Opening the Word: To know ‘what is right’

Every young kid has wondered what they would ask for if they were granted a wish. There are obvious choices: money, toys and an open tab at the local pizza parlor. What about a teenager? In today’s first reading, we hear of a young man, likely still in his teens, who was told by God, “Ask something of me and I will give it to you.” Solomon was already quite blessed; His father, King David, had shaped the 12 tribes into a cohesive nation and then gained a formidable kingdom. He would soon succeed his father. What, then, would he request? More power? Increased wealth?

Solomon’s reply was remarkable. He acknowledged he was “a mere youth” and admitted that he did not know “how to act,” that is, how to be a king and a leader. He had probably learned much from his father, but he also understood how much more was needed to serve God and to serve God’s people. Yes, he was to be king, but he was also “in the midst of the people.” In short, he was already wise beyond his years — wise enough to admit his need for even deeper wisdom, for understanding so that he would know “what is right.”

In the Old Testament, wisdom is described in many ways, ranging from the skill of a craftsman to cleverness to good advice. But the focal point of wisdom and real understanding was ultimately a humble knowledge of God resulting in a good life, marked by prosperity, good reputation and old age. “The beginning of wisdom is fear of the Lord, and knowledge of the Holy One is understanding” (Prv 9:10).

Solomon was given wisdom and understanding and things were perfect — for a while. But the once humble king began to change; He came to love “foreign women” (1 Kgs 11:1), who brought with them false gods. Rather than standing in the midst of the people and looking to God for guidance, he became detached and distracted. And “when Solomon was old, his wives had turned his heart to follow other gods, and his heart was not entirely with the Lord, his God ...” (1 Kgs 11:4). The heart, for the ancient Hebrews, was not merely the seat of emotions, but was the core of a man’s intellectual, moral and spiritual life. Solomon’s sins surely involved passion but, worse, they involved a willful rejection of God’s ways and wisdom.

Wisdom, the apostle Paul told the Corinthians, has a name: Jesus Christ, who is “the power of God and the wisdom of God” (1 Cor 1:24). Jesus is the son of David who perfectly fulfills the promises made to Solomon. The Son knows the heart and mind of the Father perfectly. He is truly humble, having come and dwelt among us, forming a people of his own — not for his own glory, but for the glory of the Father (cf. Jn 14:13; 15:8; 17:4). He proclaimed and established the kingdom, again, not for his own sake, but for our sake. The kingdom, Jesus told the disciples, is like a buried treasure that brings joy once discovered. It is the pearl of great price; It is also like a net that gathers in fish, which are then separated.

So, there is joy, but also judgment, for joy and judgment are different sides, if you will, of the coin of reality, reflecting our choices for or against wisdom and life. Any of us, like Solomon, can receive God’s gift and then fumble it away through folly, pride and sinful choices. But those who love God can, because of the perfect and selfless Son, be called, justified and gloried.

Carl E. Olson is editor of Catholic World Report.