Week of 5 Epiphany: Wednesday, Year 2   8 comments

Above:  King Solomon Meets the Queen of Sheba

Image Source = Richardfabi

Regarding the Common

FEBRUARY 7, 2018

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Holy Women, Holy Men:  Celebrating the Saints (2010), of The Episcopal Church, contains an adapted two-years weekday lectionary for the Epiphany and Ordinary Time seasons from the Anglican Church of Canada.  I invite you to follow it with me.

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1 Kings 10:1-10, 13 (TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures):

The queen of Sheba heard of Solomon’s fame, through the name of the LORD, and she came to test him with hard questions.  She arrived in Jerusalem with a very large retinue, with camels bearing spices, a great quantity of gold, and precious stones.  When she came to Solomon, she asked him all she had in mind.  Solomon had answers for all her questions; there was nothing that the king did not know, [nothing] to which he could not give her an answer.  When the queen of Sheba observed all of Solomon’s wisdom, and the palace he had built, the fare of his table, the seating of his courtiers, the service and attire of his attendants, and his wine service, and the burnt offerings that he offered at the House of the LORD, she was left breathless.

She said to the king,

The report  heard in my own land about you and your wisdom was true.  But I did not believe the reports until I came and saw with my own eyes that even the half had been told me; your wisdom and wealth surpass the reports that I heard.  How fortunate are your men and how fortunate are these your courtiers, who are always  in attendance on you and can hear your wisdom!  Praised be the LORD your God, who delighted in you and set you on the throne of Israel.  It is because of the LORD’s everlasting love for Israel that He made you king to administer justice and righteousness.

She presented the king with one hundred and twenty talents of gold, and a large quantity of spices, and precious stones.   Never again did such a vast quantity of spices arrive as that which the queen of Sheba gave to King Solomon….King Solomon, in turn, gave the queen of Sheba everything she wanted and asked for, in addition to what King Solomon gave her out of his royal bounty.  Then she and her attendants left and returned to her own land.

Psalm 37:1-7, 32-33, 41-42 (1979 Book of Common Prayer):

Do not fret yourself because of evildoers;

do not be jealous of those who do no wrong.

2 For they shall soon whither like the grass,

and like the green grass they fade away.

3 Put your trust in the LORD and do good,

dwell in the land and feed on its riches.

Take delight in the LORD,

and he shall give you your heart’s desire.

Commit your way to the LORD and put your trust in him,

and he will bring it to pass.

He will make your righteousness as clear as the light

and your just dealing as the noonday.

Be still and wait for the LORD

and wait patiently for him.

32  The mouth of the righteous utters wisdom,

and their tongue speaks what is right.

33  The law of their God is in their heart,

and their footsteps shall not falter.

41 But the deliverance of the righteous comes from the LORD;

he is their stronghold in time of trouble.

42 The LORD will help them and rescue them;

he will rescue them from the wicked and deliver them,

because they seek refuge in him.

Mark 7:14-23 (J. B. Phillips, 1972):

Then he called the crowd close to him again, and spoke to them,

Listen to me now, all of you, and understand this.  There is nothing outside a man which can enter into him and make him “common”.  It is the things which come out of a man that make him “common”!

Later, when he had gone indoors away from the crowd, his disciples asked him about this parable.

“Oh, are you as dull as they are?”

he said.

Can’t you see that anything that goes into a man from outside cannot make him “common” or unclean?  You see, it doesn’t go into his heart, but into his stomach, and passes out of the body altogether, so that all food is clean enough.  But,

he went on,

whatever comes out of a man, that is what makes a man “common” or unclean.  For it is from inside, from men’s hearts and minds, that evil thoughts arise–lust, theft, murder, adultery, greed, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, arrogance, and folly!  All these evil things come from inside a man and make him unclean!

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The Collect:

Set us free, O God, from the bondage of our sins, and give us the liberty of that abundant life which you have made known to us in your Son our Savior Jesus Christ; who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever.  Amen.

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A Related Post:

Week of 5 Epiphany:  Wednesday, Year 1:

https://adventchristmasepiphany.wordpress.com/2010/10/14/week-of-5-epiphany-wednesday-year-1/

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The author of 1 Kings 10 means for us to admire the wealth and wisdom of Solomon.  In this account Solomon receives the esteemed and wealthy Queen of Sheba.  Sheba, for those of you who wonder, was probably Sabea, located where present-day Yemen occupies space on the world map.  Yemen, of course, has fallen on hard times, with its combination of high illiteracy, poverty, fertility, and social frustration on one hand and little opportunity for economic development on the other.  But it fared much better in ancient times.

Imagine reading or hearing this story while living in exile in the Chaldean/Neo-Babylonian Empire.  “Those were the days!” people must have said in Hebrew.  Or imagine reading or hearing this account after the Persians allowed exiled Jews to return to their homeland, then a poor place in a backwater province.  “Those were days!” people must have said in Hebrew upon pondering Solomon’s prestige and wealth.

But I am an American.  As such, I am an heir of a revolution.  (Historians dispute the precise definition of the American Revolution–indeed a good question–but I am an heir of the American Revolution.)  To the extent that I am a monarchist, I am a constitutional one.  As an heir of the American Revolution, I assume the veracity and wisdom of certain Enlightenment theories of governance, and divine right monarchy is not one of them.  Nevertheless, I do not expect to detect foreshadowing of Montesquieu and Locke in the Hebrew Scriptures, for I know better than to look for them there.

For some germane background to 1 Kings 10, let us turn to 1 Kings 6:38-7:1, which tell us that the construction of the Temple took seven years and the building of Solomon’s palace required thirteen years.  The Temple was splendid, as the detailed descriptions of it and its furnishings in 1 Kings indicate.  How ornate, then, was Solomon’s palace, which took six more years to construct?  And who paid for all this?  You, O reader, can guess, can you not?  The taxpayers of the Kingdom of Israel did.  They also paid for the upkeep of the palace and for the royal wine.

1 Kings 10 speaks of how wise, wealthy, and respected Solomon was.  In the next chapter, however, the tone of the narrative changes.  That is where the Canadian Anglican lectionary will take us next, so I will reserve a discussion of those details for then.

1 Kings 10 makes clear that Solomon was most uncommon, and that this was supposed to be a compliment.  Being uncommon was a point of pride to the Pharisees.  To be uncommon was to be pure, and to be common was to be defiled, or impure.  In fact, the standard English translation in the reading from Mark is “defile,” but J. B. Phillips cut to the chase and rendered the Greek text as “make common.”  Haughty Pharisees delighted in not being like other people.  This is not necessarily a fault in a person, as I ponder the concept as an abstract notion, but I am not discussing an abstraction.  No, I am referring to a concrete situation.  Only those with a certain level of wealth could afford to keep the purity codes the Pharisees advocated, so their piety was one to which most people, who were poor, had no hope of achieving.  Thus the Pharisaic piety Jesus criticized was one which marginalized the vast majority of people.

It is no wonder that there was a rebellion after Solomon died.  His grandeur came at a cost to his subjects.  And I understand why Jesus disagreed with so many Pharisees.  Furthermore, as an heir of the American Revolution, which, ironically, colonial elites led, I like the common, to an extent.  The Revolution did lead in time to the extension of voting rights without regard to property, for example.  And the ideals of the American Revolution did bring into sharp relief the hypocrisy of maintaining slavery.  Furthermore, another ideal of the Revolution was that, given opportunity and motivation, one can improve himself and his social station.  So there was not an acceptance of the lowest common denominator embedded in the ideals of the Revolution.  To the extent that one considers the lowest common denominator “common,” I do not like the common.  However, so far as one shuns the systems of firmly fixed social orders and deference to elites, I do like the common.

There is great dignity embedded in every human being by virtue of the image of God present in each of us.  So may we not look down upon others, for they are also God-bearers–as much as Solomon was, the Pharisees were, and the vast population of people who, for financial reasons, could not keep their piety, were.

KRT

http://blogatheologica.wordpress.com/2012/01/19/regarding-the-common/

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