1 Kgs 21:1-16
It would be difficult to find a day in the liturgical year on which there are two more contrasting readings than we have today. On the left panel of this diptych of contrasts, we spy Ahab and Jezebel, the paradigmatic “evil couple” of the Old Testament. Ahab covets the fine vineyard that is part of Naboth’s ancestral heritage. It is not that Ahab wants to acquire this vineyard without offering any compensation; he does offer payment to Naboth. But, in conscience, Naboth cannot accept the king’s offer because he is obliged to protect his family heritage, a solemn duty for the people of ancient Israel. Ahab’s anger at Naboth’s refusal, coupled with the goading of Jezebel, sets in motion a spiral of plotting, intrigue and violence.
The right panel of our biblical diptych reveals another perspective altogether. Jesus’ words about nonviolence in the face of aggression, and unstinting generosity toward those in need, present a strategy for undoing the spiral of violence that often plagues our world. This section of the Sermon on the Mount enshrines Jesus’ teaching at its most radical. His words are so challenging that we are tempted to dismiss them as entirely unrealistic in a world where Ahabs and Jezebels continue to inflict violence on innocent people.
I just returned from a visit to our Passionist Father Rick Frechette in Haiti. Many in our Passionist family know of Rick as our priest-physician who has spearheaded the construction of a network of hospitals, orphanages, schools, housing and other programs for the poorest of the poor in Haiti. Haiti is a country where ever-present deprivation has been exacerbated by the devastation caused by the 2010 earthquake. Rick and his Haitian colleagues are remarkably generous and dedicated to the task of serving their people. They labor tirelessly to offer light and hope in a place darkened by oppressive poverty and violence. Little by little, day by day, their response to poverty and violence is to create havens of welcome, healing, and hope.
Throughout or lives, most of us absorb the teaching of Jesus little by little, day by day. We gradually become people of Gospel charity through small acts by which we refuse to engage the spiral of violence and in which we “go beyond the call of duty” in our responses to others. Each day we are invited to ask the Lord for the grace we need to express in our lives the generous love that Jesus embodied in his relations with others. And we are reminded that all of this is to be done in light of an ever-deepening realization of God’s boundless, faithful love for us – a love made visible in the outstretched arms of Jesus on the cross. As the First Letter of John tells us, we love because God first loved us. And God continues to love us, even when our response is not what it should be. Day by day, God loves us more than we could ever imagine. May we grow in our awareness of his love for us so that we may become people of welcome, healing and hope for others.