I think I got hard readings this time! Things seem pretty harsh for the guy in the first reading, and then Jesus’ words in the Gospel don’t seem all that comforting to me either. Naboth had some land and he didn’t want to sell it. It seems to me that’s his right. He inherited the land so it had sentimental value as well as real value. Ahab was king, but he recognized that when someone owns something you can’t force him to sell it. The king wanted the land because it was good land in a good location, so he was upset that Naboth refused to sell. But his wife Jezebel understood about power and force and eminent domain. She just has the guy killed (in the king’s name) and then the land is suddenly available. It wasn’t the king’s idea, but once the land was freed up, he was happy to take possession. So poor Naboth did nothing wrong – he was just trying to protect his property—and he was stoned to death and the property was lost anyway.
If we look for solace today in the Psalm or in the Gospel, we won’t find it. In the Psalm there is a plea to the Lord for an ease of suffering, “Lord, listen to my groaning,” but no help is yet forthcoming.
Then in the Gospel, Jesus tells us to just take it. He says there is no justification for revenge. He changes the revenge laws of the Old Testament, an eye for an eye, and says to take it and let the oppressors come back for more. If someone strikes you, turn your face and let him strike the other cheek. But when we look at this Gospel passage a little more, I think we’re not being asked to just take it. When Jesus tells us to turn the other cheek, what he is really saying is to face our accuser. If someone strikes, say, a slave, backhand, the striker does not see whom he strikes. But if that person turns and faces him to present the other cheek for a slap, the striker must look his victim in the face and recognize his humanity. Turning the other cheek isn’t an act of abjection but of rebellion even. Jesus says if we are pressed into service, to make it a service. We should go beyond the minimum required. If someone forces you into service for a mile, go two instead. If someone would sue you for your shirt, throw in the cloak. If someone is in need and asks a favor or a loan, give it. He’s not telling us to just give up, he’s telling us to recognize that we’re all people – king and servant—and we should be of help and service to our fellow man. We aren’t being told to take it, we’re being told to give it.
Oh, and tune in tomorrow to see what happens about Naboth. We don’t get revenge, but there’s some justice done.
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