|Planning a garden next to the house, on the sunny side, where the water was easily accessible. For me, the east side next to the chain link fence. This spring I invested in asparagus. I am cautiously optimistic. Gardening is not my strength.|
But what happens when powerful people want to plant next to their palaces? Just a vegetable garden. The minor nuisance was that the optimal plot was actually someone else’s land. And Naboth didn’t want to sell his vineyard to King Ahab.
So Ahab went to his palace, irritated and upset at what Naboth had said to him—because Naboth had said, “I won’t give you my family inheritance!” Ahab lay down on his bed and turned his face away. He wouldn’t eat anything. 1 Kings 21:4 (CEB)
What is the point of being king if you can’t even plant a vegetable garden? What is power for, anyway, if not to get what you want when you want it? Ahab pouted. For him, the king of Samaria, this was a small thing. For Naboth, it was his family business, everything he had. Jezebel saw simply an obstacle to be removed.
Then his wife Jezebel said to him, “Aren’t you the one who rules Israel? Get up! Eat some food and cheer up. I’ll get Naboth’s vineyard for you myself.” 1 Kings 21:7 (CEB)
Which she did. Brought in two liars to testify that Naboth cursed God and king, so the people took him out and stoned him. Done. Out of the way. Jezebel reported it to Ahab, who went down to take possession of the vineyard. At which point the Lord’s word came through Elijah:
So, you’ve murdered and are now taking ownership, are you? Then tell him: This is what the Lord says: In the same place where the dogs licked up Naboth’s blood, they will lick up your own blood. 1 Kings 21:19b (CEB)
Naboth’s life mattered to God. An ordinary man who dared to refuse the request of the powerful. Ah, these ancient stories. Power, property, murder, and thievery. Also an American story. Of stolen land, smallpox blankets, and the Amherst namesake.
Of a nation’s economy built by black bodies, generations who never received the results of their labor. Slaveholders were compensated for the release of their property. Freed blacks entered empty handed into a system that was designed to protect and grow white wealth.
Of internment camps that enabled the racist rich to accumulate farmland cheaply for lucrative development. Yes, I am talking about my favorite shopping mall in WA state, Bellevue Square.
How do we not become depressed and defensive? That question haunts me daily. These are not policies that I chose, they were not my direct ancestors, and yet I have benefited from them. Generational wealth, educational and employment opportunities, the assumption of goodwill and innocence. Our white right, a different captivity.
“I found you,” Elijah said, “because you’ve enslaved yourself by doing evil in the Lord’s eyes.” 1 Kings 21:20b (CEB)
Where do we find freedom? On a personal level, a community level, a systemic level. In our families and friendships, our work, our churches, our country.
There are lots of ways to educate ourselves, to end white silence. We can amplify black voices, seek out black stories and witnesses. Listen.
But the story of Naboth’s vineyard reminds us that justice is about economics. Systems that support the powerful at the expense of the vulnerable are evil in the Lord’s eyes. It is about vegetable gardens and vineyards, providing and protecting inheritances for all God’s people. It comes down to money and power.
Where can we put our money to work for justice? Supporting local black businesses. Giving to organizations that work to mitigate the disparities between white and black, poor and wealthy, privileged and disenfranchised.
May we use our positions to do good. May we not be enslaved to systems that are evil. May we work for the economics of justice. And in doing so, may we all find freedom.
Service 6/14: Beyond Hope
Order of Service 6/14