Mercy and power were the theme of Pope Francis’ catechesis in this week’s Wednesday general audience in St. Peter’s Square, attended by more than twenty thousand faithful and pilgrims.
The Holy Father explained that various passages of the Bible speak about kings and men of power, and also of their arrogance and abuses, demonstrating that “wealth and power can be good and useful for the common good if placed at the service of the poor and of all, with justice and charity. However if, as often occurs, if lived as a privilege, with selfishness and arrogance, they become tools of corruption and death”.
An example of this unjust privilege is found in the account of the vineyard of Naboth. The king Ahab wishes to acquire it since it was situated adjacent to the royal palace, but Naboth refuses since for Israel the land is God’s, and receives His blessing which is handed from generation to generation. Ahab is indignant at receiving this refusal, which he perceives as an offence to his power, undermining his authority. His wife, Jezebel, which also considered royal power to be absolute, decides to eliminate Naboth and makes false witnesses accuse him before the elders and the authorities of having blasphemed and spoken ill of the king, crimes which carried the death penalty. Naboth was executed and the king inherited his vineyard.
“Recalling these events, Jesus tells us: ‘You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. It shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be your slave’. If the dimension of service is lost, power transforms into arrogance and oppression”. The story of Naboth, continued the Pope, “is not a story of other times; it is also the story of today, of the powerful who exploit the poor, exploit the people, to have more money. It is the story of human trafficking, of slave labor, of poor people who work illegally and with the minimum salary to enrich the powerful. It is the story of corrupt politicians who want more and more”.
The episode of Naboth’s vineyard teaches us “where the exercise of authority without respect for life or justice and without mercy leads us. And here we see where the thirst for power leads: it becomes avarice, the desire to possess everything”. Francis gave the example of the words of the prophet Isaiah, “who was not a communist”, when he observed the avidity of the rich landowners who sought to acquire more and more houses and land. “Woe to those who join house to house, who add field to field, until there is no more room, and you are made to dwell alone in the midst of the land”.
However, “God is greater than evil, and the dirty games human beings play, and in His mercy He sends the prophet Elijah to help Ahab convert. The king, faced with his sin, is humbled and asks for forgiveness. How good it would be if today’s powerful exploiters were to do likewise!”, exclaimed Francis. “The Lord accepts his penance, but an innocent man was killed and this inevitably has consequences. Indeed, the evil committed leaves painful traces, and the history of mankind bears the scars”.
In this case too, mercy shows the path to follow as it is able to cure wounds and change history. “Divine mercy is stronger than the sin of men. It is stronger, this is the example of Ahab! We know its power, when we remember the coming of the Innocent Son of God Who made Himself man to destroy evil with His forgiveness. Jesus Christ is the true king, but His power is completely different. His throne is the cross. He is not a king who kills, but on the contrary gives His life. His approach to all, especially the weakest, defeats solitude and the destiny of death that sin leads to. Jesus Christ, with His closeness and tenderness, leads sinners into the space of grace and forgiveness. And this is God’s mercy”.