This is the first in an installment of daily office lectionary readings from the Book of Common Prayer and their convergence with the news of the day.
Ahab, the king of Israel, is an historical footnote in the long line of near eastern monarchs. He won some battles and he died in one after fighting all day with a mortal wound. By the biblical standards of despotism, Ahab hardly stands out. Ahab’s wife Jezebel however, is another story. Her name, in the millennia since her life and times, has become synonymous with headline-grabbing treachery.
In today’s lectionary reading, Ahab and Jezebel’s conspiracy to claim eminent domain reads as eerily familiar. Naboth, a farmer who didn’t wish to part with his family’s land upon the king’s request, would meet a swift end. But a quiet death wouldn’t be enough. His reputation must first burn. So Jezebel orchestrates false charges of treason, followed by a public execution. The ruling power silences the opposition by stripping him of his credibility.
The big news of past week has been President Donald Trump’s White House pursuing the de-legitimization of the American press corps. Just yesterday Press Secretary Sean Spicer held a briefing that intentionally excluded CNN, The New York Times, Politico and the Los Angeles Times. While blood has yet to be shed over media credentials in Washington D.C., the message is loud and clear. The White House’s mission to strip their dissenters of their credibility is well underway.
Back in the lectionary reading, Ahab receives bad news. Destruction was coming because of his wicked deeds. Elijah the prophet uses graphic imagery of both the king and the queen’s fate. The gruesome pronouncement of judgement includes dogs feasting on their flesh. This type of vindictive language from the prophet, complete with such pronouncements as, “There was never anyone like Ahab who sold himself to do evil in the eyes of the Lord.” Bear in mind that king David took this sort of unchecked political power to the next level, murdering a soldier so he could conceal the fact that he slept with his wife while he was away at battle. Nevertheless, Ahab was, by any measure, a despotic coward. Elijah, it seems, had no love lost as he laid the king low.
Speaking the truth to power – particularly when those in power behave like autocrats – takes courage. The picture of Elijah reigning down fire and brimstone is suggestive of the prophet Jonah, proclaiming judgement in enough characters to fit into a pithy tweet. But if Elijah harbored the same vitriol as Jonah, he was quickly disappointed because Ahab does the unthinkable. He repents.
And just as in Jonah’s day, God relents.
Prophetic truth-telling in the Christian tradition contains within it the unthinkable possibility that repentance is possible. While it does not for that reason shrink back from confronting evil, distinctly Christian truth-telling believes that anybody possessing the image of God is capable of change.
While it is beyond tempting to angrily denounce the Trump administration in terms that match their low-brow rhetoric, concerned Christians on the Left must bring a distinct voice to the table. While denouncing the clear intention of the White House in silencing their dissenters, is there imagination for what could be if only every voice was heard?
I pray for that kind of imagination.