It is generally easy to be generous with people we love. In fact, since generosity is not strictly speaking an obligation it would only make sense that we reserve our generosity for certain people and certain circumstances. When Ahab comes asking Naboth for his vineyard, pretty much none of the requisite conditions for generosity are met: King Ahab is not poor and does not need the vineyard, there is no friendship between him and Naboth, and Ahab has blatant disregard for the divine significance of ancestral heritage. Indeed, it is for that last reason that Naboth refuses to give up his land to the king. It is Naboth’s piece of the land promised by God to Israel. Naboth has a strong sense of satisfaction with what the Lord has provided him, he needs nothing further. The soil of Naboth’s vineyard nourished vines that produced delicious grapes because Naboth treated it as a special gift from God passed on to him from his ancestors. Ahab wanted the soil and disregarded what God’s intended purpose was for that soil. Ahab forgot that it is God who gives the growth and causes fruit to ripen for the harvest.
The Gospel brings us to a deeper sense of inheritance, a deeper possession of the promise. Had Naboth been a Christian, he may have been inspired to give his vineyard to the evil king when asked. Our inheritance and our promised land is heaven – this means everything earthly is passing away and certainly not worth dying for. The more we come to possess the Gift of God here below, the easier it will be to part with everything that is not. Jesus points out three earthly goods we are able to part with because God’s Love is better. The first is fair treatment: the more God’s love occupies our heart, the less we feel a need to get justice when we are treated unfairly. We may even rejoice at being counted worthy to suffer injustice for the sake of the Kingdom. Second is material possessions: the more our hearts are full of God, the less we need to hold on to our stuff. We may even rejoice when we find people we can give our treasures to – “It is more blessed to give than to receive.” Third is our time and energy: the more we already dwell in our hearts in our heavenly home, the less we need to be in complete control of our time and activities. We may even find ourselves delighting when Providence completely changes our plans and objectives.
An ancient story tells of the two neighbors, King Ahab and a poor man, Naboth. Which of these do we consider the poorer, which the richer: the one who had been endowed with a king’s measure of wealth, insatiable and unsatisfied with his wealth, who longed for the little vineyard of the poor man; or the other, heartily despising a “king’s fortune of much gold” and imperial wealth, who was satisfied with his vineyard? Does he not seem richer and more a king, since he had enough for himself and regulated his desires so that he wanted nothing that belonged to others? But was he not very poor whose gold was of no account, while he considered the other’s vines of priceless value? Understand why he was so very poor: because riches amassed unjustly are disgorged, but the root of the righteous remains and flourishes like a palm tree.1
Let us hear, then, what [Ahab] says: “Give to me,” he cries. What other is the cry of one in want? What other is the cry of one asking public alms, if not “Give to me”? That is, “Give to me,” because I am in need, “give to me,” because I cannot find any other means of sustenance; “give to me,” because there is not to me bread for food, money for drink, price for nourishment, substance for raiment; “give to me,” because the Lord has given to you from which you should bestow; he has not given to me. “Give to me,” because, unless you give, I cannot have; “give to me,” because it is written, “Give alms.” How abject these words, how mean! For they have not the disposition of humility but the fire of covetousness. But in this very degradation, what effrontery! “Give me,” he says, “your vineyard.” He confesses it is another’s, so that he asks what is not due him.2
Jesus’ words regarding turning the other cheek concern more than simply long-suffering. For it is against nature to be so arrogant as to hit the other person. The one therefore who is “ready to give an answer” to every malicious person “concerning the faith that is in him” will not offer resistance. The spiritual meaning is this: To one who strikes him upon the right cheek—that is, against the rational doctrines—the believer will offer also the ethical ones. This will scandalize those who do not understand the reasonings of faith. They will cease from their accusations, since they will be ashamed and continue progress in divine things.3
“What then?” one asks. “Should we not resist the evil one at all?” Indeed we should, but not in this way. Rather, as Jesus has commanded, we resist by surrendering ourselves to suffer wrongfully. In this way you shall prevail over him. For one fire is not quenched by another, but fire by water.4
If by chance a slanderer or tempter comes forward to initiate a lawsuit for the sake of testing our faith and desires to rob us of the things which are ours, the Lord orders us to offer willingly not only the things that the person goes after unjustly but even those not demanded.5
If the unbelievers see you, a Christian, repay injuries with worse injuries by worldly means and hammer earthly judgments against a lawless plunderer even to the destruction of your soul, how should they believe in reality of the hope of the heavenly kingdom that Christians preach? For they who hope for heavenly things easily spurn earthly things. Yet I doubt that those who strongly embrace worldly things believe firmly in heavenly promises.6
THEODORE OF HERACLEA:
In giving us these directives so that their sense might be diligently examined, he did not intend us to take them according to the bare sound of the words. For he does not command to give to everyone who asks without exception, even if one has nothing to give, for that is impossible. Nor does he instruct us, if we have plenty, to give to someone who asks with a bad motive. For the donation then goes for evil things, as when someone asks for the sake of lust and intemperance and not for real need, and the person who gives merely provides fuel for such intemperance. For why is it said concerning the apostles that “distribution was made to each as any had need”? This tells us that they gave not so much to those who simply asked but that they provided for others on the basis of need. And do not forget about the verse that says, “A man is acceptable according to what he has, not according to what he does not have,” and “not so that others should be relieved and you burdened.”7
- LETTER 55(38).8. Conti, M., & Pilara, G. (Eds.). (2008). 1-2 Kings, 1-2 Chronicles, Ezra, Nehemiah, Esther (p. 128). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
- ON NABOTH 2.7. Conti, M., & Pilara, G. (Eds.). (2008). 1-2 Kings, 1-2 Chronicles, Ezra, Nehemiah, Esther (p. 129). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
- FRAGMENT 108. Simonetti, M. (Ed.). (2001). Matthew 1–13 (p. 117). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
- THE GOSPEL OF MATTHEW, HOMILY 18.1. Simonetti, M. (Ed.). (2001). Matthew 1–13 (p. 118). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
- TRACTATE ON MATTHEW 25.2.1. Simonetti, M. (Ed.). (2001). Matthew 1–13 (p. 118). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
- INCOMPLETE WORK ON MATTHEW, HOMILY 12. Simonetti, M. (Ed.). (2001). Matthew 1–13 (p. 118). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
- FRAGMENT 37. Simonetti, M. (Ed.). (2001). Matthew 1–13 (p. 119). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.