Monday of week 26 of Ordinary Time – First Reading

Commentary on Zech 8:1-8

Our two remaining readings from Zechariah come from the second part of the book which, as was mentioned, is quite different from the first part and seems to come from a different source and a different time. What it has in common with the first part is the vision of a new and restored Jerusalem with a great future. The author has a vision of Jerusalem restored to being once again a peaceful and welcoming environment, even more than it had been before the exile. The whole 8th Chapter is a collection of short independent oracles, with the exception of 8:16-17, which is an instruction. They all deal with the messianic age, described as an age of simple happiness and of peace under the blessing of Yahweh, present in Zion (Jerusalem). There are 10 promises of blessing, each beginning with “Yahweh Sabaoth says this…” (vv.2,3,4,6,7,9,14,18,20,23), some of which are in our reading.

We begin with the first blessing:

“I am burning with jealousy for Zion, with furious jealousy for her sake,” says Yahweh.

The Lord’s love for his people is often described as a ‘jealous’ love, indicating, in human terms, that Yahweh does not want to have any rivals. His people’s service has to be given totally to him and to no other ‘god’. When giving the Ten Commandments Yahweh had told his people: “For I, the Lord, your God, am a jealous God” (Exod 20:5)

“I am coming back to Zion and shall dwell in the heart of Jerusalem”, that is, in its Temple. Then Jerusalem will be called the Faithful City and the mountain of Yahweh Sabaoth called the Holy Mountain. The ‘mountain’ is Mount Zion on which Jerusalem and the Temple are built.

“Aged men and women once again will sit in the squares of Jerusalem each with a stick to lean on because of their great age and the squares of the city will be full of boys and girls playing there.” The image is one of absolute peace and security even for the most vulnerable in society – the elderly and the children. Similar predictions of complete peace and harmony can be found in Isaiah (11:6-9 and 65:20-25).

“If this seems an impossible miracle to the Remnant of this people (in those days), will it seem one to me? declares Yahweh.” Right now, where there is still a measure of social turmoil as the people try to settle down after the exile and get about rebuilding a stable society, such dreams seem far in the future. But to the Lord all things are possible.

“Look, I shall rescue my people from the countries of the east and from the countries of the west.” Literally “from the land of the sunrise and from the land of the going in of the sun” i.e. from everywhere – wherever God’s people are (cf. Ps 50:1; 113:3; Mal 1:11). The Lord will deliver his people, scattered in so many places. He will bring them back from exile, bondage and dispersion. “The Lord shall take it in hand to reclaim the remnant of his people that is left from Assyria and Egypt, Patros, Ethiopia, and Elam, Shinar, Hamath, and the isles of the sea” (Isaiah 11:11). This Jewish dream is still very much alive.

“I shall bring them back  to live in the heart of Jerusalem,  and they will be my people  and I shall be their God,  faithful and just.” Yahweh will bring back not just the exiles from Babylon only, but the Jews scattered throughout the world. Their return will be followed by a renewal of the covenant – “They will be my people and I shall be their God”.  This speaks of an intimate fellowship in a covenant relationship, constantly repeated through both the Old and New Testaments. It involves a mutual and intimate commitment to each other. People have expectations of their God but he, too, has expectations of them. And the Restoration of Judah to the age-old covenant blessing is guaranteed by Yahweh’s fidelity and justice.

For us, we see the return on a much wider basis. It is the return of people from all over the world to a New Jerusalem, built around Jesus Christ as Messiah, King, Saviour and Lord. Those who gather in the New Jerusalem come not from one ethnic group but from all over the world in a community where there is no distinction made regarding Jew or Gentile, male or female, free person or slave, where all are united in total equality and status as children of God and brothers and sisters of Jesus Christ.

This coming together is reflected in the Third Eucharistic Prayer of our Catholic Liturgy:

“All life, all holiness comes from you through your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord, by the working of the Holy Spirit.

From age to age you gather a people to yourself, so that from east to west a perfect offering may be made to the glory of your name.”

(‘From east to west’: the definitive Latin text reads ‘from the rising of the sun to its setting’, wording which is very close to the language of Zechariah above.)

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