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We Do Have a Choice!
A Reflection on Evil and a Christ-like Response (1 King 21:1-16 and Matthew 5:38-42)
“You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, offer no resistance to one who is evil. (Matthew 5:8-39 NABRE)
The readings for the Memorial of St Anthony of Padua (13 June) focus on evil and our response to it. We seem to live in a world beset with evil. War in the Ukraine, Pandemics, Mass Shootings, and the deaths of so many innocents. Evil is the absence of good. Moral evil, the kind of evil the Lord is talking about in Matthew 5:39, is a clear choice, to do good, to love, or to do evil, to hate. In the first reading, we see evil in two forms. Those who do evil, and those who may not do the evil but are more than happy to profit from it.
“Moral Evil” cannot have two more apt examples than Ahab and Jezebel. The author of the First Book of Kings makes no bones about it. He writes, “no one gave himself up to the doing of evil in the sight of the Lord as did Ahab, urged on by his wife Jezebel,”(1 Kings 21:25 NABRE). Ahab was the Son of Amri and King of Israel around 900 years before Christ. Jezebel was his wife and the daughter of the King of Tyre and, infamous. Even today, to be known as a “Jezebel” is to be known to be absolute wickedness. Both were shameless as you can see in the reading today. Ahab offers to buy a Vineyard from Naboth. When Naboth says no, a word that I suppose Ahab was not used to hearing, he goes into a fit of depression. Jezebel then conspires with local nobles to accuse Naboth of cursing God and king to murder him and take the vineyard. Sound familiar? Christ was crucified for blasphemy against God and claiming to be King rather than Caesar. Jezebel and her co-conspirators execute the plot and, using the law, murder Naboth by stoning him. The Jewish authorities, conspiring with the Romans, murder Christ on the cross through the sham of legality. Absolute evil! What is worse, is what we hear at the end of the first reading.
“On hearing that Naboth was dead, Ahab started off on his way down the vineyard of Naboth the Jezreelite, to take possession of it.” (1 Kings 21:16)
Ahab could not have been happier. He got what he wanted and did not really care how it happened. How often do we hear that what happened was evil but there is something we deem as good that came from it? This is the sin of Ahab. Frequently, we hear something similar in our country. The sin of abortion comes rapidly to mind, where we justify the murder of an innocent in the name of free choice to do what “I” want. Jesus, in the Gospel today, calls us to put an end to that kind of thinking.
Jesus tells us in the Gospel to, “offer no resistance to one who is evil.” (Matt 5:39 NABRE) He is telling us to refuse to be entangled with evil and all its schemes. He tells us not to hit back when hit. In striking back, we become entangled in the evil before us. He tells us it is better to lose everything you have rather than engage in evil that good may come of it. In fact, He tells us to literally go the extra mile with people out of love. He is telling us, we have a choice.
God did not create us for evil, but to love. St Thomas Aquinas defines love as willing the good of the other, (STh., I-II q.26 a.4). To “will,” is a choice. If you think what Jesus is asking us today is too hard. Look at Jesus on the cross. In His passion and crucifixion, the most cruel and evil punishment devised at that point in history, He refused to be entangled in evil. He is God Almighty but being pure love, He will not hit back. In the Garden of Gethsemane when Peter strikes with the sword and cuts off the ear of the High Priest’s servant, Jesus tells Peter to put away the sword and he heals the wounded man, (Luke 22:50–51). Though he will be led off to death. He will not be ensnared by evil.
Jesus tells us to reject a world where it is about me getting justice for myself. We are called to be children of heaven and remember that through the Sacraments, especially in receiving the Eucharist, we are filled with love itself. We are not to be children of the world, where pride-driven revenge or responding “in kind” are the rule, but children of the Kingdom. We pray in the Lord’s prayer; “thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” How are things done in heaven? With immeasurable mercy and love. This may seem to run absolutely counter to our nature but consider what St Anthony of Padua, whose memorial we celebrate today, preached:
· The breadth of charity [love] widens the narrow heart of the sinner.
· Learn to love humility, for it will cover all your sins. All sins are repulsive before God, but the most repulsive of all is pride of the heart.
· [The] children of this world … consider the children of light to be stupid and believe themselves to be the prudent ones. Their prudence is their death.
Jesus tells us to resist evil. Yes, resist evil and embrace love. Easy? No way! But it is the way of heaven and the kingdom of which, we are happily, citizens.
Next time we feel the need to strike back, to respond with anger or in kind, to become enmeshed in evil, either by doing evil or benefiting from it, consider this prayer of St Anthony:
“Let us beseech the Lord Jesus Christ to take away anger from our hearts, and to give us peace of mind, so that we may love our neighbor in heart and mind and deed; and attain to Him who is our peace. May He grant this, who is blessed for ever and ever. Amen.”
St Anthony of Padua. (1979). The Sunday Sermons of Anthony of Padua. The Sermons of Saint Antony of Padua. Centro Studi Antoniani. Retrieved June 10, 2022, from https://d2y1pz2y630308.cloudfront.net/15471/documents/2016/10/St.%20Anthony%20of%20Padua-The%20Sermons%20of%20Saint%20Anthony.pdf.
“He who loves, goes out from himself, insofar as he wills the good of his friend and works for it. Yet he does not will the good of his friend more than his own good: and so it does not follow that he loves another more than himself.” Aquinas, St. Thomas. Summa Theologiae. Ed. The Aquinas Institute. Trans. Laurence Shapcote. Vol. 15. Green Bay, WI; Steubenville, OH: Aquinas Institute; Emmaus Academic, 2018. Print.
Jezebel and Ahab Internet Image From - http://4.bp.blogspot.com/_ue2_vDGeEV8/TVJohZFEBQI/AAAAAAAAGEg/HUNcUTvv-IM/s1600/ahab_2.jpg
New American Bible. Revised Edition (NABRE). Washington, DC: The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, 2011. Print.