Daily Homily: Pray For Those Who Persecute You

Tuesday of the 11th Week in Ordinary Time, Year B

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1 Kings 21:17-29
Psalm 51:3-4, 5-6ab, 11 and 16
Matthew 5:43-48

After Jezebel has Naboth accused of blasphemy and stoned to death and after Ahab takes possession of Naboth’s vineyard, God inspires the prophet Elijah to confront King Ahab, just as he inspired the prophet Nathan to confront King David. In their crime against Naboth, Jezebel and Ahab broke at least five of God’s commandments: they dishonored Naboth’s parents by expropriating what they had passed on to their son; they murdered; they stole; they bore false witness against their neighbor; they coveted (V. Hamilton, Handbook on the Historical Books, Baker Academic, 440). The author of the first Book of Kings attributes the evil conduct of Ahab and Jezebel to their idolatry.

Elijah tells Ahab that because he has given himself up to doing evil and led Israel into sin, his line of descendants will be brought to an end. Ahab, however, repents and humbles himself before God through fasting and penance. Elijah declares that because of his repentance, the evil will be brought upon Ahab’s house during his lifetime, but during the reign of his son.

The Old Testament episode teaches us that repentance, because of God’s mercy, is always possible. We should always hope for the salvation of everyone, including our enemies. As the Gospel says, we should pray for those who persecute us and love our enemies. Surely those who heard Jesus’ sermon thought of the Romans. What Jesus is doing is challenging «his disciples to love and pray for the very people who occupy their land, tax them heavily, and treat them with violence and injustice. Such radical love for their persecutors is precisely what will make them children of [their] heavenly Father. Whenever Jesus’ followers respond to persecution by loving their enemies they, like good children, take on the characteristics of the Father himself» (C. Mitch and E. Sri, The Gospel of Matthew, Baker Academic, 100-101).

Jesus calls his disciples to be perfect, just as your heavenly Father is perfect. This perfection is seen in God’s holiness and merciful love. Jesus’ exhortations build up to this command: turn the other cheek when offended instead of retaliating, serve generously and go the extra mile, love your enemies and pray for them. This is an imitation of God since he does the same with us. Not only did he create us and call us to communion with him, he forgave us when we offended him and redeemed us from the evil we brought upon ourselves.

Israel was called to imitate God in his holiness (Leviticus 19:2), but this «was often interpreted in the first century as a call to separate oneself from all that is unholy – sin, sinners, the Gentiles, and so on. Jesus, however, calls his disciples to imitate God by being perfect in love» (C. Mitch and E. Sri, The Gospel of Matthew, Baker Academic, 101).

Readers may contact Father Jason Mitchell at mitchelljason2011@gmail.com.

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Jason Mitchell

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