This week’s lection is a well-loved, much-cited chestnut from which a thousand moralistic sermons have germinated. And with good reason. Solomon becomes king and when given the chance to have any wish fulfilled by God, chooses wisdom over the usual favorites, long life, wealth and power.
As even a cursory glance at this weeks lectionary reference will reveal, however, there are a couple of gaps in the text. The first is what happens just before Solomon dies, as he gets last minute instructions from David about scores that the family needs settling. The second is between the time that Solomon ascends to the throne, and the time Solomon and Yahweh have their little heart-to-heart. When you read that part that the lectionary omits, what you find is not Solomon sitting around having his daily quiet time in prayer and study of the scripture, but rather in the ruthless pursuit of control and the exercise of the royal prerogative of vengeance against the enemies of the monarchy…
Samuel speaks of God as working in and through the events to deliver “ruin on Absalom.” This is not simply God with us. It is God against us–whenever we treat our “kingdom” as if it was ours and ours alone. Both David and Absalom acted as if their people, the Kingdom of Israel, were their own plaything.
While the abuses of power and privilege in modern banking may not be as explicit as David’s crime, they are parallel. People in power tend not to consider the cost of their self-interest in communal terms. Most families who are facing foreclosure in New York City today are the victims of banks who regard a homeless child as a reasonable side effect of their profit motive just as David regarded Uriah’s death as a reasonable way to Bathsheba.
‘…as the food is set…a solid thumb and forefinger tears thunderous grey bread.’
For those of us who are inheritors of the Judeo-Christian tradition the word ‘bread’ crackles with connotation. Out of the simple truth that bread is one of the traditional staples of human living, endless symbolism flows: Bread can signify our basic human need for nourishment, it can act as a sign of the work of human hands and so on. Bread can be torn, scattered and gathered and, even in Rowan Williams’ poem Emmaus (quoted above), made to thunder. If some might treat ‘bread’ as a tired, overworked metaphor it also takes us to the heart of the Christian faith. The bread of the Eucharistic feast is no mere sign, it is sacrament….
The scathing criticisms of private property that we find in the mouth of Jesus are well-known. “Go, sell what you have,” he tells the rich man who asks for the secret of eternal life (Mark 10:21; Matthew 19:21; see also Luke 12:33). Again and again, we encounter the polemic against property, the possession of which is regarded as an evil and as a massive hindrance to joining the kingdom of God. Jesus valorises simplicity over luxury and forgoes the influence and power that comes with wealth. In short, everything about him stands against the deep values of the Hellenistic propertied classes. In the words of G.E.M. de Ste. Croix, “I am tempted to say that in this respect the opinions of Jesus were nearer to those of Bertholt Brecht than to those held by some of the Fathers of the Church and by some Christians today” (Ste. Croix 1981: 433).
I am less interested here in the twisting and turning by later exegetes to ameliorate these embarrassing texts, and my concern for now is not the Christian communist tradition that finds inspiration in these and other texts (Acts 2:44-5; 4:32-5). Instead, I suggest that this implacable opposition to property has a far deeper reason. Simply put, the very definition of private property, invented by the Romans a little over a century before the time of Jesus, is based upon slavery. That is, private property relies on the reduction of one human being to the status of thing (res) that is “owned” by another human being. Let me explain…..
The author of Ephesians is addressing the conflict between Jew and Gentile Christians (“the cut/circumcised” and “the uncut/uncircumcised”). The politics of this text could be boiled down to the first century conflict between these two groups. It’s a definition so basic and so simple that it belongs in a Politics 101 course. Where it gets interesting, however, is not how one defines the conflict, but how the author of Ephesians deals with it…..
One of the reasons why Amos made people squirm in his day and why Belhar irritates us in our own is because those of us used to being in charge have little practice in and less patience for listening to people whom we deem to be our inferiors.
This week’s lectionary reminds us that power comes and goes. Today the church is tempted to resent its lack of influence, but Mark’s story of Jesus and the words of Paul remind us that even spiritual power has its limits….
By the time preachers in America address their congregations this Sunday, the nation’s Supreme Court will have ruled on the health insurance reform act passed by Congress and signed into law by President Obama in March of 2010. The coincidence of this much-anticipated ruling and a quirky Jesus healing story is irresistible!
Talk of legacy has been abuzz in the news lately as the American presidential race continues to gear up. This was even more true in first century Palestine. Without a legacy, without a tradition to follow in, a person was lost—outcast. […]
Ideological State Apparatuses, a phrase made famous by Louis Althusser, function in society to keep the bourgeoisie culture dominate. This is done through institutional establishments, such as the church, family, etc. In the US, the American Dream has been a dominant ideology that gives hope to the unprivileged that they too have a chance to thrive in a higher economic status. Unfortunately, this myth rarely comes to fruition for the lower class or the immigrant because achieving upward social mobility is nearly impossible. The American Dream thus represents a master-signifier. Something present in our culture that one must believe to be a welcomed person in society. This week’s lectionary readings could be related to the ISA that penetrate societies. From the Hebrew Scriptures passage it speaks of the beginning of David’s career as King surrounded by a religious ISA. In the Christian Scripture, Jesus speaks a parable of how everything shall eventually become God’s Kingdom. These Scriptures are both politically driven, one speaking of an earthly kingdom ruled by a king chosen by God, and the other concerning the Kingdom of God.
The pursuit of truth and justice is often onerous and taxing. The incremental gains accomplished by strikes and protests, grassroots organizing, and community coalitions pale in comparison to the large-scale success achieved by corporations and the governmental institutions who collude with each other. The quest to halt imperialistic conquests by the American war machine, ameliorate poverty, reform a racist and unjust judicial system, and empower communities can often seem like a dead end street, but the light of hope still shines through the darkness […..]