I know this is an idealised account of Solomon and we could read him in the context of his patriarchal world and the patriarchal text as a whole, but I want to consider this idealised image in and of itself. I have a romantic liking for ideals, sure I fall short of mine but I can’t help always thinking it is good to have them and when I don’t get everything I want out of life it is comforting at times to have lived by ideals- hedonism in my experience only leads to emptiness and doesn’t stave off disappointment and hardship.
So Solomon realises his privileged position, and the fact he has it by fortune, not merit (which is a lot more humble than you would expect from one of those larger than life Old Testament figures). He asks for wisdom and understanding. If only he was able to take the tiny extra step of realising that the understanding that privilege must ask for is the understanding of the “other” the ones who are not the king, not wealthy, free or male but we can insert that into the story when we remember that for us the “other” the “least of our siblings” is always Christ. So to ask for understanding from God is to seek to listen to those with less privilege than we do.
The overtone of judging and discerning in 3:9 then becomes a matter of justice and advocacy. Solomon is often presented as wise and unbiased but God in Jesus in fact never presented as unbiased. God is constantly biased toward the poor and oppressed. For us first-world, relatively comfortable people this may be a hard pill to swallow- we often try to present a “balanced” God. But to act is to be biased and God takes the part (consistently throughout many biblical texts) of the widow and orphan (and refugee).
The alternative first reading (I realise I am not using the lectionary correctly here but I don’t really care) has Wisdom inviting us to her house for a party. It’s a party with food and wine in a house with seven pillars (I guess a nice house then) but it’s a party that will change you forever. You go in to eat her food and drink her wine and you leave your old foolish ways and become irrevocably enmeshed with her (she’s upfront about that at least). It’s a pity you have to choose between these two first readings if you are running an actual church (as opposed to ranting online) because they are actually beautiful read together. Solomon has been seduced by wisdom, she invited him in and he can’t lust for anything else.
I want to be in Solomon’s shoes and as I read the readings I feel that even wanting to be there is a good thing – it’s not everything because there is still the old immaturity that must be laid aside when entering Wisdom’s house, but desire is the beginning of such an intimate and life-changing relationship.
I’ll ignore Ephesians because even though it basically says the same thing it couches it more negatively “stop drinking and having fun and instead do what is right” whereas I prefer the Old Testament version which was “come and get drunk and be seduced and you will begin to want to do what it right”. The beer o’clock Wisdom is a lot more enticing than the grumpy preacher/ schoolmaster Paul.
In the gospel, Jesus echoes Wisdom, offering himself now not only as the hostess with the mostest but as the food and drink in itself. This is more than life changing, this gives us life forever. I find it hard to know what to make of the “life forever” imagery all through John to be honest. As a child I thought there is this place called heaven where we all end up and then when I got older I thought – it’s not a physical place but our internal essence and personality is somehow preserved in relation to God and everyone. And now I just don’t know. I don’t know about “live forever” when even things that are good in this life never last forever. The weather or your mood changes, the people you love move away or get busy, you find you have to be preoccupied with new concerns. The positivity and optimism with which I begin any project, endeavour or relationship at some point begins to flag.
We eat the bread that we believe is Jesus and even if we get on some sort of a spiritual high (and in the past I have done just that) then we return to real life, to ordinary life and not only is life mundane but we are still flawed and mundane too. So is Wisdom a liar? Is it really just a one night stand? At times I have felt that as well, I have felt that this whole “faith” deal that I have been seduced into is a huge con and I have felt very angry. And when we read on about Solomon, sure he did some impressive things but he’s not perfect ever after.
But then when we get back to Wisdom she asked us to leave aside that immaturity; the need for constant reassurance and convenient on-demand grace, the expectation that God will take all the responsibility for this relationship and we don’t have to work at it at all. If I am honest I don’t always “work at it”; I used to dutifully “pray” every day, by set formulas that I was taught and that I did to prove my commitment and I used to beat myself up about how much my mind wanders during those times. What I did I did out of guilt and feelings of unworthiness, out of a commitment that was more fear than love.
Now as a border-line atheist…well not a very good one…I rarely force myself to pray. Now prayer is more something I fall into when I walk in nature, or at work when I am patting the children to sleep or late at night at my best friend’s house when my head is spinning with the wine the writer of Ephesians doesn’t think I should be drinking. And at church too when the vibe happens to be right. I fall into a prayer which may be hard to give words to- or which might just quote words of songs or bible texts, poetry or something I read. I fall into prayer that says “I am here, please help me find meaning in that” prayer that says “please let me feel that you are here”, prayer that says “I want things to be different” “I want to be different” and lately preciously “I now know you love me and I want to weep with relief at that knowledge”
And from moment to moment I have not always been able to find traces of grace in my life, I have not always felt the transformative presence of God and I will still have the grey empty days of weeping and the night terrors of God’s absence. Part of any relationship is absence, emptiness and disconnection after all (it took me a long, long time to accept that). From moment to moment I can’t and don’t believe that I have eaten something remarkable, the bread of life. But when I fall into prayer (like falling in love) then I trace the eternity within that moment not only as an ecstasy or euphoria (which marked more of my “spiritual” experiences early in life) but as a quiet acceptance of self and other and a quiet dissatisfaction with injustice that I feel was planted in me the first time I met Wisdom and now makes up most of what I acknowledge as my identity (even though I don’t always know what to do about it).
And when I look at the journey of my 3 year old self, my childhood, adolescence, turmoils of my early adulthood to middle-aged me – at the same time that the aging process begins to make ideas of “eternity” more ridiculous than ever there is some sort of faithfulness and stubbornness by the presence of God that makes me cautiously hope there is meaning somewhere in the journey. And why would an eternal God be faithful to a slow-learning and non-eternal me? So I am always up for some of Wisdom’s bread and wine and transformative possibility.