Reflection on Today’s Daily Readings by Fr. Bertrand Buby, SM
A frightening narrative greets us this morning in the liturgical reading
from I Kings 21:1-16. Both Ahab the king and Jezebel are involved in the
death of a simple man of Israel named Nabot.. Here we see the crime of
murder perpetrated by a selfish king who wanted the ancestral plot of
Nabot. When Nabot refuses, the wife and queen of Ahab named Jezebel seizes
the opportunity to rid herself of someone who is a bother to her husband.
His complicity in the crime is seen. He obtains the plot by her sealing a
written statement and sending it to the magistrates or lawgivers that Nabot
has cursed both the king and his God. She is a believer in Baal and her
name is connected with that god of the Canaanites. She also is the avenger
and pursuer of our hero Elijah who has fled from her territory. In the
story one can see the effects of envy, pride based on power, murder, greed,
and inability to confront someone who is mentally stronger than the king
himself. This judicial murder of Nabot is the occasion for Elijah’s
prophetic oracle against the house of Ahab; both he and Jezebel will be
killed and avenged by the prophet’s prediction. The sin was an act of
injustice against the right to one’s property and one’s life which is so
closely connected to land in Israel from time immemorial. The most recent
work done on this crime is connected to a patristic study done by a
Marianist priest named Vincent Vasey, S.M. He wrote his thesis on the
“Social Ideas in the Works of St. Ambrose” : a study concerning Nabot. We
see St. Ambrose defending the right to private property through his own
commentary on Nabot in Vasey’s work. (Rome, 1982: Patristic Institute of
the Augustinianum). A more recent work has this to say about this
incident: “Clearly, Jezebel acted as queen even thought the Bible itself
refuses her the title and its attendant respect, not to mention approval.
In the biblical text, as Trible notes, Jezebel is contrasted with and
juxtposed to the prophet Elijah, to the exten that they both form the two
panels of a mirrored dyptich. She is a Baal supporter, he is a YHWH
supporter; she is a woman, he is a man; tshe is a foreigner, he is a
native; she has monarchic power, he has prophetic power; she threatens, he
flees; finally he wins, she is liquidated. The real conflict is not between
Ahab (the king) and Elijah, but between Jezebel (the queeen in actuality,
if not title) and Elijah. Ultimately the forces of YHWH win; Jezebel loses.
It remains to be understood why she gets such bad press.” (Athalya Brenner,
Women in Scripture, p. 101). Her name is mentioned in the Book of
Revelation for a self-proclaimed “Jezebel” in Revelation 2:20.
We need the Gospel passage after the horrendous story of Jezebel and her
own death. Jesus gives us a further development of how much it takes to be
a peaceful person and a peace-maker. We are to offer the other cheek when
we are struck. This may in rabbinic thought be related to giving the person
who struck us another opportunity to resist the second striking of the
cheek and to ask for forgiveness. Even so, this is quite a challenge to us
to remain calm if this happens either physically or psychological to us.
This is one of those passages in which we may hear the echo of Jesus
saying, ” Let him/her accept this who can.” Amen.