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A Lesson from King Ahab: How Not to Act When We Don’t Get Our Own Way

Fr. Dan Daly, S.J. - published on 06/13/16

Temper, temper ... letting go of treasured plans is not easy

King Ahab stormed into the palace. He was fit to be tied. He threw his cloak on the floor, pushed the serving girl out of the way and angrily informed the steward that he was not the least bit interested in dinner. He pounded up the stairs to his bedroom, poured himself a generous brandy, and then headed to the balcony window to look at the shabby little vineyard the peasant had refused to give to him. “You can grow your stupid ancestral grapes somewhere else!” he yelled to no one. Naboth, the object of his ire, was long gone.

It would make a lovely little garden, Ahab thought to himself. He would have the gardeners tear out all the grape vines and plant rows of cucumbers, leeks and radishes along a winding footpath. Olive and fig trees would line the garden wall. The plan made perfect sense, but the stubborn peasant could not seem to comprehend it. The dunce could have a much nicer vineyard in the valley if he was smart enough to take it. “Oh, keep your miserable patch of dirt!” Ahab shouted as he hurled his brandy cup toward the property in question. “I don’t want it anyway!” Then he headed for bed and buried himself under the covers.

A few minutes later Queen Jezebel strode into the room and stood by the foot of the bed. Ahab folded back the quilt to see his wife staring at him with an exasperated look on her face and a preposterous headdress perched on her head. “What is the matter with you?” she intoned.

Ahab paused. He knew that if he said anything about the peasant, wheels would be set in motion that could not be stopped. Jezebel was a ruthless woman who went after her enemies with a vengeance. And anyone who threatened the monarchy or her place in it was certainly her enemy. The troublesome prophet, Elijah, had learned that lesson. “The peasant next door refused to sell me his vineyard,” Ahab groused. That was enough. Jezebel would take it from there.

An obvious lesson from this little episode is that power can be abused easily. King Ahab had nearly unquestioned authority in Israel. He wanted a little piece of property and was able to get it by having one of his loyal subjects killed. Powerful people can grow accustomed to getting what they want and can become blind to the needs, wants and rights of others. They can do a lot of damage with the power they wield.

Many people have some measure of power, including state senators, teachers and construction supervisors, to name just a few. Jesus tells us that those with power and authority should not advance their own interests but should serve the needs of others. Power can be used to accomplish great good, but it needs to be exercised carefully and thoughtfully. Those with power should seek wise counsel before making important decisions and give serious consideration to opinions contrary to their own.

The Ahab story also provides a good illustration of how not to act when we do not get our way. Suffice it to say that the king’s temper tantrum was an inappropriate response. Unfortunately, such a reaction is not entirely unfamiliar to us. We have all witnessed grown adults (perhaps including ourselves!) react in just the same way to similar disappointments.

When we have a great idea that will work just right, we want others to agree with the plan. But it does not always work out that way. Sometimes friends, family members or colleagues have different plans or conflicting desires. Such clashes are part of the give and take of life lived with others.

In those situations, we choose not to follow King Ahab’s lead. We make every effort to avoid pouting, complaining, misrepresenting or undercutting our opponents. Instead, we appreciate the ideas and desires of others, compromise when appropriate and let go of treasured plans when necessary. Even though we do not always get what we want, we realize that God has already blessed us with much more than we deserve.

For the Mass readings for the June 13, click here. To learn more about the painting of Ahab and Jezebel, click here.

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