Clueless Disciples and Walls of Fire

September 25, 1999

Zechariah 2, 5-9, 14-15a + Luke 9, 43b-45

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The apostles were afraid to ask Jesus what his words meant. A great victory had just been won -- a terrible spirit that had haunted a young man had been cast out and the boy healed. "And all were astonished by the majesty of God." This revelation is immediately followed by the second prediction of the Passion, and the disciples were afraid. Understandably so, it was not an era known for its respect for human rights, especially of the poor.

Zechariah, a contemporary of Haggai (6th century before Christ), recounts 8 visions relating to the rebuilding of Jerusalem by the exiles. Their fathers -- the rich and the powerful of Jerusalem -- had forsaken the Lord and oppressed the poor. On the day that the Babylonians arrived at their gates, the seeds they had sown in furrows of injustice came back to haunt them. Their riches became plunder for invading armies, the Walls and the Temple and the Palace of the King in Jerusalem were destroyed, and the aristocracy and the middle class were led away captive to Babylon, leaving only the poor behind to inherit the land. By the grace of the Lord, their children return to the land of Judah, the hills of Jerusalem, no longer arrogant conquerors but rather chastened subjects. How the mighty had fallen.

In the vision of Zechariah, the rebirth -- the prosperity -- the protection of Jerusalem is found in obedience to the Law. "I will be for her an encircling wall of fire, says the Lord, and I will be the glory in her midst." Now would be a good time to remind ourselves of the many juridical provisions of the Law that related to the protection of the poor -- especially women without husbands, their children, and foreigners. The law of Jubilee protected against the centralization of wealth (a problem than as now). The laws regarding gleaning limited the property rights of landowners and provided resources to sustain the poor and protect their dignity. Tithes were to be collected for distribution to the poor. There were limits on what could be pledged as collateral for a loan, and Israel was under covenant to respect the rights of the poor.

The rebuilding of Jerusalem was more than the construction of buildings and edifices, it was a rebirth of community and covenant, reconciliation and obedience, justice and mercy, gifts more precious than rubies or gold.

"Sing and rejoice, O Daughter Zion! See, I am coming to dwell among you, says the Lord."

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Thoughts on orthopraxis: Who do we relate to in these readings? The arrogant rulers of Jerusalem before the Babylonians, or the chastened exiles returning to the land of their fathers? Are we clueless as the disciples, not understanding the words of our Savior? (Did he really say, "If you do not do these things for one of the least of these my sisters and brothers, you have not done them for me?" He didn't really mean that literally did he?) Do we see the majesty of God revealed in the rebuking of demons? Or do we refuse to see the forest because we like to look at the trees?

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