Solomonic, an adjective to describe those who act with prudence especially in trying situations, can be applied to King Solomon only in the beginning of his reign. Early in his “career,” when God told him to ask for anything, Solomon prayed “not for a long life… nor for riches, nor for the life of [his] enemies” (see 1 Kings 3:5-12, our first reading today) but for “a listening heart.” Because of this, God gave him “a heart so wise and discerning.” Solomon’s wisdom was on full display shortly after in the famous tale of two women claiming to be the mother of the same baby boy. The decision to cut the infant in half revealed the real mother and showed what it meant to be Solomonic.
Though Solomon had a promising start, his wisdom could not sustain his kingdom’s success. Read until the end of chapter 11 of the First Book of Kings and witness Solomon falling and dragging Israel down with him. What makes a good leader? It is not enough to be wise. One can even argue that Solomon’s downfall came because he was too wais.
To strengthen his alliances with other kings, Solomon married their daughters. This was a politically astute move, but it also led to Solomon worshipping the other gods his 700 wives brought with them. Perhaps this is why God commanded kings not to multiply their wives (see Deuteronomy 17:17). In the same verse, God also ordered them not to multiply their silver and gold. See 2 Chronicles 9:13-29 for a description of Solomon’s wealth, which some scholars estimate to have reached $2 trillion. Deuteronomy 17:16 also has an injunction against multiplying horses – a biblical way of saying enlarging your army. Why the warning against this? Proverbs 21:31 gives us a glimpse of the answer: “The horse is equipped for the day of battle, but victory is the Lord’s.” We may end up putting our faith too much in our own strength and forget that in the end, success is not just based on our own efforts – it is also a gift from God. In the same way, riches may make us too confident, fool us into thinking that we are self-sufficient, and lead us to stop depending on God.
Solomon did not follow God’s decrees. What makes a good leader? One must be obedient to God. The word obedient comes from the Latin ob (to) and audire (listen). One who obeys is one who first listens. We must listen to God, but not only in Scripture or in our own personal prayer. I think it is significant that when God gives Solomon the chance to ask for anything, Solomon answers, “Give your servant, a listening heart to judge your people.” To judge people, we must also first listen to them. A good leader must be obedient (again, ob audire) to his or her people – all of them, not just the ones in agreement with him or her but even those who are in opposition.
In our Gospel today, we hear about finding a treasure and finding the pearl of great price. The world offers us many gems. How do we know what to sell everything for? A higher GDP, a lower Covid-19 infection rate, a friendlier relationship with other nations, greater freedom of expression, a more just system, a more secure neighborhood – there are many goods to choose from, and not all are perfectly compatible with each other. What makes a good leader? One must be able to discern what to pursue. But how do we know what value to prioritize? How do we know what will build the Kingdom of God? A first step: We open our ears to God, and we listen to all of God’s people.
Our first reading and our Gospel today can give us an opportunity to start reflecting about what makes a good leader. But there are other verses in the Bible that can deepen our thinking about this. And there are many voices among our people who can echo God’s word. Let us not rely too much on our own wisdom. What can we do to listen more?
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