A far off
queen came to see a king. Alleluia.
Was Solomon’s wisdom the real thing?
He had enough gold for ninety-nine lives,
And too darned many girlfriends and wives.
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
- 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
- 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.