The Old Testament reading for Mass today is well worth our consideration. As is The Church’s way, we are offered the daily scripture readings that require more than a cursory glimpse, for in keeping with the Sacred Tradition of the Church–all of Sacred Scripture is written for our salvation. As we open our spirit to the Holy Spirit’s inspiration contained in the written word, we are tutored on how to live the virtues in order to fight the good fight against the vices of sinful thought that can lead to sinful actions which are on display in the narrative of Ahab and Jezebel. So, with that in mind, let’s examine the reading to discover what the Holy Spirit desires to accomplish in our thoughts, motives, and actions.
If you have been following the daily readings in the Old Testament, then you know much of the backstory of King Ahab and his wife Jezebel. I bet you already know today’s recorded event won’t end well for them. Ahab and Jezebel refused to accept God’s authority over them by acting on the many vices that festered in their spirits. Those actions eventually led to a messy ending for them where God’s justice was served. Let’s pick up the narrative of I Kings 21: 1-17 as the extent of their spiritual disease reveals their evil; I will paraphrase parts of the lengthy narrative.
Naboth the Jezreelite had a vineyard in Jezreel
next to the palace of Ahab, king of Samaria.
Ahab said to Naboth, “Give me your vineyard to be my vegetable garden,
since it is close by, next to my house.
I will give you a better vineyard in exchange, or,
if you prefer, I will give you its value in money.”
Naboth answered him, “The LORD forbid
that I should give you my ancestral heritage.”
Ahab went home disturbed and angry...”
[Ahab seethed in his anger, complaining to his wife Jezebel]
His wife Jezebel came to him and said to him,
“Why are you so angry that you will not eat?”
[I wanted something Naboth had and he wouldn’t give it to me!]
His wife Jezebel said to him,
“A fine ruler over Israel you are indeed!
Eat and be cheerful.
I will obtain the vineyard of Naboth the Jezreelite for you.”
[Jezebel used the power of Ahab’s office as king to plot against Naboth with lies and accusations to paint him into a corner that he would not be able to get out of alive]
And they [the bribed accusers] led Naboth out of the city and stoned him to death.
Then they sent the information to Jezebel
that Naboth had been stoned to death.
[Jezebel went in to the king with the “good” news]
“Go on, take possession of the vineyard
of Naboth the Jezreelite that he refused to sell you,
because Naboth is not alive, but dead.”
On hearing that Naboth was dead, Ahab started off on his way
down to the vineyard of Naboth the Jezreelite,
to take possession of it.
Such evil people! Such duplicity! Such injustice! But wait, let’s consider the heart and soul of Ahab and Jezebel. A small parable comes to mind from another Old Testament book; The Song of Solomon 2:15. It reads:
Catch us the foxes,
the little foxes,
that damage the vineyards—
for our vineyards are in blossom.
The putridity of Ahab and Jezebels’ behavior reveals that somewhere along the way, they had little foxes that snuck into their minds and began to damage them from the inside out. Those little foxes had names: pride, lust, gluttony, greed, sloth, anger, and envy: the seven vices. Those vices motivated their actions and ended in God’s judgment against them.
This is why The Church keeps the Sacred Scripture ever before us. This is why our Triune God sends his Holy Spirit into our lives to grant us his wisdom to live our lives. The Holy Spirit gifts us so that we may fight against the vice that motivates us to act unjustly toward another. Because of Christ’s Passion for us, we can confess those vices and be forgiven. Because of Christ’s resurrection from death, hell, and the grave, we can be strengthened in virtue and transformed to live in the abundance of a well-tended vineyard!
How does the vineyard of your soul look today? Are their little foxes running amuck in your heart and mind? If you are anything like me, friend, you regularly have to walk the wall of your vineyard looking for the holes that allow the little foxes into your soul. The Holy Spirit comes alongside us as we examine the wall, giving us the grace and mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ, helping us repair what has broken down in us. The Church comes alongside us, as well, to give us the Sacrament of Confession and the Daily Examine as tools for the repair. Sometimes I need to do minute-by-minute examinations of my thoughts and motivations; do you feel me? I invite you to pray with me the prayer of examen with the seven vices with the seven virtues.
Triune God, please grant me your humbleness to remove my prideful self-promoting thoughts and actions.
Grant me your purity and self-restraint to remove my lustful striving after more; for excess.
Grant me your patience to remove my judgmental assumptions that lead to an angry spirit.
Grant me your temperance to remove my gluttonous consumption of all the distractions that I use to ignore the sickness in my soul.
Grant me your kindness to remove the envy of others that traps me in comparisons, jealousy, and self-loathing.
Grant me your forbearance to remove the sloth of spirit that causes me to sink under the weight of what I perceive is demanded of me or causes me to despair that I will never change.
I ask this, in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.
As it was in the beginning, it is now and ever shall be, world without end.