of the things that brought me to the Episcopal Church 30 years ago this summer was the fact that, as opinionated as some of our members might be at times, the Episcopal Church as a whole does not pretend that it has all the answers. Some other denominations, whose names I will not mention, claim to have the final and unquestionable answers about God, about Jesus, about the church, and about the way that each and every person must live his or her life.
We are more humble and, I suggest, much more realistic. While we take our faith very seriously, basing our beliefs and practices on scripture, tradition and reason, we acknowledge the fact that we are fallible and that there is much that we don’t understand. And we are willing to live together in that humility, trying to respect the opinions of others within our community who have perspectives that differ from ours.
In a recent issue of Time magazine, Pulitzer-Prize-winning author Jon Meacham wrote about this summer’s General Convention of the Episcopal Church. He titled his article, “Of God and Gays and Humility.” In that piece, he held up as a positive example for the rest of our society the way that the General Convention decided not to make any absolute declaration for the entire church on the ordination of those living in committed same-sex relationships. Instead, the Convention allowed for each bishop and diocese to reflect prayerfully on the questions and to decide the issue for their context, respecting those who faithfully disagreed with them. Jon Meacham compared that approach to what he described as the genius of the British Constitution and its nation’s determination to find a way simply to “muddle through.”
We don’t have to have one, simple, absolute answer to every question. We just need to find ways that we can muddle through together: respecting those who differ from us, and working together to transform the world for the coming of the reign of God.
Our tradition takes that same sort of approach when it comes to our understanding of the Eucharist, about which Jesus speaks in this morning’s gospel reading. While we assert that the Eucharist is in fact “the Body and Blood of Christ given to his people, and received by faith,” (The Book of Common Prayer, page 859), we do not attempt to try to explain exactly how that happens. Instead we echo the attitude of 17th century priest and poet John Donne who affirmed:
“He was the Word that spake it,
He took the bread and brake it,
And what that Word did make it,
I do believe and take it.”
That sense of mystery, that acknowledgement that we do not completely know or understand, is integral to a life of faith in God. For a God whom I am capable of understanding and explaining is, it seems to me, no real God at all. Instead, we struggle together, we question together, we explore together that God whose peace is always beyond our understanding. And it is in that humility, in that acknowledgement of our limitations, that we ourselves exhibit at least a bit of the wisdom of Solomon.