Day 27: True Wisdom
Illustration: Juliana Crownover
He is truly wise who hates iniquity, who speaks the truth and works the works of justice; and he that leads a sober and chaste life, who is pious, humble and devout, and who shuns the perilous rocks of temptation possesses true wisdom and the favor of God and of men. His conscience is pure – sorrow assails him not. Peace is his possession and God often pours into his breast consolations that the world can neither know nor relish.[i]
Thomas à Kempis (d. 1471)
Heavenly Father, you are the source of all wisdom and understanding. Be present with us as we seek renewal in you. Teach us in all things to seek first your honor and glory. Guide us by your Holy Spirit to perceive what is right and grant us both the courage to pursue it and the grace to accomplish it, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.[ii]
Old Testament Lesson
This story occurs right after King Solomon, the son of David, becomes overwhelmed with the duties of the office he has just inherited from his father. In his distress, he prays for wisdom. He does this after God offers to grant any wish he has. However, instead of asking for long life and riches, Solomon requests wisdom to discern good from evil (a very wise request!). God is so impressed that he not only grants Solomon wisdom, but grants him riches and long life as well. Thereafter, visitors come from miles around to witness Solomon’s great wisdom. This story depicts Solomon’s uncanny ability to discern good from evil, thus demonstrating tangibly that God has answered his prayer. For Christians, Jesus, in His Incarnation, is the embodiment of wisdom that only comes from God. Thus, because this all takes place on the third day (v. 18), Christians have come to read this story as prefiguring the great reconciliation that will come after the resurrection. Adam, who lacked wisdom, is surpassed by Solomon who employs Divine wisdom for good purposes. Jesus, who rose from the dead on the third day, will surpass even Solomon.
1 Kings 3.16-28
16Then two prostitutes came to the King and stood before him. 17Now the first woman said, “O my Lord, this woman and I were living in the same home when I gave birth while I was with her in the house. 18Then it happened on the third day after I gave birth that this woman also gave birth. We were together, just the two of us, without anyone else with us in the house. 19Then this woman’s child died at night when she rolled on top of him. 20So she got up in the middle of the night and took my child, who was next to me while your handmaid was sleeping, and placed him in her bosom and put her dead son in mine. 21When I got up in the morning to nurse my son – I’m telling you – he was dead and I investigated carefully in the morning and, look, he is not my son whom I bore.” 22Then the other woman said, “No but my son is alive and yours is dead.” But the first woman answered, “No, but your son is dead and my son is alive.” And they both spoke before the King.
23Then the King said, “One claims, ‘My son is alive and your son is dead.’ The other claims, ‘No, but your son is dead and my son is alive.’” 24So the king said, “Bring me a sword.” And the sword was brought before the King. 25Then the King said, “Divide the living child in two and give half to the one and the other half to the other!” 26So the woman whose child was alive said to the King (because she was warm with compassion for her son), “My lord, give the living child to her. But, for heaven sakes, do not kill him.” The other said, “Half to me and half to you? No way. Let him be cut in two!”
27Then the King answered and said, “Give the first woman the living child, don’t put him to death since she is the mother.” 28And when all Israel heard the judgment that the King had made, they were in awe of the King since they saw that the wisdom of God was in him to execute justice.
New Testament Lesson
The ancient Roman historian Josephus wrote that Herod the Great undertook a rebuilding project for the Temple in the eighteenth year of his reign (probably around 19 BC).[iii] If the span of forty-six years referenced in the text is correct, this would mean this scene is taking place at about 28 AD or about two years before Jesus’ crucifixion.[iv] As John makes clear, however, he wants us to read this text not so much in literal terms, but in theological ones. The Temple is a symbol for Jesus’ body which would be raised on the third day. Jesus’ purification of the Temple is the fulfillment of multiple OT texts that foresaw the future corruption of the Temple complex and its ultimate cleansing. Thus, by cleansing the Temple of merchandizers, Jesus is doing something the Messiah was supposed to do. But the Messiah was supposed to rebuild the Temple as well. Only after His resurrection do the disciples realize that Jesus’ claim that he could rebuild the Temple in three days refers to his resurrected body. The religious leaders never really get the theological point, but this becomes a major piece of testimony against Jesus that leads to His crucifixion.
13Now the Passover of the Jews was at hand so Jesus went up to Jerusalem. 14And He found merchants in the outer Temple court selling oxen, sheep and doves. He also found others sitting and exchanging coins. 15Constructing a whip out of cords, He poured out the coinage and overturned the tables of the moneychangers. 16As for those who sold doves, He said, “Get these things out of here. Do not make my Father’s house into an emporium!” 17And His disciples remembered what was written, “Zeal for your house will consume me.”
18So the Jewish leaders answered and said to Him, “What sign can you show us to explain why you’re doing these things?” 19Jesus answered and said to them, “Tear down this Temple and in three days I’ll rebuild it.” 20Then the Jewish leaders said, “It took forty-six years for this Temple to be built and you would rebuild it in three days?” 21But Jesus was speaking about the Temple of His body. 22So, when He was raised from the dead, His disciples remembered what He had said and they believed the Scriptures and the word which Jesus had spoken. 23Now while He was in Jerusalem at the Passover festival, many believed in His name, having seen the signs which He did. 24But Jesus did not entrust Himself to them, since He knew all people, 25and had no need to testify about man, since he knew what was in man.
Questions for Reflection
- At the start of his reign, Solomon personifies the ideal godly ruler. What does it say that Solomon builds his reputation by helping two prostitutes find justice? How do you react to those who are the outcasts from society?
- Should we have compassion on the second mother? After all, she had just lost a child. Do you lash out in anger when tragedy finds its way to you?
- How do you deal with people (like the religious leaders) who provide resistance to something you’re trying to accomplish? Jesus infuriates them. How do you react?
- In what ways are you like the moneychangers in the Temple? What everyday activities do you blandly justify simply because everyone else is doing it?
Reflection by Kevin Dodge (email)
Our passages today have many similarities. Both, in one way or another, deal with justice. Both have great personal conflicts at the core of the story. Both involve wisdom (assuming we understand Jesus as Wisdom personified, as the early church did). Both stories revolve around the motif of the “third day.” Both resolve in remarkable, yet unexpected ways.
The moneychangers in the Temple clearly didn’t see anything wrong with what they were doing. Since the crowds were streaming into Jerusalem from the surrounding regions and would have had to hike many miles to get there, few wanted to carry their sacrificial animals with them. So the sellers of cattle and birds were simply providing a useful service for the pilgrims. What could be wrong with that?
As for the moneychangers, they were there just so the pilgrims could pay the temple tax, as they were required to do by Law. Why does Jesus react so strongly against those simply trying to provide a useful service so the pilgrims could fulfill their obligations under the Mosaic Law?
Jesus’ strong reaction has less to do with the immorality of exchange in the outer Temple court. It has much more to do with his revealing who he was in Messianic terms, something the leaders understand, but not the people. The following are just a few examples of the Messianic expectations that a careful hearer might have seen fulfilled in Jesus in this scene. The writers of the synoptic Gospels see Jesus’ actions in terms of Jeremiah 7.11 – “Has this house, which is called by my name, become a den of robbers in your eyes?” Zechariah 14.21 puts it this way, “And on that day there won’t be a tradesman in the house of the LORD of Hosts anymore.” Malachi 3.1 says, “Look, I am sending my messenger to clear the way before me; the Lord whom you seek will suddenly come to His Temple; even the messenger of the covenant in whom you delight, behold, he’s coming, says the LORD of Hosts.” Not to mention the explicit quotation from Ps 69.9, “Zeal for your house has consumed me,” which joins the idea of a righteous sufferer to Jesus.[v] John is eager to present Jesus as the fulfillment of Messianic expectations.
The Jewish leadership understands this, but they’re not happy about it. They rightly see Jesus as a subversive threat to their power. Instead of welcoming Jesus as a messenger from God, they do everything possible behind the scenes to undermine his authority. Thus we observe strong resistance to the work of justice.
The problem the leaders have is that the crowds are always getting in the way. The crowds are impressed with Jesus and find it remarkable that He can stand up to the corrupt leadership. No one else dared to do that, especially since they controlled the Temple complex which had become a commercial center. To get thrown out of the Temple was to be cut off from the commercial life of Israel.
Yet the crowds also have a problem because while they’re impressed with Jesus and believe in Him, He doesn’t commit himself to them. Once again, the Scriptures give us a helpful object lesson that casual belief in Jesus, without an abiding relationship, is not enough. Jesus is out to reconcile himself to humankind. But a relationship with Jesus requires discipleship.
One of the things we should take away from these readings is that injustice often occurs in the mundane acts of life. Frankly we often grade ourselves on a curve. We’re way more ethical/loving/giving than others we know. But, all the while, we actively participate in activities that (knowingly or unknowingly) bring harm to others. We don’t have to try to steal a baby to be at fault. The simple act of being a consumer in the richest country the world has ever known is fraught with temptation to gain pleasure at the expense of others.
Jesus didn’t commit himself to the crowds because He knew what was in them. What will He find within you? Are you someone passionately committed to your relationship with Him or are you one of the crowd, simply there for a good time or out of obligation to the Law? A relationship with Christ is the best way to have peace with God. It may not be easy (or even desirable at times) but there is no one else who can forgive your sin and reconcile you to the Father.
Find a group that serves an at-risk community and consider volunteering. Bless someone else with the gifts that God has given to you.
Simplicity, the intentional forgoing of the pleasures of the world for a time, can bring great joy. It can also be a great time-saver as you free up time that used to go into managing “stuff.” Live without it and see if you aren’t happier in the end.
Consider signing up for a short-term mission trip to experience poverty first-hand.
[i] Thomas à Kempis, The Little Garden of Roses and Valley of Lilies, ed. Aeterna Press (Aeterna Press, 2014), 3.1.
[ii] Adapted from http://www.episcopalchicago.org/files/4313/5007/9879/Discernment_Prayer.pdf, Accessed 12-14-2015.
[iii] Josephus, “Antiquities of the Jews,” 11.1, p. 380.
[iv] Brown, The Gospel According to John I-XII, 116.
[v] Carson and Beale, Commentary on the New Testament Use of the Old Testament, 434.