The Make a Wish Foundation exists to provide seriously ill children and youth the opportunity to do something amazing that they otherwise could never do or that their parents could not afford. The Colorado chapter was one of the first in the nation, and the wishes of over four thousand children have been granted in our state. In recent years, nationally, the foundation has granted a wish very forty minutes to a girl or a boy affected by a life-threatening illness.
Here are some wishes submitted by children and youth:
Dalton, age six, wished to go fishing in Alaska and catch a salmon.
Avril, Age eight, wished to be a zookeeper for a day.
Mandy, sixteen, wished to have her own book published.
Dominic, age twelve, wished to take flying lessons with his Dad.
Monica, seventeen, wished to help children in an orphanage.
Gabbi, age fourteen, wished to be a supermodel for a day.
Let me ask you: if you were given the opportunity to wish for anything at all, what would it be? And I should warn you, as the genie in Disney’s Aladin said, that it’s no fair asking for more wishes!
Solomon’s reign as king of Israel began with a pretty amazing opportunity. In a dream, God told Solomon to ask for whatever he wanted. I imagine that many possibilities flashed through Solomon’s mind, but he settled on just one request. He asked for wisdom. Solomon’s with for a discerning heart that could govern well and could distinguish between right and wrong, between good and evil.
The text says that God was very happy with Solomon’s request. Since Solomon did not ask for riches or a long life or for his enemies to die, God granted his wish immediately.
Today, we associate Solomon with wisdom, most often recalling the story of the two women who brought a baby to him, each claiming that the child was her own. Solomon’s decree to cut the baby in half, giving one part to each woman, revealed the identity of the true mother who was more concerned about saving the child’s life than she was about keeping him for herself. Pretty smart! Solomon was gifted with wisdom, and he used that wisdom well to govern the people of Israel as their king.
I’m struck by the fact that God said “yes” to Solomon’s wish because he was not acting selfishly. He wanted to be sure that whatever he received would benefit the most people possible.
In contrast to the qualities seen in Solomon, there is a word we use to describe a person who is self-serving and self-absorbed. The word “Narcissist” comes from the Greek mythological character Narcissus who fell in love with his own reflection in a pond.
An excellent example of a narcissist is also found in the Old Testament. It just happens to be Solomon’s own son, Rehoboam. Apparently, in this case, the apple did fall far from the tree. When Rehoboam succeeded his father to become king, the people of Israel gathered around him and asked him to rule with fairness and kindness. He was obsessed with the concept of power, though, so he responded rather insensitively by saying “My little finger is bigger than my father’s waist.” The people took that as the threat that is was, and as a result the kingdom was divided and severely weakened. We do not remember Rehoboam for his wisdom; in fact we hardly remember him at all!
A generation earlier, though, God heard the request of Solomon and was pleased with his desire for wisdom above all else.
Once again, if you could ask for anything, what would it be?
People go after all kinds of thing. Many of those are material possession that serve to place persons a sort of pecking order among neighbors and acquaintances. Others go after what God said Solomon could have asked for, a long life, by pursing excellent health and physical fitness.
I don’t think there’s anything inherently wrong with having nice things as long as they don’t become all-important, and certainly being healthy and living a long life is a good goal. But what about this matter of seeking wisdom? What would it mean to pursue that over everything else?
Both Solomon and God described wisdom as the ability to tell the difference between right and wrong, and good and evil. I’m pretty sure you have wrestled at some point in your life with those choices. What is good and right isn’t always comfortable, and honestly much of the time we find ourselves choosing between possibilities that are just different shades of good.
And so we need wisdom. I need wisdom in my work, because I daily deal with differing opinions, personalities, belief systems, motivations, and priorities. I need wisdom in order to be able to serve and lead effectively. I’m pretty confident that you need wisdom no less in the activities and responsibilities of your life.
Where is wisdom to be found? In books? Often. In people? Probably. In God? Pretty certainly. Wisdom is all around us and it comes to us when we open ourselves to the wisdom that is out there. We expand our ability to understand by experiencing new things; through meeting and knowing new people; through learning to pray in new ways. We also find wisdom in the scriptures.
Solomon’s father David wrote in Psalm 19: “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.” Within the United Church of Christ we place a high value on reading and understanding the Hebrew and Christian scriptures. We do not regard the Bible as a magical object that has supernatural powers in itself, but instead as an invitation to hear the stories of individuals and nations and communities that sought wisdom and discovered God’s intention for their lives.
Solomon is often credited with writing the book of Proverbs which is a collection of short sayings that contain practical wisdom. There is a whole genre of books in the Bible known as Wisdom Literature, much of it in poetic form, urging us to live carefully and in peace with God and others.
Other religious traditions emphasize wisdom as well. The Quran says, “How many populations were given to wrong-doing? They tumbled down on their roofs. And how many wells are lying idle and neglected, and castles lofty and well-built?. Do they not travel through the land, so that their hearts (and minds) may thus learn wisdom and their ears may thus learn to hear? Truly it is not their eyes that are blind, but their hearts.”
Buddhism likens wisdom to a clear mirror that perfectly reflects reality as it is. What is reflected in the mirror of wisdom is the interrelatedness and interdependence of our life with all other life. This wisdom dispels our delusions of separateness and awakens in us a sense of empathetic equality with all living things.
The evidence of wisdom is seen in many ways. One is in the quality of relationships: the ability to relate to others peaceably and respectfully. Another is the desire to do what is best for all, not just for self. God commended Solomon for wishing for what would bless everyone. We certainly live in a culture that does not always seek the common good, but is protective of what only serves individuals or segments of our society.
Wisdom has an eye on the long term. Expedience is the enemy of wisdom and causes us to imagine that the short-term gain from our actions is worth the long-term cost. That, of course, is at the heart of why we have such a hard time caring for this earth. We can no longer imagine that our human actions are not harming us all. Our views of consumption have to become bigger and more magnanimous than what will benefit us personally.
If you could ask God for anything at all today, what would it be? Who would it benefit? How would it do so? Jesus affirmed the value of asking in one of his first sermons. “Ask,” he said, “and it will be given to you. Seek and you will find. Knock and the door will be opened.” It’s OK to ask.
There are many good things we might ask for. Among them is the gift that Solomon sought. May God place in each of us a desire for ever-increasing wisdom, and may we ask boldly for that wisdom to fill our lives and benefit all around us. Amen.