Today, over 20 thousand people gathered in St. Peter’s Square caressed by the sun to receive the universal embrace of the Pope at the General Audience. The Pontiff spoke about power as service and fight against corruption and greed, as well as respect for the life and dignity of every human being, for justice and mercy. “Wealth and power are realities that can be benefic and useful to the common good, if they are put in the service of the poor and everyone else with justice and charity. But when – as it happens too often – they are experienced as a privilege, with selfishness and arrogance, they become tools of corruption and death,” the Holy Father said, beginning his catechesis on the First Book of Kings, namely, from the episode of Naboth’s vineyard.
The Holy Scriptures talk about “the powerful, the kings of men who are above, and of their arrogance and abuse”. Ahab, the King of Israel is told to have wanted to buy the vineyard of a man named Naboth, which borders with the royal palace. Yet, the man does not want to give it away. “The earth is sacred, a gift from the Lord, and as such, it must be guarded and preserved as a sign of divine blessing that passed down from generation to generation, as a warranty of dignity for everyone,” Pope Francis said. Ahab reacts with “bitterness and anger.” “He feels insulted, belittled in his sovereign authority, and frustrated in the ability to satisfy his desire to possess.” His wife Jezebel intervenes to get her husband what he wants, because she considers the power of the king “absolute”, “for which every wish becomes an order.” Thus, “she unscrupulously decides to eliminate Naboth”, using the “deceptive appearances of a perverse law”. She sends letters to the nobles of the city on behalf of the king, using false witnesses to publicly accuse Naboth of having cursed God, a crime punishable by death. And so it happens. Naboth is eliminated, Ahab takes possess of his vineyard.
This is the story of all time, “today’s story, the story of the powerful who exploit the poor and people to make more money.” It is “the story of human trafficking, slave labor, poor people who work illegally, for minimum wages, to enrich the powerful. It is the story of the corrupt politicians who want more and more.” It is the story of ”exercise of authority with no respect for life, without justice, without mercy.” And that is where thirst for power leads: it becomes “lust that wants to own everything.” “If you lose the dimension of service, power turns into arrogance and become domain and abuse.” Whereas Jesus reverses the law of the jungle, Pope Francis said, recalling the Gospel of Matthew: “You know that the rulers of the nations rule over them, and bosses oppress them. It will not be the same for you, but whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wishes to be the first one among you must be your slave.”
In the story, evil seems to prevail. But, “God is greater than evil and the dirty games of the human beings,” said the Pope. “In his mercy, he sends the prophet Elijah to help Ahab to convert. And the king, in front of his sin, understands, humbles and asks forgiveness.” God “sees this crime and knocks at the heart of Ahab.” Thus – the Pope exclaimed – “how nice it would be if the powerful, today’s exploiters, did the same as Ahab!” Then he added: “The Lord accepts his repentance, but an innocent was killed, and the fault committed will have inevitable consequences.”
Of course, “the committed evil leaves its painful traces and the history of men bears its wounds”. But, forgiveness, love, mercy is “the path to be pursued,” which “can heal wounds and change history.” “The mercy of God is stronger than the sins of men”, the Holy Father reiterated towards the end. “Jesus Christ is the real king, but his power is completely different. His throne is the Cross”. It is a king who “gives life. His going towards everyone, especially towards the most vulnerable, defeating loneliness and the fate of death where the sin leads. With his proximity and tenderness, he brings the sinners into the space of grace and forgiveness. This is what mercy is.”