12th Sunday of Ordinary Time
June 19, 2016
Zech 12: 10-11; 13: 1
Iona College, New Rochelle, N.Y.
“I will pour out on the house of David and on the inhabitants of Jerusalem a spirit of grace and petition; and they shall look on him whom they have pierced” (Zech 12: 10).
The prophetic reading this evening was chosen, obviously, to go with Jesus’ prediction of his passion and death in the gospel reading—the 1st of 3 such predictions (Luke 9:18-24). Luke’s version of the story is straightforward—no reference to a blessing of Peter nor of the gift to him of the keys to the kingdom of heaven nor of Peter’s attempt to deny Jesus the fate inherent in being “the Christ of God.”
You know that Christ is the Greek translation of Messiah, and those words mean “Anointed One.”
It’s puzzling that Jesus “rebuked” the apostles for identifying him as the Messiah; but he doesn’t deny it. Rather, he “directed them not to tell this to anyone” (9:21). And he uses another name for himself, “Son of Man,” as he forecasts the destiny that will be his.
Undoubtedly, the Jewish population, Jesus’ disciples included, had a misunderstanding of what role “the Christ of God” was to play; what sort of redemption he’d come to bring them. Hence Jesus’ hushing them up and his telling them what lay before him.
Not only him. You think you’re going to follow me to royal power, to throwing out the Romans and governing Israel like King David? Well, here’s some news for you: “If anyone wishes to come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me” (9:23). Not only are they going to kill me, but you too will share in my cross if you follow me! Only if you lose your life alongside me will you truly save it. You can’t avoid my cross for even a single day!
The prophet Zechariah speaks of someone who suffers and then becomes a font of blessing. In his account of the crucifixion and death of Jesus, you remember, St. John quotes this passage from Zechariah in relation to the coup de grace that a Roman soldier delivered to Jesus’ body hanging on the cross: “one of the soldiers thrust his lance into his side, and immediately blood and water flowed out” (19:34).
Zechariah says also that this person who’s been pierced thru will be mourned “as one mourns for an only son,” grieved “over as one grieves over a firstborn” (12:10). We catch the allusion immediately to God’s Only-begotten Son, mourned by his disciples at his crucifixion and in the following days, right up till the women found his tomb empty on Sunday morning. We catch the allusion to Jesus, the firstborn son of Mary, who—in John’s passion account—stood heroically beneath her Son’s cross and became then the mother of all Jesus’ brothers and sisters; he was her firstborn, and she’s carried millions since in her motherly heart.
The 3d reference to mourning in the prophecy (12:11) seems to be an allusion to the holy king Josiah, who reformed the religious life of the kingdom of Judah at the end of the 7th c. BC. Josiah was a descendant of King David and as a king was a messiah, one anointed by God, and since he instituted religious reform he was also a redeemer of sorts. But he died in battle at Megiddo, certainly a cause of national mourning. He was succeeded by unworthy sons, and Jerusalem was captured 12 years later by the Babylonians and made a vassal state; and ten years later still, the city was leveled by the Babylonians—more cause for national mourning. The psalmist lamented, “By the streams of Babylon we sat and wept, remembering Jerusalem” (cf. 137:1).
But after the mourning over the sufferings and death of the Son of Man, after his being raised on the 3d day, we see what happened to him in a different light. No longer do we mourn for him or grieve over him—for from the pierced side of Jesus the Lord God has “poured out on the house of David and on the inhabitants of Jerusalem,” and indeed on the entire human race, “a spirit of grace and petition”; “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).
The traditional sacramental theology of the Church sees in the outpouring of blood and water from the side of Jesus—whatever the physiological facts of that “water” may be—symbols of Baptism and the Eucharist. In these sacraments we receive “a spirit of grace” indeed, that grace which makes us God’s children; that grace which is a fountain of mercy purifying us “from sin and uncleanness.” Because these sacraments tie us to Christ, we are saved: “all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ,” St. Paul writes today (Gal 3:27), and we’ve become heirs of God’s kingdom (3:29), together with Jesus—regardless of our human status, regardless of how the world rates us or ranks us: we’re all equally “children of God in Christ Jesus” (3:26), made so by the outpouring of God’s Spirit on us in the sacraments, the font of mercy opened up to us from the pierced heart of Christ, who loves us without measure.