By James Cornwell
A Reading from 1 Kings 3:16-28
16 Later, two women who were prostitutes came to the king and stood before him. 17 One woman said, “Please, my lord, this woman and I live in the same house; and I gave birth while she was in the house. 18 Then on the third day after I gave birth, this woman also gave birth. We were together; there was no one else with us in the house, only the two of us were in the house. 19 Then this woman’s son died in the night, because she lay on him. 20 She got up in the middle of the night and took my son from beside me while your servant slept. She laid him at her breast, and laid her dead son at my breast. 21 When I rose in the morning to nurse my son, I saw that he was dead; but when I looked at him closely in the morning, clearly it was not the son I had borne.” 22 But the other woman said, “No, the living son is mine, and the dead son is yours.” The first said, “No, the dead son is yours, and the living son is mine.” So they argued before the king.
23 Then the king said, “One says, ‘This is my son that is alive, and your son is dead’; while the other says, ‘Not so! Your son is dead, and my son is the living one.’” 24So the king said, “Bring me a sword,” and they brought a sword before the king. 25 The king said, “Divide the living boy in two; then give half to one, and half to the other.” 26 But the woman whose son was alive said to the king — because compassion for her son burned within her — “Please, my lord, give her the living boy; certainly do not kill him!” The other said, “It shall be neither mine nor yours; divide it.” 27 Then the king responded: “Give the first woman the living boy; do not kill him. She is his mother.” 28 All Israel heard of the judgement that the king had rendered; and they stood in awe of the king, because they perceived that the wisdom of God was in him, to execute justice.
Today’s reading from 1 Kings tells the tale of the two prostitutes arguing over the maternity of a baby. Solomon offers to divide the baby in half by the sword, and the true mother pleads to let the other woman have her baby rather than see him killed. Thus, the maternity of the true mother is proven, and the baby is given to her.
This story is typically used as an example demonstrating the wisdom of Solomon, but I think that the women have something to teach us as well. Just as the body of the living son was the object of dispute between these two mothers, so too throughout history and even today is the body of the living Son — the Church — also an object of dispute between various factions. Each faction claims maternity, but it is the true mother who is willing to let go of her claims in order to see the child live, rather than see the body divided unto death.
Thus the true mother’s claim poses some uncomfortable questions to us. Which of us is willing to lose in order that the body of Christ might be preserved and undivided? How many of us would plead for continued health and happiness of the body of Christ, even as it is given over to the other faction for a season?
I think it likely that if the false woman had been given the child after Solomon’s order, the child’s real mother would have still publicly maintained the truth of the matter as she saw it. Even so, she would have given thanks for the mercy she was able to bestow on her son at the moment when he needed it most.
However, that is not how the story ended. Instead, her love was rewarded by the wisdom of the king who brought forth the truth with a sword. Just so, faithful witness and love of the Church of God will, in the end, be vindicated by the wisdom of the King of Kings who has also promised to bring a sword to discern truth from falsehood.
James Cornwell lives and teaches in the Hudson Valley with his wife Sarah and their six children.
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Today we pray for:
The Diocese of Egypt (Episcopal/Anglican Province of Alexandria)
All Saints’ Episcopal Church, San Diego, Calif.