Later the following events took place: Naboth the Jezreelite had a vineyard in Jezreel, beside the palace of King Ahab of Samaria. And Ahab said to Naboth, "Give me your vineyard, so that I may have it for a vegetable garden, because it is near my house; I will give you a better vineyard for it; or, if it seems good to you, I will give you its value in money." But Naboth said to Ahab, "The Lord forbid that I should give you my ancestral inheritance." Ahab went home resentful and sullen because of what Naboth the Jezreelite had said to him; for he had said, "I will not give you my ancestral inheritance." He lay down on his bed, turned away his face, and would not eat.
His wife Jezebel came to him and said, "Why are you so depressed that you will not eat?" He said to her, "Because I spoke to Naboth the Jezreelite and said to him, 'Give me your vineyard for money; or else, if you prefer, I will give you another vineyard for it'; but he answered, 'I will not give you my vineyrd.'" His wife Jezebel said to him, "Do you now govern Israel? Get up, eat some food, and be cheerful; I will give you the vineyard of Naboth the Jezreelite."
So she wrote letters in Ahab's name and sealed them with his seal; she sent the letters to the elders and the nobles who lived with Naboth in his city. She wrote in the letters, "Proclaim a fast, and seat Naboth at the head of the assembly; seat two scoundrels opposite him, and have them bring a charge against him, saying, 'You have cursed God and the king.' Then take him out, and stone him to death." The men of his city, the elders and the nobles who lived in his city, did as Jezebel had sent word to them. Just as it was written in the letters that she had sent to them, they proclaimed a fast and seated Naboth at the head of the assembly. The two scoundrels came in and sat opposite him; and the scoundrels brought a charge against Naboth, in the presence of the people, saying, "Naboth cursed God and the king." So they took him outside the city, and stoned him to death. Then they sent to Jezebel, saying, "Naboth has been stoned; he is dead."
As soon as Jezebel heard that Naboth had been stoned and was dead, Jezebel said to Ahab, "Go, take possession of the vineyard of Naboth the Jezreelite, which he refused to give you for money; for Naboth is not alive, but dead." As soon as Ahab heard that Naboth was dead, Ahab set out to go down to the vineyard of Naboth the Jezreelite, to take possession of it.
Jesus said to his disciples,"You have heard that it was said, 'An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.' But I say to you, Do not resist an evildoer. But if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also; and if anyone wants to sue you and take your coat, give your cloak as well; and if anyone forces you to go one mile, go also the second mile. Give to everyone who begs from you, and do not refuse anyone who wants to borrow from you."
The first reading conveys a sense of helpless indignation. In Naboth we have an instance of a good and decent man, betrayed by his neighbours just to please the government (the royal pair). The tragedy begins in the greed of a king who always got what he wanted, an absolute monarch. But why shouldn't a king have whatever he wants? Hasn't the monarch the right to change laws to suit himself, or to annex the neighbouring property of Naboth? The prophet Samuel had long ago warned against the claims of the kings who will rule them (1 Sam 8:10-18); but the people would not listen to this warning and replied, "We must be like other nations, with a king to rule us and lead us in warfare and fight our battles." Later, to their cost, they experienced the negative, capricious side of absolute monarchy.
When King Ahab asked to purchase Naboth's vineyard at a handsome price, it showed he no longer appreciated the ancient religious traditions of the people, as Naboth himself did. An important norm of Israelite society was the attachment of a family to a particular piece of land, a heritage that must not be permanently alienated from its ancestral owners. Leviticus (25:23-55) stipulates the norms by which land was to be preserved within the larger family or clan. But what Naboth regarded as non-negotiable, Ahab waved aside as irrelevant and out-of-date. To deal with his opposition, Naboth was quickly entrapped in false accusations and stoned as a blasphemer, and even his neighbours connived in this unjust charade.
While the king pouted like a spoiled child, lying down on his bed and turning away from his food, Naboth showed the quiet strength of a man who lived in the awareness of God. He did not cry out for revenge, but went far beyond the call of duty, more than the extra mile. He died for his principles and left us an example of heroism. Jesus' ideals in the Sermon on the Mount are exemplified for us in a dramatic way by Naboth.
What a contrast between today's first reading and gospel. Jesus calls on his disciples not to repay evil with evil, with to respond to evil with goodness. St Paul says something similar in his letter to the Romans, "Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good." The worst instinct in human nature is to overcome good with evil, which is what we find Jezebel doing in the first reading. The best instinct of human nature is to overcome evil with good. This in fact could be termed the divine instinct, God's instinct. It was the way of Jesus. He lived and died to overcome evil with good.
It is not easy to remain good in the face of evil, to be loving in the face of hatred, to be faithful in the face of unfaithfulness, to remain just in the face of injustice done to us, to be peacemakers in the face of violence done to us. We cannot live in this way drawing on our own strength and resources alone. We need God's strength, God's resources, God's Spirit, because such a way of life is the fruit of God's Spirit at work within us. [MH]