If you could have just one thing from God, what would it be? I wish I could’ve polled you, the congregation reading this online and those in church today, to see what the answers were. I imagine they would include one more day with someone who has passed away, a chance to go back and undo a choice, the ability to walk or run or sit without pain… the list could be endless.
I have to admit that it never would’ve crossed my mind to ask for wisdom. But then again, I don’t have any books in the Bible dedicated to me.
In the verses leading up to our Scripture today, God shows up in one of Solomon’s dreams, and offers Solomon anything he wants. We commonly say that Solomon asked for “wisdom,” but our translation today (NIV) says that he asked for a “discerning heart to govern [God’s] people and to distinguish between right and wrong.”
Hmmm… We understand that in Genesis 3, Adam and Eve were banished from the Garden of Eden because they now knew good from evil and could live forever there. Humans already knew good and evil before Solomon. So if Solomon asks for a discerning heart to distinguish the two, then there’s something deeper going on, right?
Before we get there, we have to note that Solomon does get the trifecta: God promises him wealth and honor as well because he chose wisely. Whew!
Back to this wisdom thing, though? Where is Solomon going with that request? What is God going to do about it?
Meet our two main participants in the “stump the king” contest. I’ll call them Ginger and Mary Ann.
Ginger approaches Solomon on the day where he hears cases that the lower courts can’t settle. She tells him that she and Mary Ann live on the same low rent apartment building, and that Ginger had given birth to a baby boy. Three days later, Mary Ann had a baby boy, and apparently they preferred home births because they couldn’t afford any sort of midwife or physician’s care.
Ginger says that Mary Ann rolled over on her son and he suffocated. So Mary Ann got up and switched the babies, one living for one dead, and Ginger didn’t notice until the morning.
But Mary Ann then argues to Solomon that the living child is hers, not Gingers. And they go back and forth before King Solomon like an episode of Judge Judy, only this time, instead of home repairs or unpaid rent, it’s about a baby!
Notice, that one of the women didn’t even mourn her own biological son. She just stole someone else’s or is attempting to! This isn’t a case of affection, but of possession. The living child brings worth financially somehow, and there’s no genetic test that’s going to clear this one up.
So, King Solomon tells his bailiff to bring him a sword and tells him to cut the child in half down the middle and each woman can get half.
Wait, that’s fair? That’s wisdom? King Solomon was rewarded with “cut the baby in half?”
But in that moment, Mary Ann shouts out, “no, let her have the baby!” and Ginger screams back, “Neither of us can have him, cut him in two!”
And Solomon, and everyone else, knew who was really the mother to the baby.
It’s not reverse psychology but it gets to the heart of the matter pretty quickly, doesn’t it? There’s a wisdom there that makes you scratch your head, and go, “oh yeaaaaaah,” even though it seems that Solomon’s wisdom must’ve been matched by his courage. I could’ve never made that call (what if the woman didn’t scream out in time??) but I see the spirit of God in discerning truth from fantasy there. Thanks be to God that wisdom prevailed, and that a mother’s heart spoke true!
So what are you asking God for? Is it something you could do on your own but are too unwilling to try? Is it something monumental but self-serving? Is it completely selfless and aimed at the good of someone else? Do you recognize that God’s desire for your heart is bigger than an insulated bubble of protection and security?
What Solomon ordered defies common sense: you don’t cut babies in half! But if we would avoid the usual requests the way Solomon did, if we could turn aside from the expectations of wealth and glory, and instead see that we needed the tools for the task at hand, the moments that God had set out for us, that would defy “common sense,” too.
Common sense says it’s a dog-eat-dog world and the biggest dog wins.
Common sense says you have to look out for yourself because it’s all about you.
Common sense says that your work and your pleasure come before your family and your church.
Common sense says if I can’t have it, then you can’t either.
Are you willing to be uncommon? Are you willing to make time with family and time spent with God more important than anything else? Are you willing to go out on a limb, and risk public ridicule by cutting out the things that don’t matter to make time for what does?
Are you willing to answer God’s offer of anything in all the world with, “not what I want but what you want, God.”
I challenge you to take September by the horns. A new school year. A new season. A new opportunity. And ask God to make you wise to the things of heaven, so that your wisdom may be a light to those on earth.
This sermon is for the Blandford UMC worship service at 11 a.m. on August 25, based on I Kings 3:16-28.