Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Sons of David

Last week one of our lecturers gave a "public lecture" (which, unfortunately, most of the public didn't attend) on a theology of success/prosperity in the book of Kings. He looked specifically at Solomon, and through a (very) close reading of the text was able to subvert the public's surface evaluation of Solomon as a good king but with a insatiable libido.

Interestingly (or not), Solomon isn't mentioned much outside of the books of Kings and Chronicles. His names crops up only once in all the prophetic books. But even more (or less) interesting is that when his name appears in the New Testament, it is in the context of some form of criticism (apart from when it is attached to the word "porch").

Jesus mentions Solomon twice in the Gospels, with both incidents recorded in Matthew and Luke, though in reverse order. The first incident is when Jesus asks his disciples to consider the lilies. Their natural, god-given beauty, he argues, is more glorious than Solomon's expensively purchased beauty.

The second incident involves a judgement which Jesus pronounces upon some of his listeners. Even the Queen of the South travelled far and wide to hear the wisdom of Solomon, he says, "and behold, something greater than Solomon is here."

Greater than Solomon, eh? This the same Solomon who, in some ways, made Israel an empire to be reckoned with, who brought the nation great wealth, who made it a militaristic force, who expanded its boarders and built a magnificent temple. And here is Jesus saying that something greater than Solomon is here?

Solomon had hundreds of wives and concubines. Jesus had none. (Well, one, if NT scholar Dan Brown is correct.) Solomon lived in an expensively constructed palace that took twice as long to build as the temple. Jesus had nowhere to lay his head. Solomon made people work. Jesus took people away from their jobs. (Jesus, the cause of and solution to unemployment!) Solomon built a temple. Jesus was killed partly because he was accused of threatening to destroy the temple.

Here are two "sons of David," yet the appear to wear that mantle very differently. It might be much of a stretch that Jesus was, in many ways, the anti-Solomon. His superiority to Solomon was not quantitative, but qualitative. Jesus subverts popular theologies of wealth (can I get an amen, pastor Kevin!?). His kingdom is, quite literally, not of this world. Solomon's was.

Finally, here is a somewhat imaginative reading of another NT text that contains Solomon's name. Jesus has dis-appeared, the church has appeared. Peter and John are walking into the temple. They are confronted by a crippled man asking for money. They don't have any. But what is most interesting is the language Peter uses to tell the man that they are broke: "I have no silver and gold." Here they are, standing near Solomon's porch. The same Solomon who, we are told in the book of Chronicles, "made silver and gold as common in Jerusalem as stone." But in this upside down world inaugurated by Jesus, silver and gold are not its currency. That magic that is money (and it really is a magic) is replaced by the power of God's spirit that works through people who name Jesus as Lord. The church is clearly not ignorant of financial needs, concerning itself with purely "spiritual" matters (though it was only a matter of time before this kind of ethic would come). Yet the unprecedented accumulation of silver and gold that spoke of Solomon's greatness is no longer the criteria by which wealth is judged.  The have-nots have something that silver and gold cannot buy. They have a God who is on their side.

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