Today’s first reading, like the first readings we’ve had last week during daily Mass, kind of makes you cringe. But these readings are here for a purpose, and the Church wants us to read them for a reason. The story we have been getting is one of salvation rejected by the ones who need to be saved. We have to back up just a little bit. The whole deliverance from slavery in Egypt, which we read about in Lent, symbolized the deliverance from the power of sin. Wandering through the desert for forty years symbolized the purification that we go through on the way to salvation. Crossing the River Jordan symbolizes baptism, which wipes away our sins, and entering into the Promised Land symbolizes the salvation from sin, which we all seek.
But this is where it all goes wrong. When the chosen people crossed into the Promised Land, they were instructed to wipe out all the people who inhabited the land – and not just the people, but the livestock and the cities and everything in them. They were supposed to do that because God knew that if they lived among these people, the chosen people would be tempted to follow false gods and to turn away from him and do every kind of evil. Unfortunately, that’s exactly what happened: they did not wipe out the people; instead they lived among them. And they turned away from God and followed the false gods of the people of the land and they did every kind of evil.
Those tempters are represented in today’s first reading by Jezebel. Even her name has become a symbol of all that is wrong with humanity. Literature often calls evil women “Jezebels” because of her. Naboth the Jezreelite was a just man; he earnestly sought the one true God and honored the covenant. He was not interested in giving up his vineyard, his ancestral heritage which had been given to him and his family by the one true God. Giving that up to Ahab would have meant doing exactly what God did not want the people to do: turn away from him toward every kind of evil.
Unfortunately, Naboth’s vindication does not come in this life; he loses his life to the evil Jezebel and her scheming. His own fellow citizens conspire with her and are complicit in her sin – they had turned away from God and would do it again in a heartbeat. But Ahab and Jezebel’s sin is not rewarded either; we’ll hear about that tomorrow in the first reading.
The question for us today is this: what is the Jezebel in our lives? What tempts us to give up the salvation of our heritage and turn away from our God? Whatever it is, we absolutely must put it to death – wipe it out – so that we can live in the promised land of our salvation.