Contemplating our bloody history

For the next few weekdays the first reading in the Catholic lectionary will offer us stories about King Solomon, mostly from the First Book of Kings.

If today’s reading is indicatory, we will be reading a very sanitized version of his life.

In today’s reading 1 Kings 2:1-4, 10-12, David on his deathbed is giving Solomon advice to follow the ways of the Lord.

What we don’t hear are David’s request to settle accounts with his army commander Joab and with a reality of Saul who insulted him. David asks Solomon to get rid of them.

David and Solomon were deeply flawed persons, not the paragons of virtue and wisdom that we are often shown.

Murder and adultery, and even idolatry in Solomon’s case, are indicative of their reigns. It is thus not surprising that they have conflicts with their sons and there are conflicts between the sons about who shall be king.

How can we deal with this? It’s in the Bible, some might say.

I began this morning to read Daniel Berrigan’s The Kings and Their Gods: The Pathology of Power. This Jesuit poet and prophet (now 92 years old) has written many poetic commentaries on scripture which combine scholarship with a prophet’s insightful critique. He reads the scripture with an eye to conversion – even today.

And so he writes of these bloody accounts:

The books of Judges, Samuel, Kings, and Maccabees imply that we humans must move in great darkness before we are blessed and enter the light. This, it sold seem, is the law of the Fall… Let us ponder such forbears, and weep.

We must suffer the anti-human as well in ourselves….

Through these books, we must come to know the worst of our ancestry — as well as the worst that lurks in ourselves.

The stories of David and Solomon – and the other bloody tales – call us to look at the evil around us – the pathology of power – as well as the evil within. For “the books of the Kings stand like a record of our own benighted century, bloody as beef newly drawn and hung.

And so Dan Berrigan prays:

Grant us knowledge of our crimes. Help us take our true bearings in the world, to confess how rarely, in public life and private, in religion and statecraft,  in temple and marketplace and home —how rarely authority is joined with virtue. Grant us knowledge of our plight, that we may cry out for relief, and be drawn forth.

Reading the whole bloody story is necessary so that we may see the faithlessness in our lives as well as the bloody story of our times – the wars, the hunger, the injustice, the idolatry of power and money. May we, as Albert Camus challenged us, “get away from abstraction and confront the blood-stained face history has taken on today.”

Then, maybe we might repent, as persons and as nations, and begin to seek the ways of peace.



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