From the Prophet Zechariah:
On that day, says the Lord of hosts, I will cut off the names of the idols from the land, so that they shall be remembered no more; and also I will remove from the land the prophets and the unclean spirit. And if any prophets appear again, their fathers and mothers who bore them will say to them, “You shall not live, for you speak lies in the name of the Lord”; and their fathers and their mothers who bore them shall pierce them through when they prophesy. On that day the prophets will be ashamed, every one, of their visions when they prophesy; they will not put on a hairy mantle in order to deceive, but each of them will say, “I am no prophet, I am a tiller of the soil; for the land has been my possession since my youth.” And if anyone asks them, “What are these wounds on your chest?” the answer will be “The wounds I received in the house of my friends.”
(From the Daily Office Lectionary – Zechariah 13:2-6 (NRSV) – November 29, 2012)
I know I’ve read this bit of Zechariah before, but I don’t think I’ve ever paid any attention to it. This morning, the image of parents “piercing” their own children who happen to be prophets and that of “the wounds I received in the house of my friends” really hit home! Strife within families and between friends is here the recompense paid by God to false prophets, but it seems to be the lot of the prophet, the priest, or the ardent advocate in any age. I am reminded of Jesus’ quoting Micah to the effect that “your enemies are members of your own household.” (Micah 7:6; cf Matt. 10:35-36 and Luke 12:52-53) Speaking on behalf of God or any god or any cause is never easy; it leads to misunderstanding and conflict – just look at what happened in many families during the recently passed political campaigns.
That strife and that wounding seem to happen most severely when someone is focused on a particular issue of great importance to them to the exclusion of all others. We referred to them as “single-issue voters” during the election. In recent years that single-issue in politics has been abortion, but the phenomenon is not limited to that particular matter.
I have a friend who is particularly dedicated to the cause of marriage equality. He is a faithful member of an Episcopal parish where he regularly worships, but because of the failure of the 2012 General Convention to adopt a rite for marriage of same-sex couples for use across the church without restriction he has vowed to give nothing of his time, talent, or treasure to the Episcopal Church. The issue came up in our conversation because of a church appeal for donations to assist those affected by Hurricane Sandy. He refused, “Not one red cent.”
That refusal felt like a stab in the gut, like a wound on the chest! We, the church, do so many things that are worthwhile and yet, because of his principled stand on that single issue, they are treated as nothing, as worthless, as unworthy of his consideration. He is unwilling to contribute to the support of what I dedicate my life to everyday. I understand why he is doing so; I even share his position on the marriage equality question. And yet I feel wounded by his refusal.
I would have to have a lot more fingers and toes to count all the times this sort of thing has happened in the church through the years over much less serious matters and much less principled positions. People, myself included, get bent out of shape over silly things – the kind music chosen for a service, the type or color of flowers on the altar, you name it – and the next thing you know parishioners are withholding contributions, or not attending worship, or even transferring their membership. Piercings! Gut stabs! Chest wounds!
I do not claim the mantle of prophecy by any stretch of the imagination, but I can surely relate to Zechariah’s oracle! Years ago, when I would bring up these sorts of things with my spiritual director (who was a parish priest of many years experience), he would just look at me with gentle eyes and ask, “And how did they treat Jesus?” In comparison, although they hurt, I guess I can live with the wounds on my chest.
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Father Funston is the rector of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Medina, Ohio.