By Luke Heintschel • February 5, 2018
This is the last full week of Ordinary time before Lent. In the Church's wisdom, she has assembled the daily readings for this week to prepare us for the great penitential season of Lent. We should meditate on these readings in order to prepare our hearts for Lent, which begins this year on February 14.
From Monday to Saturday this week, we find the first readings telling a cohesive story. It begins during the reign of King Solomon. Monday's first reading told the story of God's presence entering the newly constructed Temple in Jerusalem. This temple was the greatest structure of the Old Testament. It had huge significance for the people of God. The most important aspect is dealt with in Monday's reading: God's presence dwelt there. All of Israel could come to the temple to meet God. It was the place of sacrifice; where heaven and earth met.
On Tuesday, we read in the first reading about Solomon's prayer after God's entrance into the temple. This great prayer after God entered the temple was a significant high point in the life of God's people in the Old Testament. God had brought the people out of slavery, given them dominion over the land God promised to their ancestor, Abraham. The great kingdom of Israel had been established. The temple had been built to worship the Lord, and the King dedicated that temple to God with all the people of Israel present.
On Wednesday, the first reading shows us that this kingdom, this temple, was so great that foreign pagans came to admire it. The queen of Sheba journied to Jerusalem and even worshiped the one true God of Israel. Just like God promised to Abraham, other nations have come to know the Lord through Abraham's descendant (Solomon). The image on the right depicts the queen of Sheba's praising the one true God of Israel.
This great high point in Israel's history, though, didn't last very long. The first reading from mass on Thursday is where this fall begins to take place. Deuteronomy 17 details three rules which the king of Israel was supposed to follow:
- Don't multiply wives
- Don't multiply gold
- Don't multiply horses (especially by going to Egypt to get them)
Solomon had amassed 700 wives and 300 concubines. He collected 666 talents of gold. And he imported a great many horses and chariots from Egypt. Solomon's many wives turned his heart away from the Lord. Thus begins the downfall, not only of the King, but of the whole nation of Israel. As punishment for Solomon's sins, God would remove his protection over the Kingdom of Israel.
On Friday, our first reading provides a parable for what that punishment would look like. The Kingdom of Israel would be torn apart. The ten tribes in the north would break off and form their own kingdom. The two remaining tribes in the south (where Jerusalem was) would remain under the rule of Solomon's descendants (at least for a while). The kingdom of Israel was thus split in two after Solomon's death.
The Church puts these readings in this particular week in order to prepare us for Lent. Lent is a time to turn away from sin, and these readings deal with what could be (Monday-Wednesday) if God's people had refrained from sin. That is, God's people could be united to Him. Heaven and earth can meet. God's presence could dwell among his people. But that didn't last. Sin entered into the life of Israel, as it enters our lives, and wreaks havoc. This causes all sorts of trouble in our lives.
This is why we should turn away from sin. Lent is the time in the Church's liturgical calendar where we especially focus on turning away from sin. As we prepare for Lent, let us meditate on these readings. Let us identify the sources of sin in our lives. Let us remember God's presence in our Churches, in our tabernacles, and in our hearts, that we might refrain from sin and remain in the presence of almighty God.