by Nanette Sawyer
Old Testament Reading: 1 Kings 8: 1, 6, 10-11, 22-30, 41-43
For Sunday, August 26, 2012: Year B—Ordinary 21
King Solomon is a good man. He is admired and admirable, for the most part—a celebrated king. Sure, he does a few things that are hard for me to accept—like killing people to secure his kingship per the instructions of his father, King David. I don’t take that as an example of how we should be in the world, I just take that as a reflection of how the world is, and how a human being can be.
Solomon’s wisdom, for which he is famous, is reflected in his prayers at the dedication of the temple. Once again, like his first interaction with God, he doesn’t ask for riches or long life for himself. He doesn’t even ask for victory in battle. In his first interaction with God, he asks for wisdom. At the dedication of the temple, he asks for justice and for God’s presence with the people, that God would hear them. (Be sure to read the whole prayer, the middle of which is left out of the lectionary portion.)
Justice and Wisdom
He asks that there be a consequence for evil, and that good actions may lead to good consequences. When the people are at war, he says, listen to their prayers and “do what is right for them.” (That’s the Common English Bible translation. Compare the NRSV—translation matters.) Solomon doesn’t say, smash their enemies. He prays for what is right.
The prayer for justice is a prayer that I relate to. I love Nan Merrill’s rendering of the psalms in her book, Psalms for Praying: An Invitation to Wholeness, because she has paraphrased them in a way to make them prayable for me. She has taken the militarism out, so that praying the psalms does not include praying for victory in human wars or for the death of other people.
I can’t pray for the destruction of other people. But I can pray for God to help me to grow in wisdom and right action. I can pray for God to help me take responsibility for my role on this planet.
From Where Does God Hear?
Solomon wants God’s name to be present in the temple, which is effectively the same as God being present in the temple, so that God will hear the prayers of the people and act with justice in response. And not just the people of Israel, but all people, including the “foreigners” in the New Revised Standard translation, or the “immigrants” in the new and wonderful Common English Bible.
And while God may be present in the temple enough to hear and respond, still God’s “dwelling place” is “in heaven”—meaning, someplace beyond our place. God is always something more than we, in our limited selves, can be. God’s dwelling place is more than a human space, no matter how grand and glorious our human-built spaces may be.
Solomon’s prayer makes me consider the things for which I pray. Solomon asks of God that “when a foreigner comes and prays toward this house, then hear in heaven your dwelling place, and do according to all that the foreigner calls to you.” In the portion of the text left out of the lectionary, Solomon prays that God “Forgive, act, and repay each person according to all their conduct, because you know their hearts. You alone know the human heart.” (CEB)
The Hardest Question
The hardest question I have to ask in reflection on this story is: How may we pray with (and for) wisdom and justice?
Nanette Sawyer is the founding pastor of Grace Commons (formerly known as Wicker Park Grace), an emerging faith community that gathers in an art gallery on the west side of Chicago. Ordained in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), she has blogged at The Christian Century’s lectionary blog, the Emergent Village Blog at Patheos, and at nanettesawyer.com. She has a Masters of Theological Studies from Harvard Divinity School and an MDiv from McCormick Theological Studies, where she has also taught as adjunct faculty. She is the author of Hospitality: The Sacred Art.