Friday of the Eleventh Week in Ordinary Time
(II Kings 11:1-4.9-18.20; Matthew 6:19-23)
Today’s first reading sounds like an episode of I, Claudius, the British television series exploring the intrigues of Roman emperors. The story tells of a woman’s revenge for the death of her son and the weaving of a plot to kill her husband’s other heirs. From a religious viewpoint, the evil is compounded by the woman’s pagan practices.
Athaliah is the daughter of the wicked Ahab and Jezebel of Samaria (Israel), and wife of Jeroram, king of Judah. When her husband and son are killed, Athaliah attempts to have all Jeroram’s other children slain so that she can rule Judah as queen. The scheme fails, however, when prince Joash, Ahaziah’s son, is rescued. Athaliah does rule Judah for six years, but eventually Joash is anointed king by the high priest Jehoiada, who has Athaliah killed. Zeal for the Lord with the attendant desire to have Judah rid of the idols moves Jehoiada to act ruthlessly with Athaliah.
The complicated story clashes with contemporary sensibility. We are astounded by the blatant disregard for human life. But the writers of Judah’s history are moved more by the supreme priority of maintaining the covenant with the Lord. It is incumbent upon us to see both values in tandem. We value human life so highly because of our devotion to God in whose image each human is made.