By David Baumann
A Reading from 2 Chronicles 24:17-22
17 Now after the death of Jehoiada the officials of Judah came and did obeisance to the king; then the king listened to them. 18They abandoned the house of the Lord, the God of their ancestors, and served the sacred poles and the idols. And wrath came upon Judah and Jerusalem for this guilt of theirs. 19Yet he sent prophets among them to bring them back to the Lord; they testified against them, but they would not listen.
20 Then the spirit of God took possession of Zechariah son of the priest Jehoiada; he stood above the people and said to them, “Thus says God: Why do you transgress the commandments of the Lord, so that you cannot prosper? Because you have forsaken the Lord, he has also forsaken you.” 21But they conspired against him, and by command of the king they stoned him to death in the court of the house of the Lord. 22King Joash did not remember the kindness that Jehoiada, Zechariah’s father, had shown him, but killed his son. As he was dying, he said, “May the Lord see and avenge!”
The day after Christmas Day we are plunged into an account of martyrdom. One might have thought, and hoped, that when divine and perfect Love appeared on the earth, that the people of the earth would have responded with overwhelming relief and gratitude for their deliverance. And for many it was, and is, so. Yet many resist, refuse, and react with violence against those who turn to God. The Feast of the Nativity of the deliverer is followed immediately by the Feast of the first martyr.
In Mere Christianity, C. S. Lewis describes the situation: “Enemy-occupied territory — that’s what this world is. Christianity is the story of how the rightful king has landed, you might say landed in disguise, and is calling us to take part in a great campaign of sabotage.” In today’s lesson, after a time of fidelity to God, the people have “abandoned the house of the Lord… and served idols.” Clothed in the Spirit of God, Zechariah, son of a faithful priest, proclaims the indicting message that abandonment of the Lord leads to abandonment by the Lord. At the command of the apostate king, Zechariah is stoned.
The parallel to Stephen is unmistakable. But where Zechariah called for vengeance by the Lord against his murderers, Stephen calls for mercy to be shown them. He is, of course, following the example of Jesus. The contrast to Zechariah is stunning. Now that the “rightful king” has indeed entered the earth, justice has been subsumed into mercy. The Love that was born at Christmas is shown to be ever more powerful than the worst that violent resistance to it can achieve.
David Baumann has been an Episcopal priest for 47 years, mainly in the Diocese of Los Angeles and the Diocese of Springfield. He is now retired and has published nonfiction, science fiction novels, and short stories.
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Daily Devotional Cycle of Prayer
Today we pray for:
Diocese of Fianarantsoa (Indian Ocean) and the Rt. Rev. Gilbert Rateloson Rakotondravelo
Diocese of Florida and the Rt. Rev. John Howard
Diocese of False Bay (Southern Africa) and the Rt. Rev. Margaret Brenda Vertue
St. George’s Episcopal Church, Nashville, Tenn.