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Prophets and Kings

by Jun 10, 2024Friar Reflection

When it comes to the reading selections for daily Mass, I sometimes think the first readings are on their own track, telling a story, but only in bits and pieces, starts and stops. Today we are introduced to King Ahab and the prophet Elijah. To this point the First Book of Kings has largely been recounting the stories of the Kings of Israel (in the Northern Kingdom) and the Kings of Judah (in the Southern Kingdom). Especially in the north, it is not a pretty story. Let me share the verses immediately preceding our text:

Ahab, son of Omri, became king of Israel; he reigned over Israel in Samaria for twenty-two years. Ahab, son of Omri, did evil in the sight of the LORD more than any of his predecessors. It was not enough for him to imitate the sins of Jeroboam, son of Nebat. He even married Jezebel, daughter of Ethbaal, king of the Sidonians, and went over to the veneration and worship of Baal. Ahab erected an altar to Baal in the temple of Baal which he built in Samaria, and also made a sacred pole. He did more to anger the LORD, the God of Israel, than any of the kings of Israel before him. (1 Kings 16:29-33)

Not a ringing endorsement. And this is in the context of the recurring theme of 1st Kings: the Word of God came to rulers, prophets and people. In other words, the “experiment” of the kings acting as the Shepherd of the Covenant People has gone “off the rails” and God is working out, not to impose His divine will, but to propose a way of life for all to return to the fullness of the Covenant mercy and grace of God. The people asked for a king to shepherd them, but they are getting tyrants. And it is not that the kings before Ahab lacked prophets to proclaim God’s word to them, 1st Kings includes many narratives about named prophets, including Ahijah, Shemaiah, Jehu, and Micaiah – all forerunners of Elijah. They all called the Kings to look to God. The kings concluded their word was more powerful than the Word of God delivered through the prophets.

Clearly the message to Ahab is that he is not in control. For all that he thinks he controls, the Word through someone as inconsequential as Elijah, is far more powerful. Our short first reading is at the start of a three-year drought.

It is a lesson for us in our age asked quite pointedly by the Psalm: “I lift up my eyes toward the mountains; whence shall help come to me?”

Elijah knew where and to whom to look for help. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus is clear about where and to whom the poor, the meek, the righteous and more are to look.

And these readings come to us. Who are the “kings” to whom you look for protection and leadership? Who are the prophets in your life that call you to look away from the kings and turn to God? As the psalm proclaims:

The LORD is your guardian; the LORD is your shade; he is beside you at your right hand.

Elijah looked to the Lord for shade and nourishment. Ahab looked to himself. The Word of God comes today proposing a way of life in which to look to Him for divine guidance and life.

Kings and their power are tempting and appear in all walks of our lives. And yet the question lingers: where will you look?

Image credit: Elijah icon, Museo de Dumo Florence, PD-US