1 KINGS 21:1-10, (11-14), 15-21A
By: Rev. Rosemarie C. Smurzynski
Scripture: 1 Kings 21:1-10, (11-14), 15-21a
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 vineyard.'" 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.
Then the word of the Lord came to Elijah the Tishbite, saying: Go down to meet King Ahab of Israel, who rules in Samaria; he is now in the vineyard of Naboth, where he has gone to take possession. You shall say to him, "Thus says the Lord: Have you killed, and also taken possession?" You shall say to him, "Thus says the Lord: In the place where dogs licked up the blood of Naboth, dogs will also lick up your blood."
Ahab said to Elijah, "Have you found me, O my enemy?" He answered, "I have found you. Because you have sold yourself to do what is evil in the sight of the Lord, I will bring disaster on you; I will consume you...."
I love good narrative whether it is the libretto of a Madame Butterfly or an act from The Cherry Orchard or prose from Jane Austen or poetry of Robert Frost. Good narrative puts me in touch with big questions: what, what if, how, how long? And it raises the why and why not questions which I have been asking since kindergarten. Good narrative is what charms me into reading our Bible stories.
Today’s narrative is well crafted, a truth I count on when I open to any Bible passage. Today’s narrative spotlights the imperfection in the human heart, explores what it is capable of when its needs and wants are challenged. And then there is the unknowable mystery which is God, the wild one, looking in and looking out, discerning what is good and what is just.
Ahab, King of Samaria, is not a good man. To call him the opposite though, a bad man, is to free him of his tainted yearnings and deeds. We can forgive bad kings, those who know not better, but to forgive Ahab’s malevolence in intent and action is not easy. Even God cannot carry off that forgiveness or so we read in today’s narrative.
The story is this: Ahab wants Naboth’s vineyard. Naboth doesn’t want to give that vineyard away for he considers it an ancestral gift from God. Ahab turns his face away from the center of the room and the company of others, and refuses to eat. In other words when Ahab is denied what he desires he becomes petulant, behavior that might be overlooked in a toddler, but doesn’t wear well on an adult. His behavior achieves results. His wife, Jezebel, hungry for any excuse for malevolent work, schemes to rid Ahab of Naboth. I can hear her sing a mezzo-soprano aria: “If you insist on standing in our way, Naboth, I will destroy you.” And she does, by having Naboth stoned to death.
I Kings 19 narrative doesn’t end here; it doesn’t end in injustice for this is God’s story, as well. The narrative goes on; it adds new voices, Elijah’s and God’s. The word of the Lord came to Elijah and in recitative we hear God’s warning to Ahab: “In the place where dogs licked up the blood of Naboth, dogs will also lick up your blood.” And then in the purest tenor tones comes the prophet Elijah, God’s prophet of choice for this message, who sing to Ahab: “I have found you. Because you have sold yourself to do what is evil in the sight of the Lord, I will bring disaster on you.” End of this narrative. Another day, we will hear another narrative. For this day we stand gasping, we can’t even clap we are so stunned by these events. We are grasped by the message.
As for me, I hear this:
- When we tell the truth we are in the presence of God. Not an easy presence to be in, it demands so much of us. Elijah was always hiding from Ahab and Jezebel because of God’s messages he was asked to speak.
- Elijah chooses God’s presence over everything else. And the message is always the same: a promise that justice will abide, bringing life to life’s seekers.
- Why are Elijah’s words so piercing for Ahab?
- What happens to us when we hear truth?
- What happens to us when we tell truth?
Prayer: from Saint Francis of Assisi
Read. Reflect. Respond. Rest.
Lord, make me an instrument of your peace.
Where there is hatred let me sow love,
Where there is injury, pardon,
Where there is doubt, faith,
Where there is despair, hope,
Where there is darkness, light,
Where there is sadness, joy.