The king went to Gibeon to sacrifice there, for that was the principal high place; Solomon used to offer a thousand burnt offerings on that altar. At Gibeon the Lord appeared to Solomon in a dream by night; and God said, "Ask what I should give you."
And Solomon said, "You have shown great and steadfast love to your servant my father David, because he walked before you in faithfulness, in righteousness, and in uprightness of heart toward you; and you have kept for him this great and steadfast love, and have given him a son to sit on his throne today. And now, O Lord my God, you have made your servant king in place of my father David, although I am only a little child; I do not know how to go out or come in. And your servant is in the midst of the people whom you have chosen, a great people, so numerous they cannot be numbered or counted. Give your servant therefore an understanding mind to govern your people, able to discern between good and evil; for who can govern this, your great people?"
It pleased the Lord that Solomon had asked this. God said to him, "Because you have asked this, and have not asked for yourself long life or riches, or for the life of your enemies, but have asked for yourself understanding to discern what is right, I now do according to your word. Indeed I give you a wise and discerning mind; no one like you has been before you and no one like you shall arise after you. I give you also what you have not asked, both riches and honour all your life; no other king shall compare with you.
How shall the young remain sinless?
By keeping to your words.
With all my heart I seek you;
let me not stray from your commands. (R./)
Within my heart I treasure your promise,
that I may not sin against you.
Blessed are you, O Lord;
teach me your statutes. (R./)
With my lips I will declare
all the decrees of your mouth.
In the way of your commands I rejoice,
as much as in all riches. (R./)
The apostles gathered around Jesus, and told him all that they had done and taught. He said to them, "Come away to a deserted place by yourselves and rest a while." For so many were coming and going, that they had no leisure even to eat. And they went away in the boat to a deserted place by themselves. Now many saw them going and recognized them, and they hurried there on foot from all the towns and arrived ahead of them.
As he went ashore, he saw a great crowd; and he had compassion for them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd; and he began to teach them many things.
Our reading from the Book of Kings offers an example of seeking first the kingdom of God. Solomon is promised a great reward for asking God for the right gifts, for the things that matter. Like an Aladdin with his magic lamp who had the chance to wish for whatever he liked, what Solomon requested was not long life, riches or victory in battle, but an understanding heart. Interestingly, God's promise to Solomon came in a dream at night. Dreams imply a time of retreat from the everyday rush, when God can access our subconscious mind, a time of mystical perception, when perhaps we settle into the mystery of our better self, a time when we are not distracted by selfish wants and petty concerns.
Times of retreat and reflection are really valuable, as Jesus reminded his disciples when he said, "Come way to a quiet place and rest a little." Peace of heart is God's special gift. The rabbis considered the Sabbath, along with the Torah, as God's supreme gift to his chosen people. We need some stretches of un-programmed silence, when God can speak to the core of our being. It is in such moments that Jesus' promise is fulfilled, "My peace I give to you."
Yet, even our Lord's own solitude was often invaded by the people who came searching for him. When Jesus saw the crowd he pitied them, for they were like sheep without a shepherd and he began to teach them at length. He leaves behind the sacred solitude, to spread the word of God while mingling with the crowd. Peace means the integral harmony of all these aspects of our life, centred in the mystery of God's presence with us.
We all need regular breaks from our routine, whatever that routine might be. Most of the time we go on holidays with somebody, or we go away to stay with somebody. Most of us like to be with others when we are away from our routine. In the gospel we find Jesus taking his disciples away together for a period of rest and quiet. They have had a busy time and were full of all they had done and taught and wanted to share it all with Jesus. He suggests a change of pace and of location, to take them away to a quiet place, where they could rest. This was to be a time of reflection in the company of Jesus, a time when they did nothing except be present to each other and to the Lord.
In our faith life we need such desert moments too, times when we try to be present to the Lord and to each other. If the first part of today's gospel proclaims the value of spiritual retreat, the second part tells of another value. The lonely place suddenly became crowded, even before Jesus and his disciples had reached the place. Jesus and his disciples stepped out of the boat not into quietness and peace but into human need and demand. We are all familiar with that kind of experience. We plan something and it doesn't work out. We go somewhere expecting something and the opposite transpires. We want to be alone and we are suddenly needed. Jesus and his disciples were interrupted from what they were intending. Interruptions are part of all our lives, and maybe God is often to be found in the interruptions.
Jesus responded to the interrupting crowd by becoming completely present to them. He did not try to avoid them or send them away, but became fully present to them. In the words of the gospel, he had compassion for them. That is at the heart of our own calling as his followers, to be present to others, even when they turn up unexpectedly and interrupt what we had planned. It is so easy to get irritated when something happens that is not part of the script we had in our head. We can be tempted to see people as nuisances instead of being present to them with compassion. Jesus had the habit of spending time alone with God; it was those times of presence to God in prayer that enabled him to be present to others, no matter when or how they turned up. Our own coming away to be with the Lord will help us to be present to those who come into our lives. Our contemplative moments, our desert times, help us to be attentive in our way of relating to those who cross our path in life.