Church Write-Up: Tomato Wisdom, Son of Solomon, Isaiah 9, the Magi

Here is my Church Write-Up about last Sunday’s services.

A. The LCMS church that I attend has been doing a series entitled “Jesus, the son of…” The latest sermon was about Jesus being the son of Solomon.

The youth pastor in the children’s part of the service talked about how Solomon asked God for wisdom. He asked the kids what the difference was between knowledge and wisdom. He said that knowledge is knowing that a tomato is a fruit, but wisdom is knowing that you do not put it in a fruit salad. I had not heard that saying before. It crystallizes the difference quite well.

B. The pastor said that Solomon’s reign was looked back on as a time of Israel’s splendor and heyday. Israel was prosperous at that time. Israel also was dominant, as there was no significant foreign power challenging her when Solomon reigned. I would add that Jesus himself refers to the glory of Solomon in the Gospel of Matthew, the Gospel on which the pastor focused, as Matthew 1 presents Jesus as the legal descendant of Solomon. In Matthew 6:28-29, Jesus encourages his disciples not to worry about clothing, for God will provide, as God provides for the lilies of the field. Not even Solomon in all his glory was arrayed like the lilies, Jesus said. In Matthew 12:42, Jesus is rebuking his generation that saw his signs but rejected his kingdom, comparing it unfavorably with the Queen of the South, who came from the ends of the earth to listen to Solomon’s wisdom. Jesus said that one greater than Solomon was in his generation’s midst.

A number of Jews in Jesus’s day were looking for the restoration of the Davidic dynasty, hoping that the new Davidic king would inaugurate a reign like that of Solomon in its glory. They contrasted that hope with their own situation under the yoke of the Romans. The pastor referred to Isaiah 60:6, which states regarding the time of Israel’s restoration: “The multitude of camels shall cover thee, the dromedaries of Midian and Ephah; all they from Sheba shall come: they shall bring gold and incense; and they shall shew forth the praises of the LORD” (KJV). The pastor said that this passage was echoing the story of the Queen of Sheba visiting Solomon. Matthew’s story of the magi visiting the child Jesus may allude to Isaiah 60:6, since the magi bring Jesus gold, frankincense, and myrrh (Matthew 2:11). Moreover, Jesus entered Jerusalem on a donkey (Matthew 21), as the eschatological king of Israel would do in Zechariah 9:9. Similarly, Solomon rode on a mule when he became king of Israel (I Kings 1:33, 38).

But the pastor maintained that Matthew was acknowledging another dimension to Solomon. He noted that Solomon in Matthew 1:6 was called the son of David through the wife of Uriah. That recalled the shameful incident in which David departed from the will of God and used his own power as king to sleep with Bathsheba and to take her from her husband, Uriah the Hittite. Bathsheba is not even named, highlighting the shame of that incident.

The pastor talked about how Solomon degenerated spiritually, as he married foreign women and set up temples to their gods. Solomon probably rationalized what he was doing, seeing it as a practical measure of building alliances with other countries. In effect, he put the God of Israel into a nice, tidy place, alongside other gods, rather than placing God at the center.

We are much like Solomon, the pastor said. We started well, as we resolved at our baptism to follow God and to reject the works of the devil. How is that working out for us? We try to place God into a tidy little place rather than placing God at the center. We do that as individuals, and as a culture. The pastor shared that, during the 1700s, the new year in America was moved from March 25, which was the church’s feast of the Annunciation, to January 1 (see here), placing Christianity more to the margins. And, like Solomon, we rationalize.

There were high hopes that Jesus would be like Solomon when he entered Jerusalem on a donkey, but those hopes were dashed when the Romans crucified him. Yet, in Jesus’s death and resurrection is God’s solution to our failures, our tendencies to marginalize God, and our rationalization, as Christ met us where we were through the incarnation and continues to meet us in his word and sacraments. God loved us while we were yet sinners, which is a remarkable thing, the pastor observed, considering that we have enough difficulty loving those who love us back, with all our jealousies.

C. The pastor conducted a Sunday school class on Isaiah 9. The Assyrians conquered Galilee in the eighth century B.C.E. This was Israelite territory, but the Assyrians replaced Israelites with foreigners who were loyal to them. Israel degenerated further into darkness and paganism, and that grew worse during the time of Jesus, as a worship site for the god Pan was located at Caesarea-Philippi in Galilee. In the midst of this deep darkness, Jesus would be a light. And Jesus would free people from spiritual darkness in an unexpected way. Isaiah 9 recalls the story of Gideon, in which God used unconventional means to deliver Israel from Midian. God used mealy-mouthed Gideon, who was not entirely sure whether he even wanted to worship God. God reduced Gideon’s army so that the victory would be attributed to God rather than Israel’s strength, and the Midianites killed each other off in panic. Similarly, God delivers people through humble, unexpected means: the death of Jesus on the cross.

The pastor went through some of the names of the son in Isaiah 9. “Wonderful counselor” literally says “wonder counseling.” God is wonderful in that we cannot get our minds around him. In Judges 13:8, an angel asks Samson’s parents why they inquire about his name, for it is wonderful, or incomprehensible. Although God is ineffable, God still acts as our counselor, imparting to us God’s wisdom.

The pastor shared another factoid. The god of Nineveh was represented as a fish. Could that be why the fish was in the Jonah story?

D. The pastor’s daughter spoke at the “Word of Faith” church. She was talking about how her kids sing Christmas carols as they hear them, with humorous results. But sometimes they hit upon a theologically profound point. “Let every heart prepare HIS room,” they sang, rather than “prepare him room.” Jesus does not only want to visit us now and then, coming when we feel we need him. He wants to live within us.

The pastor’s daughter interacted with the story of the magi in Matthew 2. The magi came to Herod, looking for the king of the Jews. Herod, an Edomite, believes that he himself is the king of the Jews and fears that his position will be unmasked as fraudulent. He wanted to be king, as many of us want to be king rather than submitting to Jesus as king. We would like more sleep rather than getting up to do our devotions. We don’t want to be in a small group, being vulnerable with other believers. (I know I don’t, and still don’t, even after hearing that message.)

The religious establishment hears from the magi and says that the Messiah would be born in Bethlehem, according to the Scriptures, but the scholars’ response is essentially “Oh hum.” We are like that, too, when it comes to our relationship with God, as we become preoccupied with life, the pastor’s daughter said. This religious establishment would later spit on Jesus and mock him. I think the pastor’s daughter was saying that indifference to what God was doing could easily lead to hostility towards God.

About jamesbradfordpate

My name is James Pate. This blog is about my journey. I read books. I watch movies and TV shows. I go to church. I try to find meaning. And, when I can’t do that, I just talk about stuff that I find interesting. I have degrees in fields of religious studies. I have an M.Phil. in the History of Biblical Interpretation from Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati, Ohio. I also have an M.A. in Hebrew Bible from Jewish Theological Seminary, an M.Div. from Harvard Divinity School, and a B.A. from DePauw University.
This entry was posted in Church, Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.