Monday, June 13, 2016

Give to the One Who Asks

Ahab said to Naboth, “Give me your vineyard to be my vegetable garden, since it is close by, next to my house. I will give you a better vineyard in exchange, or, if you prefer, I will give you its value in money.” Naboth answered him, “The LORD forbid that I should give you my ancestral heritage.”  1 Kings 21:2-3

But I say to you, offer no resistance to one who is evil. When someone strikes you on your right cheek, turn the other one to him as well. If anyone wants to go to law with you over your tunic, hand him your cloak as well. Should anyone press you into service for one mile, go with him for two miles. Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn your back on one who wants to borrow.”  Matthew 5:39-42

Saint Anthony, you are the perfect imitator of Jesus, who received from God the special power of restoring lost things, grant that our country and the victims of senseless violence in Orlando last weekend may find peace and a solution to these mass killings which plague our nation and our psyche and our moral compass. At least restore to us peace and tranquility of mind. 

To this favor, I ask another of you: that I may always remain in possession of the true good that is God. Let me rather lose all things than lose God, my supreme good. Let me never suffer the loss of my greatest treasure, eternal life with God. Amen.

This reflection will get around to having the right “New Testament” frame of mind, however, first, it will take a turn past some basic historical research to give the story from Kings meaning in the modern world.

If King Ahab had the “Right of Eminent Domain,” then this whole episode could have been avoided.  Eminent Domain is the right of a government or its agent to expropriate private property for public use, with payment of compensation.  My fraternal grandfather had a small homestead in Staten Island, NY back in the 1930s to 1950s.  Progress in the form of the Staten Island Expressway (Interstate 278/US 440 a part of President Eisenhower’s Interstate Highway system) was planned to run right through the property.  Today, the land is now the inside of an exit ramp from the Expressway to Richmond Avenue (near West Caswell Avenue).  Tens of thousands of cars and buses pass daily who otherwise would have been on neighborhood streets.   

Ahab, though, did not have any such public use in mind.  He wanted Naboth’s vineyard as a personal possession.  That is why he needed Jezebel to manipulate important structures of Israelite social order, law, and religious observance to eliminate the faithful Israelite landowner who tried to frustrate Ahab’s will. Naboth is shown as unwilling to sell or exchange his vineyard.  However, this is not a matter of choice. Even if he wanted to make the trade, according to the Israelite system, the land was not personal property but was held in common within the family or community. The vineyard was not private property, to be sold at will by the local real estate agent.  When the landholder died, it would pass to the next of kin, usually the first born son.  Naboth resisted Ahab because he had no choice.  (Today we only hear the first installment of this drama.  Stay tuned for rising action as the week progresses.)

However, this is a symbolic story of the broader story arc in Kings. 

When the people responded to and respected God and His Word, the nation was delivered from its enemies and prospered. But curses resulted when disobedience and rebellion against God became the order of the day… God is the Lord of history, actively involved in the affairs of men. When the nation and its leaders look to him and obey his laws, peace and prosperity follow. Political and economic disaster overtake Israel and Judah as a direct consequence of the weakening of the nation’s moral and religious fibre” (p. 251). [i]

The reading from Matthew gives a pretty big hint about what is unfolding as the new law replaces the old. If Naboth had not resisted, he might not have met his fate at the hands of Ahab and Jezebel. However, Naboth was a product of his time and traditions. The new law of the New Testament had not yet been introduced.  So, Naboth stuck to his traditions and legal position just like Tevia did in the Fiddler on the Roof story. 

Jesus eventually comes along and make course corrections.  Turn the other cheek.  Walk two miles. GIVE to the one who asks. Those will all come later. Instead, stay tuned to see how Ahab will face the music for his deeds and misdeeds when Elijah comes along to speak truth to power.

What have we lost, St. Anthony?  Restore our tranquility and peace of mind.  As Pope Francis sums it up:

The terrible massacre that has taken place in Orlando, with its dreadfully high number of innocent victims, has caused in Pope Francis, and in all of us, the deepest feelings of horror and condemnation, of pain and turmoil before this new manifestation of homicidal folly and senseless hatred. Pope Francis joins the families of the victims and all of the injured in prayer and in compassion. Sharing in their indescribable suffering he entrusts them to the Lord so they may find comfort. We all hope that ways may be found, as soon as possible, to effectively identify and contrast the causes of such terrible and absurd violence which so deeply upsets the desire for peace of the American people and of the whole of humanity. 

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