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Rowing With Michael

Verse 13, Solomon

   A far off queen came to see a king. Alleluia. 
      Was Solomon’s wisdom the real thing? Alleluia. 
      He had enough gold for ninety-nine lives, Alleluia. 
      And too darned many girlfriends and wives. Alleluia. 
  
What happened to Solomon’s kingdom after he died? 
  
The Bible records that Israel became rather large and powerful under Solomon, although it’s hard to verify that archaeologically. Solomon was king for anywhere from 20 to 40 years. His kingdom quickly fell apart after he died in 931. It was replaced by what is known as the “divided kingdom” – Israel with 10 tribes in the North and Judah, including only the tribes of Judah and Benjamin, in the south. The trajectory of each of these kingdoms was roughly but steadily downward. The larger Israel came to a permanent end when it was conquered by the Assyrians (in stages from 740-722). Judah survived until the “Babylonian captivity” (586). 
  
You’d have to say the Israelites were not very successful at kingdom building. Even when they had a kingdom, they had plenty of problems with their own kings, who could be just as despotic as the kings they'd once rebelled against. Still they thought of God as King, and Jesus, though he didn't address God as King, talked a lot about the Kingdom of God.

Kings don't cause much trouble anymore, except in a few countries. They're mostly irrelevant. Maybe we shouldn’t be using an image as dead as this one is for God. But many of us get all excited whenever there’s another bit of news about royalty. I don’t share that enthusiasm, but I do thrill to the pageantry of the Feast of Christ the King every November. 

If there is still life in the image of kings and queens, it’s not about what they do but what they are. Most of the ways we describe ourselves—from CEO to waiter on tables, from sportsman or woman to lover (well, maybe not lover)—is just something that we do. King or queen is something a person is. You can’t aspire to be royalty as you can to be president. A world that seems to value action and achievement over practically anything else needs an image to show us that the first thing to value is simply what we are. 
  
When the Bible gives us a symbol, it asks us to enter into that symbol. I propose that we enter into the symbol of the Kingdom of God by imagining ourselves as kings and queens, “a royal priesthood” as it says in a letter attributed to the apostle Peter (1 Peter 2:9). There’s no separation of classes. We’re all royal (we're also priests!), and it’s a bracing, emboldening idea. It’s also a challenge, because we can’t just be it. We have to decide what to do about it. 
  
The Bible helps us look at what we’ve done as kings and queens: I just read in Matthew Kelly's Rediscovering Catholicism that we haven't read the Bible unless we've identified with every character in it. So let's imagine ourselves as Israel's kings and see what we've done.

  • We’ve slaughtered our neighbor’s only lamb, which he had cared for lovingly as his own daughter, rather than take one from our own vast herds. (That’s how the prophet Nathan described David’s sin with Uriah’s wife.)
  • We’ve cut down the Cedars of Lebanon to trade for gold and build monuments (Solomon’s glorious temple and his even larger palace).
  • We’ve allocated to each according to his ability to take, ignoring the poor, the widow, the stranger, and the prophets’ warnings; and we’ve allowed the more successful of the takers to call it justice.
  • We’ve told the land, “No Sabbath rest for you,” and believed technology would spare us the consequences.
  • We’ve fulfilled Samuel’s prophecy. When the Israelites first asked for a king, he told the people what a king would do: He will take your sons and assign them to his chariots and horses, and they will run before his chariot. He will also appoint from among them his commanders of groups of a thousand and of a hundred soldiers. He will set them to do his plowing and his harvesting, and to make his implements of war and the equipment of his chariots. He will use your daughters as ointment-makers, as cooks, and as bakers. He will take the best of your fields, vineyards, and olive groves, and give them to his officials. He will tithe your crops and your vineyards, and give the revenue to his eunuchs and his slaves. He will take your male and female servants, as well as your best oxen and your asses, and use them to do his work. He will tithe your flocks and you yourselves will become his slaves. (1 Samuel 8:11-17) 

 We've done all that. If we were only the presidents, we would have been impeached by now, but how do you impeach a whole kingly people? 
  
When Jesus announced, “The Kingdom of God is upon you,” he added, “Repent, change your minds.” A mind change about what leadership is would be a revolution. Jesus said those who want to be rulers must be servants. Jesus took his model of servant leadership right out of his own scriptures: “I am the good shepherd.” (At that time in Israel nobody looked less like a king than the shepherds.) He added, “I know my sheep and mine know me. I call them each by name.” There's an old idea that naming is controlling, but this doesn't sound anything like that. The Bible goes further and dares anyone to follow: Jesus the shepherd is also the “lamb that was slain,” recalling the Passover lamb and deliverance from slavery. 
  
There's another model of leadership that we can get from the Bible’s very first rulers. They aren’t kings, and they're before even Adam and Eve. They’re the sun and the moon. The first time the word “rule” appears in the Bible, is when God makes the “greater light” to rule the day and the “lesser light” to rule the night. I can’t imagine the moon telling the stars, “Do whatever I say”; but I can imagine something like “See, this is the way to do it.” And I can imagine the sun saying to the sky (which has its own light according to Israelite science), “Nice work! That’s the way to shine.” Coming from the sun, that would be credible praise. 
  
Eco-Christians tend to like the myth where God puts Adam and Eve in the garden to take care of it. They're not too happy with the one where God gives the man and the woman “dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air and over every living thing that moves upon the earth.” But if the first humans, whoever they were, and all those to follow had followed the example of the sun and moon, Adam and Eve’s “kingdom” wouldn’t have been a problem ecologically or any other way. I can imagine old King Sun rejoicing to see these new beings taking over the reins and shining in ways he (the sun) never could, and everybody, including the new servant-leaders, looking forward to God’s next brilliant idea. 

On to Suffering
  
     

 

 

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