1 Kings 3:5-12; Psalm 119:129-136; Romans 8:26-39; Matthew 13:31-33,44-52
1 Kings 3:5-12
How wise was Solomon?
1 Kings 2 tells how ruthlessly he wiped out those who might threaten his position as king. But this chapter tells us that he made an alliance with Pharaoh, Israel’s oldest enemy, and married his daughter. His prayer suggests a renewed vision, resetting his kingship. He prays for justice, uprightness, discernment, loyalty and wisdom. These are words that link his prayer to prophetic visions of kingship (Isaiah 11:2) and perhaps to the words used to inaugurate a new king at his coronation. Solomon describes himself as a little child (v.7) as a marker of humility, not because he was still very young. The image suggests that he is ready to wait for the growth God gives and trust that the gifts he requests will flourish for him.
This is just one part of the long hymn of praise for God’s law that is Psalm 119. Using physical images of panting and streaming tears, the psalmist expresses real passion for God’s decrees, and explains why they are so valuable. The law is a protective power that turns aside the attacks of wicked and oppressive people. This is expressed in images of light shining from God’s face, scattering the darkness.
Paul’s rhetoric soars at the end of this text, marking the conclusion of a major section of his letter in which he discusses life in the Spirit and the hope of glory to come. There seems to be anxiety underlying his words – though God is not against the community, nor bringing charges nor condemning, perhaps others are, and in earlier verses Paul has described the church ‘groaning inwardly’ (8:23). Are they already enduring the persecution that we know the church at Rome faced? If so, these words are an invitation not to give up on God but to hold on fast in faith and trust. So, Paul writes to encourage the Roman Christians. God calls them and justifies them, making them righteous (Galatians 3:11). God is unquestionably on their side, as shown by the Spirit’s help and prayers. More than that, God glorifies them and adopts them into a family of which Jesus is the first-born. These unbreakable family ties lead Paul to the conclusion that nothing can separate God’s people from the love of God, made real for us through our sibling relationship with Jesus Christ.
How can Jesus’ disciples make sense of the kingdom of heaven? Chapter 13 is one of the major teaching blocks of Matthew’s Gospel, and in it Jesus uses parable after parable to help his followers begin to understand. This week’s reading offers five pictures that challenge hearers to see the details of ordinary life in a kingdom perspective.
The mustard seed (vv.31-32) is tiny and easy to miss. Even when someone does venture to plant it, it will take time to grow into a tree, big enough to be a home for birds – yet it is still there, growing at its own pace. Matthew may intend a comparison with Old Testament stories about trees, which often act as a metaphor for pride and power (Ezekiel 31:1-13, Israel’s enemy Assyria is a cedar tree that God caused to be cut down).
The yeast takes us into the world of baking. This woman is working with a huge amount of flour, and perhaps Matthew wants us to recall the feasts that characterise the kingdom of heaven (e.g 14:18-21). The amount of yeast is tiny, and it disappears into the flour as it is kneaded, and the dough takes time to rise – yet the baker can be confident that she will have bread to share.
The parables of the hidden treasure and the pearl focus on the value of the kingdom of heaven and the cost of gaining it. The workman – perhaps a hired day-labourer – risks all he has to profit from his life-changing discovery. The parable of the merchant may depend on a comparison from less to greater. If a merchant, focused on profit, behaves like this, how much more should those who long for the kingdom commit to pursuing it.
The final parable suggests that the kingdom is a ‘catch-all’ net, where good and bad coexist – a reflection of the disciples’ lived experience, then as now. It points to a future time when the kingdom will come fully and evil will be wiped out.