Tuesday, July 20, 2004

Messianic Kingdom

The lessons for the Twelfth Sunday in Ordinary Time:

  • Zechariah 12:10-11
  • Psalm 63:2-6,8-9
  • Galatians 3:26-29
  • Luke 9:18-24
There is a temptation when reflecting on the lessons appointed for a particular Sunday. You can perform a variety of mental gymnastics to try to make all three readings (and the psalm as well) fit into some single theme. Some weeks this works, some weeks it does not, and the bishops that put together the Lectionary warn against trying to see some link that is just not there. Not every set of readings go together in that way, and most homilists will pick some single theme from one of the lessons, quite often the Gospel lesson, to preach on.

But this week I am going to give into that temptation, because I think there is a common thread underlying several different readings, a common theme that is not immediately apparent, but is very important. The first reading, from Zechariah, is the least familiar. Christians generally see phrases like: and they shall look on him whom they have pierced and see a connection to Jesus. This would make this entire reading a propecy of a sort of the coming regin of the Messiah. This will include, according to this passage, an outpouring of the Spirit that brings both grace, and the call to repentance:
I will pour out on the house of Davidand on the inhabitants of Jerusalema spirit of grace and petition;and they shall look on him whom they have pierced, and they shall mourn for him as one mourns for an only son,and they shall grieve over him as one grieves over a firstborn.
The Gospel selection is much more familiar and is a continuation and expansion of this theme. Once Peter declares him the Messiah, he warns:
He said, "The Son of Man must suffer greatlyand be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes,and be killed and on the third day be raised."Then he said to all,"If anyone wishes to come after me, he must deny himselfand take up his cross daily and follow me.For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it,but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it."
We see that it is the destiny of the Annointed One to suffer, be rejected and die -- and then rise from the dead -- him who they have pierced indeed, but with a different and more triumphant result. He then turns the table on his disciples and tells them that it is not only His own destiny, but theirs as well as anyone who wants to be a follower of Jesus.

At first blush, Paul seems to be on a different wavelength. This selection from Galatians is also very familiar -- in fact it includes one of the most astonishing statements in scripture:
For all of you who were baptized into Christhave clothed yourselves with Christ.There is neither Jew nor Greek,there is neither slave nor free person,there is not male and female;for you are all one in Christ Jesus.
This is saying that membership in the baptismal community transcends nationality, class, or gender, all things that divided the Church of both that time and this time, as well as all human societies. The compilers of the lectionary though, included the next verse:
And if you belong to Christ,then you are Abraham's descendant,heirs according to the promise

This means that as baptized persons, we are, today, full members of the Messianic Kingdom spoken of by Zechariah and other prophets, even though that kingdom has not yet been fully realized on earth. Taken together, we learn something important about the Messianic Kingdom of God proclaimed by the prophets, brought into reality in Christ and lived out today. As members of that Kingdom, there are three specific calls from God that we must respond to, calls to recognize the truth and confront where we have not lived up to it:

  • Repentance -- We are first called to confront where we have fallen short, and change direction. Zechariah warns that one effect of the outpouring of the Spirit is that we will finally recognize the evil that we ourselves have done, and understand the consequences. This is a call to honesty and integrity.
  • Action and Sacrifice -- Not only must we confront what we have done wrong, we must commit to following the truth, no matter what the cost. This is not some one-time decision, but an everyday reality. We must choose to die to ourselves, to live in Christ.
  • Unity and Humility -- Once we have taken these two steps in our own lives, we must confront the reality of the Kingdom in both the Church and the world. That reality is that no matter what apparent barriers there may be from race, class or gender, the fellow Christian in front of me is my very brother or sister in reality right now, no better or worse than I am. We are called to treat every human on earth this same way.
One important point from all this, is that answering the first two calls is necessary to being able to answer the third, and the first two are not complete unless they lead to unity and humility. That's about it for tonight.

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