Something Greater Than Solomon Is Here

Posted in: Spirituality by bill-o on January 01, 2009

Jesus said many radical things. One of the things that he said was that “something greater than Solomon is here”. Jesus said this in response to certain religious leaders of his time. These religious teachers and scribes had asked to see a visible, miraculous sign from Jesus.

It was clear in the rest of the gospels that Jesus could and did perform miracles (signs). Yet Jesus never performed miracles because he was commanded to do so by other people. If he had done so, it would have demonstrated that he had had the power but not the authority to do what he was doing. It would have shown that he was working under the authority of earthly authorities, religious or political.

To Jesus, authority was more important than power. It was the authority of Jesus that first impressed the people who had first listened to him (see Luke 4:31-32). And, later on, the direct question of authority from the religious leaders led to the puzzling response that Jesus gave back to them: A question about authority that they chose not to answer. This led Jesus to say to them, “Neither will I tell you by what authority I do these things.” To Jesus, you must know who truly are before you can know what to do. To humanity, the natural thought process is usually reversed: in other words, might makes right. If you have the power, then others must obey you. For Jesus, this was not the way of life, … the way of love.

For the people of Jesus’ time, Solomon, the son of the great king David, was the most powerful and most wise king. Solomon reigned almost 1,000 years before Jesus. His kingdom’s boundaries were greater in extent than at any other time in the history of Israel. The capital of Jerusalem was so wealthy during his rule that silver was considered to be as though it were worthless: only gold was valuable. And, of course, his wisdom was legendary. In┬áJesus’ time, the authority of Solomon as a great king was unquestioned.

For Jesus, however, Solomon the king was a symbol, a shadow of something greater that would ultimately come later in history. Solomon’s reign was one of visible displays of greatness. Yet, with this story about Solomon in the common thoughts of everyone in his society, Jesus made the amazing statement that something greater than Solomon was there.

Rather than the restoration of the kingdom of Israel to the greatness of the days of Solomon, Jesus spoke of another kingdom, the eternal kingdom of God. What is the kingdom of God? Rather than answer that question directly, Jesus invites us here to think about the greatest rulers that the world has ever seen. (And don’t restrict yourself only to thinking about political rulers: think about business leaders, scientists, and others, also, who have made significant contributions for the greater good.) Then, once you have carefully considered the greatest qualities of each of these rulers and their kingdoms, then consider each of them, even at their very best, to be a mere shadow and preview of the goodness of God ruling in and through people. … And what is goodness? It is power carefully constrained under proper authority to do things that will be beneficial to others, especially the less powerful, in love. … When goodness is reflected from God into the world, then this is the kingdom of God, and this kingdom has a king.

The familiar leads to the unfamiliar. The knowledge of the best of the kingdoms of this world present a shadow and a type of the kingdom of God.

How Do Plants Survive at Night?

Posted in: Science and Nature,Spirituality by bill-o on August 22, 2008

I believe that simple questions about science and nature can be points of reflection for us. These points of reflection can then lead to deeper questions about life and its meaning. In this way, the familiar leads to the unfamiliar; the natural to the spiritual.

A simple question about the natural world had puzzled me until recently: How do plants survive at night?┬áMost of us know about photosynthesis: the amazing process by which green plants and trees use sunlight energy to survive and grow. Yet, for those of us who forgot the section about plants in biology class, plants also undertake the act of respiration, just as we do. With respiration (“breathing”), plants take in oxygen and release carbon dioxide. Because plants “breathe”, they can survive at night and in the winter (for those trees that shed their leaves each autumn).

Yet, there is still a little more to this story. Through photosynthesis, plants manufacture sugar. Many of these sugars become the main building blocks of the plant. They give the plant its overall structure and form. What is most interesting for us here is that plants make enough sugar from sunlight to tide themselves over during the nighttime and during dark, cloudy days. The sugar can be stored away as a starch and then converted back to sugar, as is necessary. Ultimately, the energy that is stored in the sugar is needed for respiration.

I would propose to you here that this natural process can serve as an example for our spiritual lives. We are like the plants and the light is like God’s touch upon our lives. Specifically, light may represent wisdom, insight, guidance, and revelation. This light represents the “Springtime seasons” of our lives, our “good days”. The nighttime and winter represent our difficult “desert” or “wilderness” spiritual experiences. At its most difficult, this can even be the “dark night of the soul” that Saint John of the Cross speaks about.

I think that many followers of Christ and spiritual seekers in general see the difficult times of life (trials) as completely distinct phases that are separate from the rest of one’s life. Yet this is not so. Just as the plants manufacture the sugar that they need during the day so that they can then breathe at night, so God gives us what we need during the good times so that we will have what we need during the trials of life. In this way, there is a delayed effect. His touch on our lives should not be completely and immediately consumed. Rather, some of what he does in our hearts and lives should be stored up for later use, … when the sun sets or the snow falls in our lives.

After Jesus fed five thousand people with bread, he told his followers (disciples) to gather up all of the leftover fragments lying around on the ground. In this way, no bread would be lost. The disciples first experienced the miracle and immediately distributed its result, but then Jesus told them to do the very messy job of picking up whatever remained. For the disciples, what came first was blessed loaves of bread, touched by the hands of God’s son. What came next were partially eaten fragments touched by the dirty ground. In Christ, nothing is ever wasted. Some of God’s bread is for right now. Some of his bread is for later. All is his, … given to us. For the day and for the night.