Summary: We must always turn our backs on injustice. When we support it, we encourage innocent people to become guilty.
Injustice and Scandal
When we read the story of Elijah, the prophet, we come across two really disgusting people, rulers of the breakaway kingdom of Israel. They are Ahab the king and Jezebel his wife. The history tells us that “Ahab ben Omri did evil in the sight of the Lord more than all that went before him.” He took Jezebel as wife, and Jezebel was a real piece of work. She brought the worship of the Baal of Sidon from her home and so Ahab built this false fertility god a temple with male and female fertility symbols.
Perhaps the unluckiest person of that age had the misfortune to have his ancestral property, a vineyard, next door to the palace that Ahab built for himself. His name was Naboth, a native of Jezreel. Now this real property was about the only durable asset an Israelite could have. Who knows how many generations of his family had owned it? So when Ahab asked to buy or barter it away from him, he said “no.” Ahab, who appears to have been daily whipped into shape by Jezebel, sulked in his bedroom and refused to eat. That, of course, was guaranteed to get Jezebel’s attention. He whined out his story and his wife mocked him and told him to have dinner while she did what was necessary to get him the property.
Just think of the violations of the Law, both Mosaic and natural law, that followed. She forged letters to the local rulers and nobles, subverted them so that they would hire scoundrels to lie. Then Naboth was taken out and stoned to death, which was murder, and Ahab took possession of his vineyard, which is theft.
Through Elijah, God then made known what the punishment would be for Ahab and Jezebel. They stole Naboth’s heritage, so God would destroy their heritage, cutting off all his heirs so that no descendant would survive. Look carefully at what seems like revenge. It’s simply an application by God of the Law of Talion: an eye for an eye, a life for a life.
What Jezebel and Ahab did was to commit the overall sin of scandal. They pulled in who knows how many people into the lying, stealing and murder. Jesus, in Matthew’s Gospel, told his listeners that “whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in Me to stumble, it would be better for him to have a heavy millstone hung around his neck, and to be drowned in the depth of the sea.” Stumbling means committing intentional sin. Whenever one in authority commits a public sin, it makes the weak-minded or weak-hearted who see the evil to think “that must be ok to do, right?” Sin begets sin. Ultimately a multi-hundred year history of scandal after scandal brought down the kingdom of Israel, and they all were taken into exile–the few that survived the wars.
I have become aware of a couple of contemporary dramas that bring these scriptural injunctions against scandal into clearer focus. We should think about these and about whether we can do anything about them–if only to write to our elected representatives or bishops.
The first is the ongoing scandal of politicians who claim to be Catholic–even devoutly Catholic–but support natural law violations like murdering the unborn or recognizing perverse sexual behavior as good–even recognizing it as marriage. These are evil acts that these politicians call good. Such people are lying about their Catholic identity and encouraging others to believe that good is evil and evil is good. Allowing them to claim Catholic or Christian identity is itself a scandal.
The second is something that some prosecutors have been accused of doing. For political or personal reasons, they indict a person for some criminal offense. The person is not guilty, but they have information on someone else that is the real target, so they are pressed to give evidence against the other person. Or a family member may be indicted, and the prosecutor presses another to help out in the third investigation in order to avoid family pain. That’s scandalous behavior, and I hope nobody this congregation knows is guilty of it. We must always turn our backs on injustice. When we support it, we encourage innocent people to become guilty. God help us always to do what is right. Amen.