Tuesday of Week 5 of Ordinary Time – First Reading

Commentary on 1 Kings 8:22-23,27-30

Having asked for wisdom in governing, Solomon now prays for himself and all the people. He begins with the covenant principle of mutual faithfulness – God towards his people, the people towards their God. God’s kindness to his people flows from the covenant made with Moses at Sinai, but it is conditional on their faithfulness. This is the core of the covenant agreement. In this passage there are there two applications: Yahweh has kept his promise by the building of the Temple, may he keep it also keep it in preserving the stability of the dynasty.

Solomon makes his prayer publicly in the presence of all the people. He begins by indicating the uniqueness of the God of Israel. No other god has acted in history as has the God of Israel, performing great miracles and so directing the course of events so that his long-range covenant promises are fulfilled. Yahweh has kept his promises to the people, who for their part are faithful to him with their whole heart. Of course, the second part is not completely true; the Old Testament is full of incidents where the people violated their side of the covenant. In particular, Yahweh has honoured his promises to Solomon’s father, David, and their fulfilment is seen in the Temple, which David had been told would become a reality in Solomon’s reign (this last statement from v24 is not in today’s reading).

Solomon then speaks in wonder at how a God, for whom the heavens themselves are not big enough, can contain himself within the confines of the Temple that Solomon has built in his honour:

But will God indeed dwell on the earth? Even heaven and the highest heaven cannot contain you, much less this house that I have built!

An idea which some of those who followed Solomon in later times tended to forget.

The construction of the Temple and the appearance of a visible manifestation of the presence of God within its courts could, and did in fact, give rise to the idea that God was irreversibly and exclusively bound to the Temple in a way that guaranteed his assistance to Israel, no matter how the people lived. Solomon, however, had recognised that, even though God had chosen to dwell among his people in a special and localised way, he far transcended being contained by any created thing, however magnificent.

Solomon concludes his prayer by begging God to continue to watch over the Temple and to listen to his prayers and those of all the people “when they pray toward this place”. When an Israelite was unable to pray in the Temple itself, he was to direct his prayers towards the place where God had pledged to be present among his people.

In our churches, too, we can wonder how the God of the whole universe can be so specially present in our tabernacles. This is a marvellous source of comfort for us and we should use all the opportunities we can to ‘drop in for a visit’ and ask Jesus to be part of our lives, our work, our families, our day.

At the same time, we can reflect that Jesus’ sacramental presence in the tabernacle is a reminder of his real presence in all the people we meet and in all the experiences we have. Every person, every place, every experience is a sacrament of God’s loving presence. Even when we are far from any church, Jesus is close to us. Let us be close to him.

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