Sorry everyone, forgot to post yesterday (Monday, June 15th) homily online… Thanks for the messages and your interest…
MONDAY: A Jezebel
If you ever wondered where the negative connotation to the name “Jezebel” comes from, today’s your day. We hear in the First Reading this just awful story of abuse of power, injustice, scandal – you know, things that don’t happen anymore and are far removed from our own experiences (sorry, I know I shouldn’t be sarcastic… being from New Jersey it’s part of our vernacular)
In any event, this poor guy Naboth -simply wanted to be left alone in peace on his own vineyard – it had been in his family for generations. So it wasn’t just the financial value that was important, there was a heritage, a history that was a part of that land that made it more valuable to him than simply selling it or trading it so the King could grow some cucumbers there. When Naboth rejects the offers, the King pouts, his wife Jezebel rips into her husband as being spineless and orchestrates this evil plan to ultimately get what they want at any cost, including Naboth’s life. After we ended that reading, we heard the psalmist crying out “Lord listen to my groaning” which is followed up with this Gospel where Jesus tells us “to turn the other cheek.”
It feels completely unsatisfying. Particularly as an Italian male who is constantly dealing with that internal struggle where I can say “the Italian in me wants to not just get even with my enemies but defeat them and all their friends and relatives – while the Christian knows I’m supposed to love my enemies…” So is the message here that Naboth should’ve simply relented? Not even gotten paid for the property that the King wanted but handed it over to him and slunk away like a chump?
That’s where reading a little further along about Jezebel, King Ahab in the Book of Kings (which spolier alert is tomorrow’s reading) is helpful and instructive. This injustice will in fact be addressed. In God’s timing, in His way. So, to those looking for more satisfaction, hang on for part two tomorrow. For today though, the focus is on us. What Jesus is teaching here isn’t a Gospel of pacifism where we’re just to be taken advantage of, don’t defend ourselves, and be grateful for the opportunity. Jesus is trying to prevent us from ever becoming Jezebel or Ahab. He’s giving us the path to protecting our hearts.
Everyone of us has some “enemy” we can think of. Whatever the particulars surrounding them, Jesus is saying doesn’t matter in the end as much as our hearts. God created us out of love and for love. We’re to remember that and have faith and trust that living for Him and under His commands and allowing Him to be the ultimate, final arbiter of justice is challenging but the surest way to be in peace internally and externally. If we allow whatever or whoever it is that offends us to twist our hearts – that will be on us. Then we may become a different person, and we become as memorable, negatively, as a Jezebel ourselves.
TUESDAY – Love your enemies?:
There’s something comforting about hearing this Gospel paired with today’s first reading from the Old Testament book of Kings. Jesus’ charging us to “Love your enemies,” “Be perfect just as your heavenly father is perfect” seems beyond challenging – it’s almost impossible in our minds to imagine ever happening. But part of the reason that’s the case is so often we have misunderstandings attached to our expectations of what “love” looks like. Does love mean putting up with injustices? Being walked over and allowed to be taken advantage of by someone or something else? Meekly and humbly not defending oneself or others against a threat?
That’s where the first reading from the book of Kings is helpful. This scripture continues from yesterday where we heard of the horrific scheme that Jezebel and King Ahab launched against this poor man who dared not to sell his family’s land, his heritage so the King could use the property to expand his vegetable garden. So Jezebel and Ahab lied about the man, which lead to him being killed and then they simply stole his property.
Today’s reading tells us God was paying attention and is pretty ticked off with these two. He sends his prophet Elijah to call out not just this one single evil deed which is bad enough, but even more, as King of Israel Ahab has lead his people into sin. He’s given a horrific example to people he was called to serve… all because of his self-centered, selfish desires.
This confrontation – this difficult discussion, and yes, the eventual punishment that Jezebel and Ahab will endure is in fact an act of love. God who alone is just – who sees and knows human hearts, sees and knows both the potential for greatness and evil in giving us free- will; He also sees and knows the brokenness that we contend with as well as the potential that human beings can make when they do strive for perfection.
The point to focus on is that just because God is angry at Ahab and Jezebel doesn’t mean he didn’t love them anymore. True, He sure didn’t love what they did and knows they know better. But here’s where we so often make the call to love our enemies more complex then Jesus intended. Love doesn’t mean validating destructive behavior. Love doesn’t mean joyfully enduring unjust suffering and abuse. Love in fact means casting a light on those evil things. Love requires that we call out what is wrong. Love even sometimes requires being angry because anger is a passionate feeling responding to something – which when justified is a good and appropriate response. The worst thing would be to be indifferent.
God sends Elijah to do all those things. In response, Ahab recognizes what he’s done. He repents, he fasts, not trying to win God’s favor back (which he knows he’s squandered) but because in the depths of his heart, he regretted his choices his decisions. He recalled all the things that God had done for Him and was mourning that he had forgotten them in his selfishness and self-centeredness. It is in the midst of that, we hear of God’s mercy towards Ahab. Yes, this moment of anger will pass – just as yes, the King’s moment to be a good king has passed as well – they can’t undo what they have done.
But love sees that there’s still a future.
God accepts this repentance, and will make something new of it. Another opportunity where we will see how He “writes straight with crooked lines.” In that God gives us a model to follow. I know that personally with some quote/unquote enemies in my own life that, no, a friendship like I once had with someone might not ever be possible again… going back to the way things were before a pain, a hurt was inflicted might not be possible. But there’s a choice to make: Do we continue nursing a hurt, replaying a grievance, and internalizing that pain where I wish this person ill, seeing them as “dead” to me. Or do I hear the call of Jesus to love – which opens me to seeing a future – where authentic and genuine reconciliation opens us to participating in the life and activity of God, who is all about making things new.