Homily for June 14th, 2016: 1 Kings 21:17-29.
Today’s first reading gives the conclusion to yesterday’s account of Queen Jezebel engineering the judicial murder of the poor man, Naboth, because he refused to sell his vineyard to Jezebel’s weak husband King Ahab. God sends the prophet Elijah to Ahab to rebuke him for the evil he has done, “urged on by his wife Jezebel,” the text tells us. Elijah had already confronted the royal couple when he defeated the four hundred prophets of Baal (the false god of whom Jezebel was a fanatical worshiper) in the contest atop
Carmel over who could call down fire heaven. (1 Kings 18)
Addressing both Ahab and Jezebel, Elijah tells them that the evil they have
done will bring even greater ruin on
their descendants. Cut to the heart by Elijah’s words, Ahab repents so
sincerely that God relents – but only so far as to say that the punishment
promised by Elijah will be postponed. Even when God has forgiven the guilt of our sins, the consequences of what we have done remain.
King David discovered this after his adultery with Bathsheba. Rebuked by the prophet Nathan, David repented sincerely and at once. Nathan tells him that God has removed the guilt of his sin. But the consequences remain: death for the child David’s adultery has produced; and chaos in David’s family thereafter, starting with the attempt of David’s dearly loved son Absolom to steal the kingdom from his father. (2 Samuel 12 & 18).
God is not mocked. Our sins have consequences, even after their guilt has been removed by sincere repentance. The college student who loafs and parties all semester and then, at exam time, goes to confession and repents, has the guilt of his sin removed. But not the consequences: ignorance of the subject matter, and a failing grade in the exam. Theologians call these consequences sin’s “temporal punishment,” because they extend over time.