Solomon started well as a young king.
When he assumed kingship, he was humble and wise enough to ask the Lord for the gift of wisdom and a discerning heart. He was conscious of his limitations and lack of experience in governing his people. As a consequence, God, who was delighted with his sincere motive of wanting to serve Him and God’s people rather than his own interests, also blessed him with other things as well. This was what the Lord promised Him “Since you have asked for this and not asked for long life for yourself or riches or the lives of your enemies, but have asked for a discerning judgement for yourself, here and now I do what your ask. I give you a heart wise as shrewd as none before you has had and none will have after you. What you have not asked I shall give you too: such riches and glory as no other king ever had.” (1 Kgs 3:11-13
Unfortunately he failed to take heed of another injunction the Lord made to him, namely, “If you walk in my ways, keeping my statutes and my commandments as your father David walked, then I will lengthen your days.” (1 Kgs 3:14) In his success and fame, Solomon in his later days lost focus of the most essential thing in life, namely, God. As we read in the first reading, “when Solomon grew old his wives swayed his heart to other gods; and his heart was not wholly with the Lord his God as his father David’s had been. Solomon became a follower of Astarte, the goddess of the Sidonians, and of Milcom, the Ammonite abomination. He did what was displeasing to the Lord, and was not a wholehearted follower of the Lord, as his father David had been.” This was his greatest folly, prostituting himself to false gods and abandoning his devotion to the true God.
Truly, most of us only turn to God when we are in need of help or when we are desperate. Often, when we become successful, we are like King Solomon; we tend to forget about God and bask in our laurels and accomplishments. This is always the constant temptation of every person. Instead of being dependent on the Lord, we begin to rely on ourselves, consumed by the things of this world, and often become proud and arrogant, thinking so highly of ourselves. Consciously or unconsciously we are deceived by worldly securities and external achievements. As a result, like King Solomon, we turn to false gods in our lives, having strayed away from the true God.
The tragedy is that when we turn away from God, we cannot but inevitably end up worshipping other things instead. In the case of Solomon, because of his disobedience to the statutes of the Lord, he married foreign wives who brought into the kingdom their pagan gods. Not only was Solomon influenced by their religious practices, he even “built a high place for Chemosh, the god of Moab, on the mountain to the east of Jerusalem, and to Milcom, the god of the Ammonites. He did the same for all his foreign wives, who offered incense and sacrifice to their gods.” Should we be surprised at all? Those of us who do not give God the primary place and the first place in our hearts naturally make idols of our loved ones or our work, money and status. God is among the last in the scale of importance in our lives! We put our spouse or our friends, especially our boyfriend or girlfriend, before Him. We would even compromise our values and principles for the love of someone. Often, parents worship their children and place their needs before God as well. When we value anyone or anything before God, we have a misplaced devotion. This would lead to great disorder in our lives because we assign a wrong place to creatures and created things.
The later life of King Solomon was tragic. We read that “The Lord was angry with Solomon because his heart had turned from the Lord the God of Israel who had twice appeared to him and who had forbidden him to follow other gods; but he did not carry the Lord’s order.” He forgot what the Lord had done for him. He forgot that his fame and success were due solely to the grace and guidance of God. He led a life of self-indulgence, of pleasure and sensuality.
Forgetfulness of what the Lord has done for us is the cause of misery for many of us. Once we forget His kindness and mercy, we begin to focus on ourselves instead of doing His will and serving His people. That was the case of King Solomon. He ended up serving himself and satisfying his desires. Unlike his father who, although did badly at the start by committing adultery and killing his officer to cover up his guilt, repented and never allowed it to happen again. Hence, at the end of his life, his sin was not only forgiven but forgotten as this failure of his was omitted in the assessment of historians on his reign.
It is such an irony for we would think that one becomes wiser when one gets older. But in Solomon’s case, he became more foolish as he was distracted by his achievements. How true for all of us! His folly should be a warning to us all. Many of us become complacent like him whenever we become successful. This is even true in Church ministry. When we become popular, well known and in demand, we act arrogantly and even disdain others. Such an attitude spells the beginning of our downfall as it did for Solomon. Because of his sins, not only did he suffer, but so did most of all the generations after him. The Lord therefore said to Solomon, “Since you behave like this and do not keep my covenant or the laws I laid down for you, I will most surely tear the kingdom away from you and give it to one of your servants. For your father David’s sake, however, I will not do this during your lifetime, but will tear it out of your son’s hands.” The consequences of our folly in abandoning God have lasting repercussions for those people coming after us. The painstaking work that King David did to build up the kingdom, reuniting the Northern and Southern Kingdom were destroyed later on by Solomon’s children; and eventually the kingdom of Israel and Judah fell into the hands of foreign powers. So too, let us never forget that forgetting God and losing our focus and perspective will cause harm to our loved ones, our children and children’s children!
It behooves us therefore to learn from Jesus in today’s gospel. He was someone who was very much focused in His mission. We read that He left “Genesaret and set out for the territory of Tyre.” Most likely, He was overwhelmed by the demands of the ministry and wanted to take a break in a foreign land where He could be left alone. He felt the need to be alone to recuperate. But we read that even then, “he could not pass unrecognised. A women whose little daughter had an unclean spirit heard about him straightaway and came and fell at his feet.” Initially, Jesus was reluctant to work another healing miracle. At any rate, He was conscious that His primary mission was to restore the Kingdom of Israel and that He was sent to redeem His people. This is no implication that He was not concerned with the conversion of the Gentiles, but He knew that at that point in time, His Father wanted Him to focus on Israel. Nevertheless, because of the pleading of the woman “a pagan, by birth a Syro-phoenician” and her insistent faith, He relented. Still, He was clear that He should not lose focus in His mission for He told her, “the children should be fed first, because it is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the house-dogs.” In truth, Jesus could have been tempted to work outside Israel, for it seems that the non-Jews were more welcoming of Jesus than His own countrymen. Many of us would have been tempted to go where we are loved, honoured, accepted and revered, even though we know where we should be working. In Jesus’ case, regardless how difficult it was to work amongst His people, no matter how much rejection and opposition he faced, “He loved them to the end.” (Jn 13:1)
Similarly, we can also learn perseverance and single mindedness from the Syro-phonecian woman. She did not give up so easily simply because she received a negative or non-committal answer from the Lord. She continued to engage Jesus, saying: “Ah yes, sir, but the house-dogs under the table can eat the children’s scraps.” Her love for her daughter and her faith in Jesus made her persist to the end. Truly, we too must cultivate a deep love for the Lord, for only when we are devoted to Him above everyone else will we be blessed by Him. Let the Lord be our compass always so that we do not lose focus in our mission on earth, in whatever we do, whether as parents, workers or collaborators. We must endeavor to serve God ultimately in all things, whether taking care of our family or those under our charge, or in our contribution to Church and society. Only then, like King David, can we end our life in deep gratitude and joy rather than in regret, like King Solomon.