This week the first lectionary readings are from the Elijah cycle in the First Book of Kings. Elijah is one of those prophets that I love but who has a few character flaws – most notably his killing of the 450 prophets of Baal.
What surprised me today is that the lectionary skips over three very important stories.
The first is a follow up to Elijah’s encounter with the widow of Zarephath in Tuesday’s reading. The widow’s little boy dies and Elijah raises him to life (1 Kings 17:17-24).
The second is the end of the drought and his encounter with Obadiah, the master of the place who had hid 100 prophets when Queen Jezebel (the original one) was slaughtering all the prophets of the LORD.
But the scene that strikes me most is the meeting of Elijah and Ahab (1 Kings 18: 16-21).
When Ahab saw Elijah, he said to him, “Is it you, you disturber of Israel?” He answered, “It is not I who disturb Israel, but you and your father’s house, by forsaking the commands of the LORD and you by following the Baals.
Dan Berrigan in The Kings and Their Gods: The Pathology of Power puts it even more boldly:
The king enters. His welcome is decidedly frigid: “So it’s you, the scourge of Israel!”
Not at all set back, the prophet retorts, “Not I; you are the scourge of Israel!” And he proceeds to upbraid the king unmercifully for his defection to Baal, and to propose a test, a public showdown between himself and the entire coterie of practicing Baalian priestdom.
Bracing, we say – and bravo! At long last we encounter a spirit undaunted daunted by royal persiflage, threats, blandishments.
As I read about the letter of Archbishop Viganò to Donald Trump and the archbishop’s unkind, probably calumnious words about Archbishop Wilton Gregory, and I wonder if we are in the midst of a “Baalian priestdom” who worship the false gods of power, violence, and domination and pretend to provide divine blessings on the US president.
Who is the real prophet – Archbishop Wilton Gregory or the retired archbishop who is spouting conspiracy theories and defending Trump?
Who is more like Elijah? Who is more like the court prophets?
I have my opinions. I may be wrong, but I don’t see vitriol or calumny as a sign of a follower of Jesus.
Today I am breaking my usual reticence to speak about specific persons and politics, but recent events have caused me a bit of perturbation.