Saturday, June 18, 2016

The Healing Fountain of Grief

The following comes from The Catholic Exchange:
June 19. 2016
Twelfth Sunday in Ordinary Time
First Reading: Zech 12:10-11, 13:1
Grieving is a strange process. When a close friend or relative dies, you might think that we would need cheering up—bright colors, clowns, comedians, anything that could be an antidote to our painful loss. Yet, in fact, we don’t want cheering up right away. We need to sit in the pain a while, reflect on the loss, experience the hurt of separation. Grieving helps us to hit the pause button on life and allow us to undergo this important, if painful process. Something about grieving is oddly purifying. It changes us, or rather, helps us come to grips with the change which we are inevitably undergoing.

Pouring Out

In this Sunday’s first reading from Zechariah, the prophet brings us face-to-face with the pain and purifying power of grief. Following on the heels of a prophecy about the salvation of Judah (12:1-9), God promises a new chapter for the Davidic kingdom. “I will pour out on the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem a spirit of compassion and supplication” (Zech 12:10a RSV). Elsewhere, God’s action of out-pouring is linked with his giving of his own Spirit (Ezek 39:29, Joel 2:28-29) or wrath (e.g. Jer 10:25; Ezek 22:22). Here then, the “spirit of compassion and supplication” is to be identified as the Holy Spirit, God’s own Spirit. This “compassion” is chen in Hebrew, a word usually translated as “grace,” that is, the favorable treatment of a loyal subject by a higher authority. God’s power will come with favor, but also with “supplication,” aiding the prayers of the holy ones, as is promised in the NT (Rom 8:26).

Who is Pierced?

Next the prophet tells us about a mysterious person who will be pierced. Usually, translations rely on the Greek version of the OT and read something like “they look on him whom they have pierced” (RSV). Yet that’s not what the Hebrew says. The Hebrew of Zech 12:10 says “they will look on me, whom they have pierced”! This translational point may seem like a mere technicality, but by altering what the Hebrew says, the translators are writing God out of this passage. God is saying that he himself will be pierced. The ancient scribes who handed down the versions to us found difficulty with this idea (How could God be pierced?) and so sometimes tweaked the text to make it easier. Yet biblical text criticism preserves an important principle of lectio difficilior, that is, the more difficult reading is usually more original. Here, God is forecasting that he himself will be pierced through. And here, the piercing is a mortal blow (as it is, e.g., in Num 25:8, Judg 9:54).

A Pierced Son – Look, Mourn, Weep

Zechariah is one of the most mysterious, hard-to-interpret books of the Bible, so it is no surprise that our passage is a bit mystifying. The prophet is forecasting a moment when a certain person, who seems to be God, and who is also kind of like a son, will be mortally wounded and then mourned for. In fact, he places the sequence of events as follows: first, the mortal blow will be struck, then the people will look upon the victim. Finally they will mourn and weep over him as if he had been a only child, a firstborn son (Zech 12:10). Any death of a child is bitter medicine to his or her parents, but the prophet emphasizes the especially grievous nature of this event by comparing it to the particularly sad case of a couple losing its only child.

Mourning in Megiddo

Yet this grieving which the people will undergo will carry in it the seeds of healing. It is through the process of grieving that the people will arrive at a new place, become changed, renewed. Zechariah, in his mercurial prophetic manner, compares this future grieving to “the mourning for Hadadrimmon in the plain of Megiddo” (Zech 12:11 RSV). Unfortunately, “Hadadrimmon” is not a normal word and it defies easy explanation by scholars. However, in my view the best explanation of this bizarre word connects it with a historical event from the Davidic dynasty. Hadadrimmon probably is not a person, but a place, likely a village near the known location of Megiddo. (Megiddo was a fortified city in the Jezreel valley. You can visit it today as an archaeological site at an Israeli national park, which I did a few years ago.)
The only major biblical event that took place at Megiddo was during the reign of Josiah. Pharaoh Necho II was riding through Palestine on his way to the Battle of Carchemish (the last major battle between the Assyrians and Babylonians), when King Josiah decided to oppose him at the Valley of Jezreel and try to prevent his army from reaching the important battle. During the conflict, King Josiah was struck down and killed at Megiddo (2 Kings 23:29). Apparently, the mourning for the great king Josiah was unusually intense (2 Chr 35:24), and perhaps began at an otherwise unknown village of Hadadrimmon, so Zechariah is probably referring back to this event here. He adds to the intensity by denoting the important families that will participate in the grieving, the families of David (kingly), Nathan (prophetic), Levi and Shimei (priestly).

A Fountain

As a result of the mortal piercing of God and in the context of this great mourning, “on that day there shall be a fountain opened for the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem to cleanse them from sin and uncleanness” (Zech 13:1). While the idea of a “fountain” may conjure up the Trevi Fountain or the fountain at the Bellagio in Las Vegas for us, the ancient Israelites had no such thing. It is better to think of “fountain” in this context as a “spring,” a natural source of fresh water. While most springs in the Holy Land are rather small or even intermittent, some natural springs are much more powerful than manmade fountains. For example, “Big Spring” in the Ozarks of Missouri pumps out 3,434 gallons per second. Not all natural fountains should be looked down upon! The fountain Zechariah speaks of will not bring mere water, but will bring spiritual healing that will transform God’s people and take away their sins. This fountain, of course, is represented by the pierced side of Jesus on the cross, from which blood and water flows (John 19:34).
In the end, I think Zechariah offers us a great picture of how our redemption progresses. First, we have to come to grips with what we’ve done—participated in the death of God on a cross. Then we look upon him in his suffering and feel the horrible grief of guilt. Finally, through the process of contrition, repentance and turning toward God, we are able to experience his forgiveness, mercy and healing power—the “fountain” of redemption. We experience the fountain in Baptism, in Confession and in Communion. The Pierced One comes to us again and again, welcoming us back to receive more of his mercy.

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