Ahab was one of Israel’s most wicked kings who was egged on by his even more wicked wife Jezebel; and the prophet Elijah spent much of his ministry battling the idolatry of Ahab and Jezebel. We heard yesterday how Jezebel arranged for Naboth to be murdered so that Ahab could take possession of his vineyard. This is a prime example of how the wicked and the strong triumph over the weak and vulnerable; that is until God intervened and sent Elijah to restore balance.
Now we might expect Ahab and Jezebel to be punished severely for what they did. But that’s not what happened. When Elijah pronounced God’s judgment, Ahab repented. And God forgave him.
Ahab showed his repentance when he tore his garments and put on sackcloth. These outward signs of his inner sorrow were very important. God used them as evidence to convince Elijah that Ahab’s heart really had changed. And on the basis of this evidence, the prophet felt confident enough to speak words of divine mercy to the king.
We would never consider ripping our clothes or dress in sackcloth before we go to Confession. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t do something to express our sorrow and to emphasize the gravity of our sins. Spending extra time in prayer can help us draw closer to God so he can continue to transform us. Performing an act of charity can help put us in touch with the needs and sufferings of others. Fasting can reveal our spiritual emptiness and show us just how deeply we need God in our lives.
Now of course, none of these actions can win God’s mercy which, at the end of the day, is a gift God freely gives. But they can teach us self-control, humility, and openness to God. And if Ahab can repent, so can we. It’s a marvellous thing to be able to work with God in order to experience his healing and restoration.