In this reading from Zechariah we get a picture of human stubbornness that is very recognizable to us even today.
In this reading from Zechariah we get a picture of human stubbornness that is very recognizable to us even today. The passage begins this way: ʺThus says the Lord of hosts: Judge with true justice, and show kindness and compassion toward each other. Do not oppress the widow or the orphan, the resident alien or the poor; do not plot evil against one another in your hearts.ʺ Then Zechariah tells us what the people’s response was to this message from God: ʺBut they refused to listen; they stubbornly turned their backs and stopped their ears so as not to hear. And made their hearts as hard as diamond so as not to hear the instruction and the words that the Lord of hosts had sent by his spirit through the earlier prophets.ʺ (Zechariah 7:9-12)
This passage gives a simple, clear image of how human beings, driven by their egos, refuse to hear anything that requires them to accept their responsibility toward anyone other than themselves. And it sheds a light on the foolishness of this kind of behavior.
It is foolish, because to stop our ears to this, to turn our backs on this, is a refusal to obey the absolute logic of wisdom. It is a defiance of reality in the end. Is it not a matter of both logic and wisdom that if we all ʺjudge with true justice,ʺ that if we all ʺshow kindness and compassion toward each other,ʺ if we ʺdo not oppress the widow or the orphan, the resident alien or the poor,ʺ and if we ʺdo not plot evil against another in our hearts,ʺ that the world would be a more just, kind, compassionate, and less oppressive place? Would it not also be true that if we all acted in this way, the chances would be greater that we would be treated in the same manner in return when necessary? That is the logic and the wisdom of the Golden Rule, which Hebrew scholars say is, ʺthe whole of the law, and everything else is commentary.ʺ
It is also foolish, because our stubbornness, our hardheartedness, inevitably backfires on us. The reality of true justice is, in the end, thrust back on us. When the tables are turned, when we are treated in the manner that we had so unjustly treated others with, suddenly we start crying out in anguish and declaring to one and all, that it isn’t fair. Zechariah finishes this passage with these words, ʺJust as when I called out and they did not listen, so they will call out and I will not listen, says the Lord of hosts. And I will scatter them among all the nations that they do not know. So the land was left desolate behind them with no one moving about and they made a pleasant land into a wasteland. As Shakespeare’s Hamlet says, ʺWhat fools we mortals be.ʺ
This is the foolishness of our sinful human behavior. God offers us the very wisdom of justice and compassion, and in our selfcenteredness we turn away from it. We foolishly think that we are the masters of our own destinies. We refuse to bend our wills to any one, not even God. We claim to ourselves the absolute power to decide what is right and what is wrong—for us alone. And the result of our behavior is chaos, and suffering. And because we have hardened our hearts to the truth, we refuse to see our own role in all of this chaos. We are blind to our own guilt.
And, still, God is always offering us the light of wisdom. He is always just toward us, he is always kind and compassionate, and slow to anger. He is always ready to wash away our sins with his mercy. He is always ready to soften our hardened hearts with his love. If only we could see our foolishness as if in a mirror. If we could we might, finally, be able to laugh at ourselves, rather than take ourselves too seriously. We would be able to finally see the wisdom of God that was before us all the time. We would, finally, be able to bow before the One who is all justice, goodness, truth, and beauty, with liberating, joyful humility.
During this Lenten season, let us open our ears to God’s call. Let us turn away from our stubborn egos. Let us soften our hearts. In doing so, we will find the happiness we all desire, a happiness that is not just the satisfaction of a single moment of finite pleasure, but one that is rooted in God’s eternity. Amen.