November 11, 2011

From the Editor Emeritus / John F. Fink

Biblical readings: Joel and Second Zechariah

John F. FinkThe Book of the Prophet Joel and the second half of the Book of Zechariah are read in the Office of Readings next week, the 33rd week in Ordinary Time.

You can tell that we are coming to the end of the liturgical season since both books have a lot to say about “the day of the Lord” or the beginning of the end times. They are the last Old Testament books read in the Office of Readings before the beginning of Advent.

Joel is a short four chapters. In it, the prophet foretells a time of cosmic destruction while Judah will experience a time of salvation. For Christians, it is notable mainly because Peter quoted it extensively, with some important modifications on the day of Pentecost when he began to preach to the Jews gathered in Jerusalem (see Acts 2:16-21).

Chapters 9-14 of the Book of Zechariah are called “Second Zechariah” because they are much different from the first eight chapters that I wrote about in my Oct. 7 column. These chapters foretell the final battle for salvation, give us images of shepherds and sheep, and prophesy the final restoration of Jerusalem.

The chapters are a collection of oracles made at two different times, chapters 9-11 composed earlier than chapters 12-14. The first half speaks of an event within history when God will defeat Judah’s enemies while the second half describes God’s ultimate intervention at the end of history.

The evangelists found numerous texts in Second Zechariah to show that Jesus was the Messiah-Shepherd, who established God’s reign over the world through his Passion and death. I have space to mention only a few.

God will win that final battle for salvation, Zechariah says, and will defeat those nations that have oppressed Judah. He will send a Messiah who will come “meek, riding on an ass, on a colt, the foal of an ass” (Zec 9:9). This, of course, was exactly what Jesus did when he entered Jerusalem on Palm Sunday.

There are the images of the people of Judah as sheep and their rulers as shepherds. Gentile rulers (shepherds) abuse the Jewish people (sheep) until a prophet comes along who cares for the flock in the name of God. But the people reject the prophet-shepherd. They dismiss him with 30 shekels of wages, which he throws into the treasury, much as Judas did.

In the New Testament, Matthew and Mark report that Jesus foretold that the Apostles would abandon him, quoting Zechariah’s text (Zec 13:7) describing the sheep’s scattering when the shepherd is struck (Mt 26:31, Mk 24:27). Jesus used that text just before his arrest. Then, just as Zechariah implies that God would restore Judah to a new relationship with him after a time of trial, Jesus says that he will reassemble his Apostles and form a new relationship with them after his resurrection.

Zechariah also has the passage about the Messiah, “And they shall look on him whom they have thrust through” (Zec 12:10). John’s Gospel quotes that passage (Jn 19:37), seeing in it a prophecy fulfilled in the piercing of Christ’s side. †

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