The LORD appeared to Solomon in a dream at night. God said, “Ask something of me and I will give it to you.” Solomon answered: “O LORD, my God, you have made me, your servant, king to succeed my father David; but I am a mere youth, not knowing at all how to act. I serve you in the midst of the people whom you have chosen, a people so vast that it cannot be numbered or counted. Give your servant, therefore, an understanding heart to judge your people and to distinguish right from wrong. For who is able to govern this vast people of yours?” The LORD was pleased that Solomon made this request. So God said to him: “Because you have asked for this— not for a long life for yourself, nor for riches, nor for the life of your enemies, but for understanding so that you may know what is right— I do as you requested. I give you a heart so wise and understanding that there has never been anyone like you up to now, and after you there will come no one to equal you.”
Much wisdom comes from experience and common sense. But there is another kind of wisdom; the wisdom that is a gift from God. As you know, the Church teaches that Wisdom is one of the 7 gifts of the Holy Spirit. The Catechism tells us that holy Wisdom enables us to know the purpose and plan of God…(p. 903) I like this observation: “Wisdom is the God-given ability to see life with rare objectivity and to handle life with rare stability.” Today, the OT reading from I Kings tells of God granting the gift of Holy Wisdom to Solomon.
As background, Solomon, the son of King David and Bathsheba, has inherited the throne after the death of his father. He has gone to a place called Gibeon to pray and to worship God. Solomon eventually falls asleep and God appears to him in a dream. God said, “Ask anything of me and I will give it to you.”
Solomon answered: I am a mere youth, not knowing how to act…Give your servant, therefore, an understanding heart to judge your people and to distinguish right from wrong. This petition to distinguish right from wrong, good from evil, is very important; it is the key ingredient of wisdom. A truly wise person can see the subtle distinctions.
For those without the gift of holy wisdom, this may seem too black and white. So many things seem gray; after all, good and bad do seem to blend together. At another level we also tend to avoid rigid folks who claim to know the truth; we often question their insight. More often we don’t like it when they point out things that make us uncomfortable.
Holy Wisdom empowers us to see through the grayness and tells us, “This is black and this is white; this is right, this is wrong; this is good and this is evil.”
For practical usage, this gift is to be applied more to ourselves and less to others. Knowing what’s black and what’s white, what’s good and what’s bad, is more for our own conduct and less for judging others. Having the Gift of Wisdom does not mean that we will always use the Gift of Wisdom. Our consciences kick in and we discern the differences between right and wrong; we have the wisdom to do the right thing or to avoid doing the wrong thing, but we fall into the sins of commission or omission.
Sometimes we do it out of defiance, “I’m gonna do this or I’m not gonna do that.” The motivations for sin are legion, but often we have the God given wisdom not to sin for this is when the Holy Spirit prompts our consciences, but we either plunge in or back away. We often ignore or don’t follow through on the wisdom that we have.
Solomon asked for and received the gift of Holy Wisdom but eventually he quit following through on his part of the bargain. He let his conscience get calloused over and eventually it led to his downfall. He gave into temptations of political intrigue, sexual misadventures and personal glory.
Let’s develop this a bit. Solomon’s father King David made Israel into one of the political powerhouses in that region of the world. And Solomon tried to carry on with the work of his father. After becoming king, one of his first acts was to engage in some political intrigue by sealing a pact with Egypt by marrying one of Pharaoh’s daughters, a common enough practice. Historically marriage has been a key means by which countries made treaties and formed alliances. But it was against God’s specific instructions and Solomon went ahead anyway.
Eventually Solomon developed an insatiable sexual appetite, and soon he was to have 700 wives and three hundred concubines. Aside from the obvious problems of polygamy and sexual license, these foreign wives brought their pagan religions with them.
And as folk wisdom tells us, “There’s no fool like an old fool.” As he grew older, Solomon gave into the pressures of his wives and concubines. In the 1lth chapter of First Kings, we learn of Solomon’s problems. We read: “Was it not because of [these] marriages…that Solomon sinned? Among the many nations, there was no king like him. He was loved by God and God made him King over all Israel, but he was led to sin by foreign women.”
Solomon put up lavish altars to various gods to please these very strong, very smart, very demanding foreign women: The Sidonian wives worshipped Ashtoreth, a goddess of war and fertility; the Ammonites worshipped Milcom or Maloch, a fierce god who demanded child sacrifice, and for the Moabite wives their God was Ba’al Pe’or, whose worship included drunken revelry and debauchery. Solomon not only built the altars to these false gods, he actually engaged in these horrific immoral acts of idolatry with his various wives and concubines.
The Lord became furious at Solomon. He vowed to destroy Israel as punishment. However, because of His great love for David, he waited until Solomon died before He tore Israel apart.
Solomon also succumbed to great self-aggrandizement. He engaged in a huge building program, ostensibly for the Glory of God, but it turned out to be more for his own ego. Although he constructed a magnificent Temple in which to worship God, he built an even more magnificent palace for himself and his wives and concubines.
The price of all this ran pretty high and it was his subjects who had to pick up the tab. One of the ironies is that he eventually enslaved his own people much as the Egyptians had done to the Children of Israel centuries earlier. He forced these people to do the actual building of the two great monuments, without pay. And those who weren’t enslaved were taxed unbearably. And like so many of us, Solomon got pretty good at rationalizing his sinful behavior. The temple and the palace got built, but Solomon broke his people in the process.
There it is: political intrigue, sexual license, general unfaithfulness to God and the quest for personal glory; they all became more important than using the great gift of Holy Wisdom God had given him.
That was the there and then message, let us go to the here and now application. We all get caught up in worldly things, the sins of various appetites, our own self-centeredness, our own quest for power and glory. And sometimes they can be all consuming, even traumatic for us.
We do have free will, but we often don’t use it very well. As I’ve shared frequently, we are like sheep; we frequently just nibble ourselves astray. We like this bunch of grass here, we go over the hill just to see what’s on the other side, a little bit here, a little bit there, and next thing you know, we are over in the next county, focusing on our own agendas and ignoring or at least trying to avoid what God has for us. We turn down the volume on the voice of our consciences. Unfortunately, all too often, the little venial sins can lead to mortal sins and then we are in real trouble.
But here’s some really good news, news that I that I talk about regularly. The Church teaches that each of us has a guardian angel to assist us in all our needs. We have the intercessions of the saints, especially the Blessed Virgin. St. Paul tells us in Romans that we have the Holy Spirit who intercedes on our behalf with “sighs too deep for words,” and most especially we have the Lord Jesus himself who intercedes to the Father on our behalf. And of course we have the Mass and the Sacrament of Reconciliation. God does provide.
The Church also makes clear that there is a tempter who does his best to have us abandon the faith and the world can be so seductive. But Christ wins and with Him, so do we.
So for our reflection, I think I need to close with this. God gives us gifts and we are to use them for his glory and the good of others and for our own holiness. But we lose track and either ignore our gifts or think they are to be used solely for our convenience and gratification. The key is to focus more on the giver and less on the gift, and in so doing we can keep our perspective and claim the blessing.
If we misuse our gifts, specifically today the gift of Holy Wisdom, there is often significant repercussions for others. I like to call it the splatter factor; our misuse is like chucking a big rock into a mud puddle. The splattering mud usually hits someone else. Solomon was hardly cold in his grave when revolution split his kingdom in two.
Our decisions, with few exceptions, don’t have that kind of impact. But there are repercussions for us and for others if we do not use God’s Gifts faithfully. Knowing this and implementing it, is true wisdom, in itself a wonderful gift of the Holy Spirit.