Read: 1 Kings 21:1-16
And Ahab said to Naboth, “Give me your vineyard, so that I may have it for a vegetable garden, because it is near my house; I will give you a better vineyard for it; or, if it seems good to you, I will give you its value in money.” But Naboth said to Ahab, “The LORD forbid that I should give you my ancestral inheritance” (1 Kings 21:2-3, NRSV).
I suppose one could argue that King Ahab was the founder of the Farm to Table movement. After all, he really wanted a farm close to his table. There’s a lot more going on here than fresh vegetables, however, and some of it is powerfully relevant to today.
If you’re not familiar with the story, here is the condensed version. King Ahab makes what is, on the face of it, a reasonable offer for his neighbor Naboth’s vineyard. Naboth refuses to sell, not because he’s stubborn, but because he is operating with a very different value system. No amount of money is worth selling his ancestral inheritance. Ahab is unused to people saying “no” to him, so goes back to the palace to sulk. When Queen Jezebel asks him what’s wrong, he relates what has happened, but leaves out the real reason for Naboth’s refusal. Not that it would have mattered anyway. Jezebel is not one to let loyalty and integrity stand in her way. And indeed, she makes short work of Naboth on trumped up charges of blasphemy and treason. His body is barely cool before she scurries back to Ahab with the good news. Ahab can’t wait to start ripping out the vines and runs down to take possession of his prize.
Even if we knew nothing about Ahab’s reputation, the fact that he wants to rip out an established vineyard to plant a vegetable garden tells us a lot about him. Vineyards take six to twelve years to become established, and every year after that adds to their value. So, even without the “ancestral inheritance” factor, Ahab’s proposal is short-sighted at best. But as the story unfolds, we see both Ahab and Naboth for who they really are. There is a sense in which this is a story about dueling value systems. Naboth’s portfolio includes integrity, loyalty, and faithfulness; Ahab’s includes duplicity, selfishness, and arrogance. Oh, and did I mention petulance? Ahab wins the prize for petulance.
It might be possible to keep this story at arm’s length if we skimmed lightly over the “ancestral inheritance” theme. But when we realize that the earth is our own ancestral inheritance, it becomes alarmingly relevant. What, we may ask, are we willing to risk in order to preserve that inheritance? What value systems are threatening it—and us—with destruction?
Those are big questions that deserve deep reflection and courageous action. But as a small step in the right direction, I’d like to share something that I learned from my friend, Grace Hackney and the folks at Life Around the Table.
Grace suggests that when it comes to choosing the food that goes on our own table, we look for food that LAUGHS. That’s an acronym for Local, Affordable, Uncomplicated, Good, Healthy, and Seasonal. It won’t solve all the problems that plague our culture’s eating habits, but it could be a good place to start. At the very least, it may make us more aware of just how valuable our ancestral inheritance is. It may even make us more willing to fight for a value system that honors the path from farm to table.
Ponder: What steps would you need to take to find food that LAUGHS? What obstacles might you encounter? What rewards?
Pray: For the food that we are about to receive, O Lord, make us truly grateful.