Later, two women who were prostitutes came to the king and stood before him. 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. 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. Then this woman’s son died in the night, because she lay on him. 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. 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.’ 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.
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.”’ So the king said, ‘Bring me a sword’, and they brought a sword before the king. The king said, ‘Divide the living boy in two; then give half to one, and half to the other.’ 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.’ Then the king responded: ‘Give the first woman the living boy; do not kill him. She is his mother.’ 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.
This story is generally used to help prove that Solomon was a wise king. So what is wisdom? Is wisdom always being right? Is wisdom having the correct words? Is wisdom challenging these two women to sacrifice a child? Is wisdom a willingness to hear the stories of some unimportant women of questionable reputation? Is wisdom listening and observing in such a way that Solomon knew the correct question to ask in order to save the life of the child and respect the life of the mother?
Today we are often challenged to know what we think and what we want immediately. We are confronted by people who make decisions based on limited information. Social media gives us information before we even know we need to make a decision. Fake news slips into our newsfeed catching us unaware. And we jump to conclusions. Perhaps wisdom is the skill to not jump to conclusions too quickly or make snap judgements.
Solomon listened to the mothers. Perhaps, as he listened, he took in the tone, noted the dress, looked into each women’s eyes. Perhaps his wisdom comes as much from listening as from gathering the “information” presented by each woman by her “presence.” Based on all the information gathered, he formulated his question. A life was saved, and a mother reunited with her child.
Can we pause long enough to gather information; to listen and observe those without power in order to ask the right questions, to make the right decisions as followers of Jesus? Can we allow God to speak in the pauses and through the marginalised so that the information we gather can restore life—our lives and the life of those around us? Can we allow the wisdom of God to work through us to bring love and hope to the broken?
Living God, Give us courage to stop, look, and listen. May we stop in our busy, demanding lives; As we stop, help us look around and see you— in those who are content and those who are troubled, in those who are powerful and those without a voice. Help us listen and hear you guide us. Give us courage to pause, to listen and to act with wisdom. Amen
The Rev’d Martha McInnes is the Chaplain at Willen Hospice, Milton Keynes