Wednesday of the Fifth Week in Ordinary Time
February 12, 2020
Today, in Mercy, the Queen of Sheba visits Solomon. It’s another Solomon story worthy of the big screen where, in fact, it has been loosely fictionalized and adulterated many times.
Many trusted scripture scholars question the historicity of the story. Several agree that Solomon never rose to the kind of material glory described in the passage. The two books of Kings were written 500 years after Solomon lived. In many aspects, the writings offer a reflection on the meaning of his reign in Israel’s covenanted life rather than a strict account of his life.
So what might we glean from today’s passage on the mysterious queen. The story demonstrates that Solomon is so accomplished that a revered leader will come to learn from him. Once she arrives, she is overwhelmed by his material successes and strength. Solomon has constructed a dominant, rich and subservient culture.
But wait. Is there a bit of ironic judgement and, perhaps, prophetic reminder woven into the Queen’s accolades? Shifting the focus from an increasingly arrogant Solomon back to Israel’s God, she says:
Blessed be the LORD, your God,
whom it has pleased to place you on the throne of Israel.
In his enduring love for Israel,
the LORD has made you king to carry out judgment and justice
In fact, the great wealth and power of Solomon’s kingdom was built, not on justice and judgement, but on the backs of the poor and excluded. For example, Walter Brueggemann says this:
(Solomon’s kingdom) … was an economy of extraction that regularly transferred wealth from subsistence farmers to the elite in Jerusalem, who lived off the surplus and the device and the strategy for that extraction was an exploitative tax system.
When the Biblical scribe puts the words judgment and justice into the Queen’s remarks, it may be intended to forecast the miserable end Solomon will meet because he has abandoned his responsibilities to care for all the people according the the Lord’s covenant.
This glorious, shining realm which so impressed the Queen is a kingdom built on corruption, greed, militarism, and manipulation of the poor.
The lessons for our world are obvious.
As Jesus tells us in today’s Gospel, it doesn’t matter whether we’re gilded in gold on the outside and spin our words in glorious promises. What matters are the true intentions of our hearts and the compassionate actions they inspire:
But what comes out of the person, that is what defiles him.
From within, from the heart,
come evil thoughts, unchastity, theft, murder,
adultery, greed, malice, deceit,
licentiousness, envy, blasphemy, arrogance, folly.
Ultimately, the great Solomon misses the boat on this. May his story help us not to do the same.
Also, as we pray, we may want to remember the devastated people of Yemen, the land identified as the historical Sheba. For some background on the current crisis in Yemen, see this article from Catholic Bishops
Music: La Reine de Saba – Raymond LeFevre