Sunday, June 20, 2010

Homily for the 12th Sunday
of Ordinary Time
June 20, 2010
Zech 12: 10-11; 13: 1
St. Vincent’s Hospital, Harrison, N.Y.

“On that day there shall be open to the house of David and to the inhabitants of Jerusalem a fountain to purify from sin and uncleanness” (Zech 13: 1).

Our 1st reading this morning comes form the prophet Zechariah, one of the so-called “minor prophets”—to distinguish him and others like Amos, Hosea, and Micah from the “big boys”—Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel.

Zechariah’s ministry came late in the 6th century B.C. after the Jews had returned from exile in Babylon, and occupied only a tiny territory around Jerusalem. They were just an insignificant part of the Persian Empire. In that context of political humiliation, Zechariah foretold a great military victory for the Lord’s people and for the dynasty of King David, initiating a messianic age.

That prophecy leads up to the rather strange passage that was our 1st reading, involving some sort of a victim: grace shall be poured out upon the house of David and the inhabitant of Jerusalem, but this outpouring of grace, of divine favor, is related somehow to one “whom they have pierced” and to mourning “as for an only son” and “a firstborn.”

We’re not sure what that meant to Zechariah and the Jews at the end of the 6th century B.C. But we do know what it meant to St. John the Evangelist and the earliest Christians. John links the prophecy to the crucifixion of Jesus, to the coup de grace delivered by one of Jesus’ Roman executioners: “When they came to Jesus and saw that he was already dead, …one soldier thrust his lance into his side, and immediately blood and water flowed out. This happened so that the scripture passage might be fulfilled: ‘They will look upon him whom they have pierced’” (John 19:33-34,36-37). John sees the mysterious messianic words of Zechariah fulfilled in what happened to Jesus the Messiah.
Depiction of the soldier thrusting his lance into Jesus' side: altarpiece at the shrine of Shrine of Atotonilco near San Miguel de Allende, Guanajuato, Mexico (from the blog "Dick and Jane Travel": http://www.fmschmitt.com/travels/mexico/AtotonilcoSanctuary/index.html )

And not only in Jesus’ side being speared open by the soldier; but also in what that caused: “blood and water flowed out.” Physiologically speaking, that’s not literal water but some sort of clear bodily fluid, possibly blood serum.

That outflowing of blood and water from the pierced side of Jesus—from his heart, we often say—is, according to St. John, the source of God’s grace for all those who “shall look on him” (cf. John 3:14-15). “Whoever believes in [Jesus], ‘Rivers of living water will flow from within him’” (John 7:38); i.e., the water that symbolizes the gift of the Holy Spirit shall flow from Jesus into the hearts of all who believe in him.

That outflowing of blood and water is for St. John a sacramental image. From the pierced side of Jesus, i.e., from the death of Jesus on the cross and his passage to eternal life, we receive the sacraments of Eucharist and Baptism, those sacraments that incorporate us into the mystery of his death and resurrection—“clothing [us] with Christ,” to use the metaphor of St. Paul this morning (Gal 3:27).

In Baptism we receive the Holy Spirit thru the pouring of water and the invocation of the Holy Trinity. The Eucharist is made by an invocation of the Holy Spirit over the bread and wine and the repetition of the words of Jesus.

The sacraments are the fountains that purify us from sin and uncleanness. “I will pour out on the house of David and on the inhabitants of Jerusalem a spirit of grace and petition” is fulfilled in the sacraments that bestow on believers God’s grace of forgiveness and redemption.

How good God is, to offer us such grace! How wonderful that we can come to this grace every Sunday and receive the Body and Blood of Jesus and reinforce or renew our “belonging to Christ” (cf. Gal 3:29); every Sunday look on him who was pierced for our sins (cf. Is 53:5), the “only son” of God, God’s “firstborn” from eternity and the “firstborn” of the Virgin Mary at the appointed time of salvation (cf. Luke 2:6-7; Gal 4:4). Zechariah speaks of “mourning” and “grieving” for this “only son” and “firstborn.” If we grieve, it should be only for our sins, which brought Jesus to the cross. But we don’t mourn or grieve for Jesus; for “on the third day [he was] raised” (cf. Luke 9:22) to eternal life—that life which is ours, too, when we follow him and accept the grace he offers us (9:23-24).

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