Undoing God's work in an unwise idea

  • June 10, 2010
12th Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year C) June 20 (Zechariah 12:10-11; Psalm 63; Galatians 3:26-26; Luke 9:18-24)

For whom shall the people mourn, and who is the one who has been pierced? Scholarly theories abound, and it is very difficult to even date these oracles from Zechariah. But evidence suggests that they address a broken and impoverished nation that has recently returned from exile in Babylon.

The glorious victory and radiant future promised by the exilic prophets has not materialized, and the Jewish nation is torn apart by dissension within and threats from without.

This famous oracle speaks of a time when the people of Jerusalem will come to their senses and have their own hearts broken with the knowledge of their own injustice and sin. Even repentance itself is a gift from God, and the spirit of compassion and supplication promised by God will begin the process of healing and renewal.

The pierced one is perhaps Yahweh himself — in a symbolic sense — or some unnamed martyr or prophet speaking in His name.

The author of John’s Gospel adapts this passage for his portrayal of the crucified Christ (19:37) and there is another allusion to it in Rev 1:7. It is a poignant symbol that represents the ways in which we can indeed “pierce God” when we betray our divine calling and misuse the gifts that we are given. Human decisions are often made in haste and fear, usually with tragic consequences.

It is only later, perhaps under the influence of this spirit of compassion and supplication, that people are jolted to their senses. Our negative choices — whether pertaining to war, economics, civil rights or the environment — are illuminated by the light of God’s truth.

There is then the pain and horror as the unvarnished truth hits home and the process of repentance and healing can begin.

Divisions, labels and distinctions — where would we be without them? Perhaps in the Kingdom of God! Paul viewed the usual boundaries — Greek and Jew, male and female, slave and free — as representing the negativity and polarity of the old order that was passing away. Through Jesus Christ God was refashioning and recreating a world and humanity in which divisiveness and forms of exclusion would be transcended.

One of the consequences would be a radically transformed social order marked by equality, reconciliation and justice. So what happened? People shrank back in fear and in fact have been working overtime over the last two millennia to put new life in the old order with all of its inequalities and boundaries. That is why the world we have is such a grim, violent and unjust place.

Undoing the work of God is never a good idea. Whenever the principles embedded in the ancient Christian proclamation of a world without borders is put into practice God’s transformation of the world inches forward. How soon that happens, and if it happens, is our responsibility.

Luke’s account of the “confession of Peter” is very spare indeed when compared to Matthew’s version. Here there are no accolades or titles for Peter — in fact, his answer is never even directly acknowledged. In Luke’s account the emphasis is on the necessity for the suffering and death of Jesus as well as the similar demands of discipleship for His followers.

Jesus asks His followers who He is for them. It is a question that we have to ask ourselves not once but daily and the answer may evolve for us over time. But whatever answer we give one thing must be clear: it is not a quiz show answer nor is it an intellectual assent to an abstract truth. It is meant to be an existential declaration of the meaning and pattern of one’s life.

Preserving life at all costs is a typically human reaction. Fear of pain and death keeps us from taking risks, and it helps to maintain the status quo, even an unjust one. Jesus points out the obvious: in the end we all lose our lives anyway.

By accepting our death we can be released from the fear that binds us, free to love and serve in bold and even risky ways. It is only when we are willing to release our steely grip on the life we think we have — which in fact is very limited — that we are able to receive the divine life with its boundless possibilities.