Saturday, October 20, 2012

The One They Have Pierced (Prisoners of Hope: The Prophetic Imagination of Zechariah, #2)

Audio available, and here.

Call to Worship, selections from Zechariah 8-14
Children, John 19.30-37
Message, Zechariah 12.10 - 13.1

Theme story:Jeremiah, Zac, and Caleb – the soccer accident. Who felt worse?

Background:Last week, I introduced Zechariah as a prophet whose work was after exile, part of the return. This week, the historical context of the work shifts dramatically. The second half of the book, chapters 9-14, is impossible to nail down to a specific historical setting. The work refers to war with Greece as a world power (9.13), which did not occur until long after the return, as well as referring to Egypt and the exodus (10.10), the Philistines (9.5), Syria (9.1), and Assyria (10.10) – all nations that belong to different historical periods. Some students of the text conclude that a different person is responsible for this text, someone other than Zechariah himself.

Aside from this dispute and the relative merits of the different suggestions, what is very clear is that Zechariah presents to us a vision of history, of God working in history, that is universal throughout time. The prophet is saying, "This is how God works. And, this is how God’s people are. The year on the calendar makes no difference to these fundamental realities. God’s people reject God, God’s people face judgment, and God makes every effort and extreme sacrifice to restore and forgive."

So, we have a change in historical context, a change that deliberately offers timeless truth.

Last week, I introduced Zechariah as a prophet with an apocalyptic imagination. No change there! We defined "apocalypse" as an "uncovering" or "revealing". I said that apocalyptic is not so much about "the end" but about an imagination of "the ends" (as in, "the purpose") of God in history. It is imaginative, and it depends on imagery, the kinds of imagery we find in our dreams, disjointed, jarring, and overlaid in unexpected ways. Do you ever dream about the same thing, just in different images? You wake up, you know you had more than one dream, but you know they overlap as one thing. In this section of Zechariah, there are two images that overlap and, from my perspective, appear to be referring to the same themes – king and shepherd. The king is a royal figure. The shepherd, in this text, is a prophet figure, and the main shepherd role in the text is actually played by Zechariah himself, but only for part of the time. (He doesn’t play the part of the shepherd killed.)

Prisoners of HOPE (Zechariah 9.12)

Shepherd (overview):
11.4, "be a shepherd of the flock doomed to slaughter"
11.12-13, "my wages thirty shekels of silver ... throw it into the treasury"
Matthew 26.16, 27.5
13.7, "strike the shepherd"
John 10.11, Matthew 26.31, Mark 14.27

King (overview):9.9, "your king comes ... triumphant ... riding on a donkey"
Matthew 21.5, John 18.33, John 19.19
12.10, "look on the one whom they have pierced"
(a "firstborn", "only child", a royal? the king of Zechariah 9.9?)
John 19.37
Mark 1.11, Luke 9.35, Colossians 1.15, etc. (Jesus the "firstborn")

Both king and shepherd are rejected and killed. Yet, both hold out hope for God’s people. "A fountain shall be opened" "to cleanse ... from sin". And, "there shall be continuous day" and "living waters shall flow" – both images taken up in the Revelation to describe the Holy City coming down out of heaven (Revelation 21-22).

Both king and shepherd images are taken up by the New Testament and applied to the story of Jesus, particularly the story of Holy Week, of Jesus’ Passion and death. The week begins with Jesus’ arrival on a donkey, being hailed by the crowd. Pilate the Roman governor later asks, "Are you the King of the Jews?" At his death, Jesus, the "firstborn of creation", is pierced with a spear. Jesus, who introduces himself as "the good shepherd", is betrayed by Judas, one of the twelve disciples, for 30 shekels of silver. After he betrays Jesus, Judas throws the 30 shekels into the temple treasury. And, before his arrest and death, Jesus quotes Zechariah: "They shall strike the shepherd and the sheep [my disciples] will be scattered".

But if we are going to make this move with Zechariah’s text, if we are going to apply it to Jesus – and as Christian people we do read the whole Bible as centered on Jesus – if we are going to do this, then we also have to expand Zechariah’s language referring to God’s people to refer as well to the people of God in the New Testament, to refer to you and me, to refer to the Church. If we fail to do this, then we read Zechariah as proof that the Jews killed Jesus, something that is neither historically nor theologically accurate. If we broaden the perspective to the Church, however, then you and I become responsible for Jesus’ death. It is we who have pierced him. As Isaiah writes, "He was pierced for our transgressions" (Isaiah 53.5).

Remember our opening story? Jeremiah and Caleb? In a moment like that, when we are struck with the horror of what we have done, when every terrible outcome flashes before our eyes, we mourn, even if only in anticipation of what could be. And, there is no comfort to be found, not in that moment itself. Unlike healthy mourning, which is public and keeps us connected to those who love us, this kind of mourning is private. It isolates us. Even if what we have done was public, it feels like a giant secret.

Did you notice how the people mourned in Zechariah? Four different families are listed, and they each mourn "by themselves". And, even within the family, the women mourn "by themselves". Why? Because of the shock and horror of what they have done to the unnamed victim of Zechariah’s prophecy. It is a mourning that leads to despair.

You and I pierced our king and shepherd, Jesus. We nailed him to the cross. We pierced him with the spear. "He was pierced for MY transgressions." We are the flock "doomed to slaughter". Thanks for the pep talk.

But we must not miss the promise in our grief: "On that day a fountain will be opened ... to cleanse from sin and impurity" (Zechariah 13.1).


There is a fountain filled with blood
drawn from Emmanuel's veins;
and sinners plunged beneath that flood
lose all their guilty stains.
Lose all their guilty stains,
lose all their guilty stains;
and sinners plunged beneath that flood
lose all their guilty stains.

The dying thief rejoiced to see
that fountain in his day;
and there may I, though vile as he,
wash all my sins away...

Resources:Ben C. Ollenburger. 1996. New Interpreter’s Bible, Vol. VII, on Zechariah. Nashville: Abingdon Press.

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