Week of Proper 20: Saturday, Year 1   12 comments

Above:  Zechariah from the Sistine Chapel, by Michelangelo Buonarroti

Image in the Public Domain

In Days to Come, Sooner or Later…

SEPTEMBER 30, 2017

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Holy Women, Holy Men:  Celebrating the Saints (2010), of The Episcopal Church, contains an adapted two-years weekday lectionary for the Epiphany and Ordinary Time seasons from the Anglican Church of Canada.  I invite you to follow it with me.

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Zechariah 2:1-13 (TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures):

I looked up, and I saw four horns.  I asked the angel who talked with me,

What are those?

He replied,

Those are the horns that tossed Judah, Israel, and Jerusalem.

Then the LORD showed me four smiths.

What are they coming to do?

I asked.  He replied:

Those are the horns that tossed Judah, so that no man could raise his head; and these men have come to throw them into a panic, to hew down the horns of the nations that raise a horn against the land of Judah, to toss it.

I looked up, and I saw a man holding a measuring line.

Where are you going?

I asked.

To measure Jerusalem,

he replied,

to see how long and wide it used to be.

But the angel who talked with me came forward, and another angel came forward to meet him.  The former said to him,

Run to that young man and tell him:

‘Jerusalem shall be prepared as a city without walls, so that many shall be the men and cattle it contains.  And I Myself–declares the LORD–though I swept you [there] like the four winds of heaven–declares the LORD.’

Away, escape, O Zion, you who dwell in Fair Babylon!  For thus said the LORD of Hosts–He who sent me after glory–concerning the nations that have taken you as spoil:

Whoever touches you touches the pupil of his own eye.  For I will lift My hand against them, and they shall be the spoil for those they enslaved.

–Then you shall know that I was sent by the LORD of Hosts.

Psalm 121 (1979 Book of Common Prayer):

1  I lift up my eyes to the hills;

from where is my help to come?

2  My help comes from the LORD,

the maker of heaven and earth.

3  He will not let your foot be moved

and he who watches over you will not fall asleep.

4  Behold, he who keeps watch over Israel

shall neither slumber nor sleep;

5  The LORD himself watches over you;

the LORD is your shade at your right hand,

6  So that the sun shall not strike you by day,

nor the moon by night.

7  The LORD shall preserve you from all evil;

it is he who shall keep you safe.

8  The LORD shall watch over your going out and your coming in,

from this time forth for evermore.

Luke 9:43b-45 (The Jerusalem Bible):

At a time when everyone was full of admiration for all he [Jesus] did, he said to his disciples,

For your part, you must have these words constantly in your mind:  The Son of Man is going to be handed over into the power of men.

But they did not understand him when he said this; it was hidden from them so that they should not see the meaning of it, and they were afraid to ask him about what he had just said.

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The Collect:

Grant us, Lord, not to be anxious about earthly things, but to love things heavenly; and even now, while we are placed among things that are passing away, to hold fast to those that shall endure; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

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The Book of Zechariah exists in two sections written by different people at separate times.  This book bears the marks of apocalyptic literature.  These include visions, symbols, and numerology.  In order to make sense of this day’s reading from Zechariah, then, one needs to understand its historical context first.

Zechariah 2 is contemporary to the Book of Haggai, being set only two months later.  The returned Jewish exiles live in their homeland, yet within a foreign empire.  They live among ruins and poverty, yet know of the glorious past of their nation.  And they long for national restoration.

A horn symbolized power, and the number four indicated totality and the points of the compass.  Powerful nations of the earth have tossed Judah to and fro, but God will toss those nations to and fro, Zechariah says.  Furthermore, Jerusalem will not have defensive walls as people think of them; God will be the walls of the greatly-expanded city.  The prophet sets all this in the future.  In the meantime, reality remains unchanged.

(Aside:  One ought not to misconstrue this reading as a Zionist text that excuses any human rights violation by the government of the State of Israel or exempts it from criticism.  Biblical commands to love one’s neighbor as oneself apply to all people at all times and all places, regardless of what one thinks about a particular nation-state or its government.)

Back to our main idea…

Jesus, in Luke 9:51, “set his face toward Jerusalem,” and therefore his arrest, torture, execution, and resurrection.  Difficult times were in his short-term future, but there was only so much that human authorities could do to him.  Yes, torturing and executing a man slowly are terrible, but once he has died and risen again, that man exists beyond their reach.  Our Lord’s deliverance from the reach of his adversaries came only after a series of ordeals.  Likewise, many Christian martyrs have suffered much.  But, after their enemies have killed them, the faith has lived on. They have killed people, not a religion.  They have failed, and all they have to show for their efforts is a collection of corpses.  Meanwhile, the martyrs have gone to Heaven.

Jesus died of violence in the name of God and an empire.  Yet God is love, so there is no such thing as sacred violence or holy war.  This might be difficult to understand when one is the aggrieved party seeking divine retribution upon those who have committed violence.  The author of Zechariah 2 did not understand this.  At times I have not grasped this either.  The desire for revenge is natural yet destructive, and we ought not to feed it.

Rather, we should do the more difficult thing and pursue the constructive path:  love and forgiveness.  This is consistent with the Golden Rule, the greatest moral commandment.  Then we will liberate ourselves from the power of our oppressors.  True, they might be able to kill us, but then all they will have to show for their efforts is a corpse.  But they have no power to destroy one’s soul.

In days to come, Zechariah wrote, God will restore the Jewish people to glory, and this glory will surpass that which preceded it.  God himself will be that glory.  Until then, however, the people must put up with indignities.

In days to come, Jesus knew, he would be triumph over his foes, who were plotting to entrap and kill him.  First, however, they would seem to win.  And he would suffer terribly.  But he would triumph.

But what are we to do in the present and the future, until those days come?  We are called to trust in God and act accordingly.  This is the God who, as Psalm 121 says, “keeps watch over Israel” and “shall neither slumber nor sleep.”  Sometimes God, whom the psalm also says “shall keep you safe,” seems to be napping or at least turning a blind eye, but let us not be unduly critical.  The consequences of our actions still play out and backfire on us.  The rain falls on the just as well as on the unjust.  Life is not fair, and the existence of the caring deity does not preclude suffering.  But we are not alone, and God, balancing judgment and mercy, is never far away.

We do not need to defend God.  Besides, any deity who requires a human defense is pitiful and weak.  Yet we do need to witness to God with our lives–as well as our words, when those are appropriate.  More important, though, is the witness via one’s life, for words without the corresponding life ring hollow.  And we need to remember that God’s time moves at a different pace than ours, so patience is par for the course.  This can be very difficult, but it is essential.  We need to trust in God, not get in the way while trying to help.

In the days to come, sooner or later, the victory of God will be more complete.  Until then, we must deal with daily life, no matter how much we dislike this fact.  But we have a calling to live faithfully, in trust.  God grants us the grace to do this, so we need not fret about doing this on our own power (which is inadequate anyway).  In the meantime, may we not nurture frustration, hatred, bigotry, and violence.  Rather, may we seek to love and support each other; it is what Jesus would do.

KRT

http://blogatheologica.wordpress.com/2011/10/25/in-days-to-come-sooner-or-later/

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