A Greater Good- Reflection for Mass of June 14, 2010

14 Jun

Monday, June 14, 2010
Ferial- Monday of the Eleventh Week in Ordinary Time
Readings: 1 Kings 21:1-16; Psalm 5: 1-2, 4-5, 6+, 12; Matthew 5:38-42

Nine chapters of 1 Kings before the passage that is today’s first reading, the story of Naboth’s vineyard, the chaos began that would bring down Israel’s monarchy. The disorder started in about 930 B.C.E. with the schism between the southern Kingdom of Judah and the northern Kingdom of Israel.[1]

From the viewpoint of the author 1 Kings, there were only three righteous kings, all of the south: David, Solomon, and Asa.[2] The forty-one-year reign of Asa over Judah overlaps with those of Jeroboam, first king of the North post-schism, and six kings of Israel, two of whom ruled for two years or less.[3] 1 Kings describes each of these northern monarchs as having done all the evil and worse of their predecessors back to Jeroboam.[4]

The two Books of Kings and the preceding two Books of Samuel, which together comprise the Biblical history of monarchical Israel, are clearly written from a Judahite perspective. The southern kings were not as good, nor were the northern kings as bad as they are made to appear.[5] Nevertheless, significant truth is found in these pro-Judahite and pro-Davidic accounts. Foremost of these truths is the danger of falling to false gods. The alarm is sounded even before the first king is anointed; a danger existed in the Israelites’ plea to Samuel to appoint for them “a king… as other nations have.”[6]

Ahab, the king featured in today’s first reading, was like his northern predecessors in his worship of foreign idols. He had even sealed his dependence on those gods in his marriage to Jezebel. Such worship of foreign deities was the chief evil of the northern kings that prophets like Elijah were sent to suppress.[7] Moreover, Ahab was given a long reign of twenty-two years in which the LORD gave him a chance to set right the evils of his predecessors.[8]

He did the opposite, and worse; Ahab did evil under the guise of keeping religious and social tradition. Ahab’s attempt to acquire Naboth’s vineyard was not wrong in and of itself; Naboth would have been expected by that tradition to give his excess land to his neighbour or to the poor and landless.[9] He refused to do so, which makes me question whenever I read this story why no prophet is said to have criticized Naboth’s lack of charity. Ahab, though, had no right to the land, or to have Jezebel force Naboth to part with his vineyard. On the surface, the actions of Ahab and of Jezebel do not seem wicked; the same ancient tradition in which two witnesses are sent to Naboth to bring a capital charge against him was also longstanding.[10] Here again, though, we see abuse of the vulnerable by those who have power over them. The treatment of Naboth by a king who has fallen for the gods of greed and affluence becomes a question of social justice and a question of to whom we bear allegiance: to God or to someone or something else.[11]

The account of Naboth’s vineyard and again today’s Gospel in which Jesus warns his disciples against the unjust application of a religious law that was designed to mitigate retaliatory violence- “an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth”[12]– remind us that charity must govern our actions as Christians. That charity must take precedence even over actions that are merely right by legal or by religious tradition.

Let us pray accordingly that our liturgy might strengthen us; that through the Sacrament of the Eucharist we might act with justice and with charity in applying laws that are good in and of themselves to the even greater good of ourselves, of our neighbour, of the world in which we live, and of our relationship with our God.

WRS


[1] Lawrence Boadt, Reading the Old Testament: An Introduction (New York, NY/Mahwah, NJ: Paulist Press, 1984), 292-294.

[2] David and Solomon enjoyed the Lord’s favour despite their many cycles of sin and repentance. Both are said to have “rested with [their] ancestors” upon their deaths (see 1 Kings 2:10, 11:43). Asa, too, “pleased the LORD like his forefather David.” (1 Kings 15:11) 2 Kings chronicles the lives of two more righteous southern kings, Hezekiah and Josiah (see 2 Kings 16-20, 22, 23:1-30; see also Boadt, Reading the Old Testament, 296).

[3] During the reign of Asa in Judah, the following kings came to power in the north of the split kingdom: Nadab (reigned for two years; see 1 Kings 15:25-32), Baasha (twenty-four years; see 1 Kings 15:33- 16:7), Elah (two years; see 1 Kings 16:8-14), Zimri (seven days; see 1 Kings 16:15-22), Omri (twelve years; see 1 Kings 16:23-28), and Ahab (twenty-two years, the first three of which overlapped with the reign of Asa; see 1 Kings 16:23-34).

[4] 1 Kings 15:26, 34, 13, 19, 25, 30.

[5] Boadt, Reading the Old Testament, 295-297.

[6] 1 Samuel 8:5

[7] John J. McDermott, “Weekday Homily Helps: June 14, 2010, Monday of the 11th Week of Ordinary Time, Exegesis of the First Reading.” Edited by Diane M Houdek (Cincinnati, OH: St. Anthony Messenger Press, 2010).

[8] 1 Kings 16:29

[9] Ibid. See also Leviticus 25:13-17, which provides for the transfer in ancient Israel during the Jubilee year- every forty-nine years- of excess land from the wealthy to those who had less land. This ideal of charity was often not observed, and its observation was frequently not enforced.

[10] Ibid. See also Deuteronomy 17:6.

[11] Ibid.

[12] Matthew 5:38. Jesus’ saying there is based on the Old Testament law written in Exodus 21:24 and Leviticus 24:19-20.

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