12th SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME (Cycle C)

Readings
Zechariah 12:10-11; 13:1
Psalm 63:2-6, 8-9
Galatians 3:26-29
Luke 9:18-24

Abbreviations: NJB (New Jerusalem Bible), IBHE (Interlinear Bible Hebrew-English), IBGE (Interlinear Bible Greek-English), or LXX (Greek Septuagint Old Testament translation). CCC designates a citation from the Catechism of the Catholic Church. The word LORD or GOD rendered in all capital letters is, in the Hebrew text, God's Divine Name YHWH (Yahweh).

God's divine plan for mankind is revealed in the two Testaments and that is why we read and relive the events of salvation history contained in the Old and New Testaments in the Church's Liturgy. The Catechism teaches that the Liturgy reveals the unfolding mystery of God's plan as we read the Old Testament in light of the New and the New Testament in light of the Old (CCC 1094-1095).

The Theme of the Readings: The Messiah Promised and Revealed.
In the First Reading, the prophet Zechariah receives an oracle from God concerning the future of a restored Israel. The oracle is a prophetic vision of the "Last Days" (the final age of man) that promises a suffering Messiah will lead the people to conversion and purification (12:9-13:9). The prophet revealed the event would be associated with a profound repentance, bringing about the outpouring of God's Spirit upon all mankind.

Seeking a more intimate relationship with God is the prayer in today's Responsorial Psalm. And in the Second Reading, St. Paul teaches that true intimacy with God cannot be found in the law of the old Sinai Covenant but only in Christ Jesus in whom we are justification by faith through God's grace rather than by the works of the Law of Moses. As "children of God in Christ Jesus," by virtue of faith and submission to Christian baptism, all Christians are Abraham's descendants and heirs of the promise of the world-wide blessing God made to Abraham through the Abrahamic covenant (Gen 12:1-3; 22:15-18).

In the Gospel Reading, we are reminded of God's promises through His holy Old Testament prophets like Zechariah that He would send a Redeemer-Messiah from the lineage of the great King David. He was promised to gather the "lost sheep" of the house of Israel and save all who repented their sins and returned to a new covenant relationship with the One true God (i.e. Is 11:1-9; 52:13-53:12; Jer 31:31-34; Ez 34:11-24; 37:25b-28). That promise was fulfilled in Jesus of Nazareth. During His three-year ministry, Jesus slowly revealed His true identity to His disciples and to the crowds of people who came to hear Him preach and heal. He set all who believed in Him on the path to eternal salvation by fulfilling the promises of the old Abrahamic and Sinai covenants and in establishing a new and eternal covenant in which the Law was intensified, internalized and internationalized (Lk 22:20). No longer was obedience to God expressed only in the works of the Law through an outward expressing of ritual piety. Through Jesus Christ, the one sent to "shepherd" God's people (Ez 34:23; Jn 10:11), the promise of salvation was extended beyond the Jews to the Gentile nations. Jesus brought about a universal salvation in which all men and women of every nationality were invited to become one in Christ, fulfilling the worldwide blessing promised to Abraham (Gen 22:18; Gal 3:14). In this Sunday's antiphon, we call upon the Divine Shepherd to share His life with us and to bring us to salvation: "God is the strength of his people. In him, we his chosen live in safety. Save us, Lord, who share in your life, and give us your blessing; be our shepherd forever."

The First Reading Zechariah 12:10-11; 13:1 ~ The Suffering Messiah
10 Thus says the LORD [YHWH]: I will pour out on the house of David and on the inhabitants of Jerusalem a spirit of grace and petition; and they shall look on him whom they have pierced, and they shall mourn for him as one mourns for an only son, and they shall grieve over him as one grieves over a firstborn. 11 On that day the mourning in Jerusalem shall be as great as the mourning of Hadadrimmon in the plain of Megiddo... 3:1 On that day there shall be open to the house of David and to the inhabitants of Jerusalem, a fountain to purify them from sin and uncleanness.

Zechariah, Haggai, and Malachi were the prophets sent to the covenant people after their return from the Babylonian exile in the late 6th century AD. The book of Zechariah can be divided into two parts: chapters 1-8 and 9-14. Part two of the book of Zechariah (9:1-14:21) consists of two prophetic oracles and are called the "Messianic oracles."  The first oracle concerns the coming of the promised Messiah who is descended from the lineage of King David will make a triumphal ride into Jerusalem: Rejoice heartily, O daughter Zion, shout for joy, O daughter Jerusalem!  See, your king shall come to you; a just savior is he, meek, and riding on an ass, on a colt, the foal of an ass (Zec 9:9). The Jewish crowds recognized that the promise of this oracle was fulfilled on the day Jesus rode into Jerusalem on the foal of as ass (Palm Sunday) as they hailed Him as the Davidic king and promised Messiah by quoting from this passage (Mt 21:4-5).

The passage in the first reading is announced in Zechariah 12:1 as the second prophetic oracle from God concerning the future of a restored Israel. This oracle, speaking prophetically of the "Last Days" (the final age of man) prophesies that the Messiah will lead the people to conversion and purification (12:9-13:9). This event will be preceded by a profound repentance that will bring about the outpouring of God's Spirit. The reason for the repentance will be the death of a man who is loved but who has been killed by the people. The mysterious death of the man who they have pierced has a similar effect on the people as the prophecy of the prophet Isaiah concerning the death of the "Servant of the Lord" in Isaiah 52:13-53:12—he who ...surrendered himself to death and was counted among the wicked; and he shall take away the sins of many, and win pardon for their offenses (Is 53:12b). The description of the death of the man in both prophecies prefigures Jesus Christ who died for the sins of mankind, whose body was pierced by nails in the crucifixion and His dead body by the spear of a Roman soldier (Jn 19:37).

On the Jewish feast of Pentecost, fifty days after Jesus' Resurrection, the Holy Spirit descended upon and indwelled the 120 disciples of Jesus praying in the Upper Room in Jerusalem. Purified and filled with the Holy Spirit, the disciples spilled out into the street professing Christ as the Redeemer-Messiah in many languages (Acts 2:1-13). In his first homily, St. Peter announced to the Jews in the crowd that they were witnessing the events of the "Last Days" prophesied by the prophets when God promised to pour out His Spirit upon mankind: It will come to pass in the last days, God says, 'that I will pour out a portion of my spirit upon all flesh ...' (Acts 2:17a; Peter quoting from Joel 3:1). St. Peter told the Jews: This man delivered up by the set plan and foreknowledge of God, you killed, using lawless men to crucify him. But God raised him up, releasing him from the throes of death because it was impossible for him to be held by it (Acts 2:23-24).

Zechariah 12:10b ... they shall mourn for him as one mourns for an only son, and they shall grieve over him as one grieves over a firstborn. 11 On that day the mourning in Jerusalem shall be as great as the mourning of Hadadrimmon in the plain of Megiddo.
In Zechariah's prophecy, he says the outpouring of grief for the pierced victim in Jerusalem can be compared to the national grief of the people when David's descendant King Josiah (640-609 BC) was killed on the plains of Megiddo near a site called Hadadrimmon—a shrine to the pagan gods Hadad and Rimmon (2 Chr 35:22-25). King Josiah was much loved because he ruled with ability and piety. He brought about a major reform of the kingdom of Judah and renewal of the covenant, turning the people back to Yahweh (2 Kng 23:1-3).

When Jesus was crucified, this was the kind of grief experienced by Jesus' faithful disciples and by others who came to understand that Jesus of Nazareth was the Davidic heir and the promised Redeemer-Messiah. On Pentecost Sunday, St. Peter's homily was so forceful in convincing the crowd they killed their promised Messiah that ... they were cut to the heart, and they asked Peter and the other apostles, "What are we to do my brothers?" (Acts 2:37). Peter responded: "Repent and be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit" (Acts 2:38). This event fulfilled Zechariah's oracle.  

Zechariah records that another aspect of this event will be the cleansing of the people: On that day there shall be open to the house of David and to the inhabitants of Jerusalem, a fountain to purify them from sin and uncleanness (Zec 3:1). Under the Law of the Sinai Covenant, purification for being ritually unclean and unfit for worship was accomplished by ritually washing in "luster water"—water infused with the ashes of a ritually sacrificed red heifer to restore ritual purity and fitness for worship (Num 19:9-22; 31:23). In the New Covenant in Christ, purification and sanctification come through faith in the atoning sacrifice of Jesus on the altar of the Cross and the regeneration that comes through being washed by water and the Holy Spirit through the Sacrament of Christian Baptism (CCC 1213-74)—another fulfillment of Zechariah's prophecy.

Responsorial Psalm 63:2-6, 8-9 ~ Seeking the Lord
The response is: "My soul is thirsting for you, O Lord my God."
O God, you are my God whom I seek; for you my flesh pines and my soul thirsts like the earth, parched, lifeless and without water.
Response:
3 Thus have I gazed toward you in the sanctuary to see your power and your glory, 4 for your kindness is greater good than life; my lips shall glorify you.
Response:
5 Thus will I bless you while I live; lifting up my hands, I will call upon your name. 6 As with the riches of a banquet shall my soul be satisfied, and with exultant lips my mouth shall praise you.
Response:
 8 You are my help, and in the shadow of your wings I should for joy. 9 My soul clings fast to you; your right hand upholds me.
Response:

The psalm expresses the intimate relationship between the worshipper and his God.  Separated from God, the worshipper longs for restored fellowship and communion with God, comparing the need for God in his life with the need all living things have for water in order to survive (verse 2). The psalmist recalls the intimacy he felt worshiping in the Temple (verse 3-6). It is an intimacy based on a right relationship with the Almighty in which the psalmist experiences a profound gratitude for the protection of a loving God (verses 8-9).

The Second Reading Galatians 3:26-29 ~ Being One in Christ and Children of the Promise
26 Through faith you are all children of God in Christ Jesus. 27 For all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. 28 There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free person, there is not male and female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus. 29 And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham's descendants, heirs according to the promise.

This reading is a continuation of St. Paul's teaching on justification from last week's second reading from Galatians chapter 2. In Galatians 3:23-29 Paul adds to his argument in support of justification by faith and through God's grace rather than by works of the Law of Moses (Gal 2:16-21). As "children of God in Christ Jesus," by virtue of their faith and submission to Christian baptism, the Galatians are all Abraham's descendants and heirs of the promises God made to Abraham through the Abrahamic covenant (Gen 12:1-3; 22:15-18). Those promises were a kingdom, descendants as many as the stars, and a worldwide blessing.

Down through the centuries Mother Church, Jesus' Kingdom of Heaven on earth, has brought forth countless children in every generation from one end of the earth to the other—children who stand as heirs of Christ and as equals before God despite gender or ethnicity. It is Mother Church who guides and protects those who are all one in Christ Jesus. Believers who respond to faith in Christ through the Sacrament of Christian baptism become members of Christ's Mystical Body and are intimately united to the life of Jesus. The unity of the Mystical Body triumphs over all human divisions: There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free person, there is not male and female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus (Gal 3:28).  The entire world has been blessed by Abraham's descendant, Jesus of Nazareth (Mt 1:1; Gal 3:29), and by the universal Church that Jesus established as His vehicle of salvation for all of mankind.

The Gospel Reading Luke 9:18-24 ~ Jesus Reveals His True Identity and Calls His Disciples to Follow Him in Suffering and Resurrection
18 Once when Jesus was praying in solitude, and the disciples were with him, he asked them, "Who do the crowds say that I am?"  19 They said in reply, "John the Baptist; others, Elijah; still others, 'One of the ancient prophets has arisen.'"  20 Then he said to them, "but who do you say that I am?"  Peter said in reply, "The Christ [Messiah] of God."  21 He rebuked them and directed them not to tell this to anyone. 22 He said, "The Son of Man must suffer greatly and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed and on the third day be raised."  23 Then he said to all, "If anyone wishes to come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. 24 For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it."

St. Matthew tells us that this event took place in the extreme northern region of the Promised Land at Caesarea Philippi near what is today the Golan Heights (Mt 16:13). In the Gospel of Matthew, Peter's declaration is more precise where he says, "You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God" (Mt 16:16).  Jesus tells His Apostles that Simon-Peter's profession of faith was divinely revealed to him by God the Father (Mt 16:17). Jesus then blesses Peter and commissions him: reaffirming his title "Rock" (Kepha in Aramaic and Petros in Greek)—making Peter the "rock" upon which Jesus' kingdom of the Church will be founded (Jesus first named Simon "Rock" in their meeting in Jn 1:42). Jesus also gives Peter the symbolic "keys" of the Kingdom through which Peter is given authority over the Apostles who are Jesus' other ministers and Jesus' Kingdom of the Church that is the "new Jerusalem" (Mt 16:18-19), recalling the authority of the vicar of the Davidic king in Isaiah 22:21b-23, ... he will be a father to the inhabitants of Jerusalem and to the House of Judah. I shall place the key of David's palace on his shoulder; when he opens, no one will close, when he closes, no one will open. I shall drive him like a nail into a firm place; and he will become a throne of glory for his family.

Luke 9:21 ~ He rebuked them and directed them not to tell this to anyone.
Jesus instructed His disciples to keep this knowledge to themselves for the present. He only has a limited amount of time to complete His mission to call the Jews to repentance and salvation before His rendezvous with the Cross. The revelation that He claims to be the divine Messiah will be what will cause the religious authorities to condemn Him to death.

Luke 9:22 ~ He said, 'The Son of Man must suffer greatly and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed and on the third day be raised." 
The "Son of Man" is Jesus' favorite title for Himself. It is a title that not only points to His humanity but to His identity as the divine Messiah in the Prophet Daniel's vision: I saw One like a son of man coming, on the clouds of heaven; when he reached the ancient One and was presented before him, he received dominion, glory, and kingship. Nations and peoples of every language serve him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that shall not be taken away; his kingship shall not be destroyed (Dan 7:13). When Jesus quotes from Psalm 110:1 and Daniel 7:13 at His trial before the Sanhedrin (Jewish high court) saying: From now on you will see 'the Son of Man seated at the right hand of the Power' and 'coming on the clouds of heaven'" (Mt 26:64) it will be understood that Jesus is claiming to be the "Son of Man" who is the divine Messiah from Daniel's vision and David's prophecy of the Messiah in Psalms 110:1 (see Jesus' teaching on this passage in Lk 20:41-44). Jesus' statement will cause the high priest to condemn Him to death for blasphemy (Mt 26:64-66; Mk 14:62-64; Lk 22:69).

Luke 9:22 is the first prophecy of Jesus' Passion in the Gospel of Luke and is a turning point in Jesus' preparation for His disciples.  From now on He will teach clearly about what they can expect so they will be prepared when He reaches the climax of His ministry. From the beginning of His ministry, He fulfilled the prophecies of Isaiah concerning the coming of the Messiah: healing the sick, casting out demons, giving hope to the downtrodden and broken-hearted, and raising the dead (Is 25:5-6; 26:14; 35:5). But He was also fulfilling both Zechariah and Isaiah's prophecies of God's suffering servant who will die for the sake of His people (see Zech 12:10-11 and Is chapters 42-53)—Because he surrendered himself to death and was counted among the wicked; and he shall take away the sins of many and win pardon for their offenses (Is 53:12b). Jesus tells them it is His destiny to die, but He also tells them that He will be raised on the "third day."  In the significance of numbers in Scripture, the number three is usually a symbol of something important in God's plan for mankind's salvation (see the document "The Significance of Numbers in Scripture" ) . Jesus will try to prepare His disciples by prophesizing His Passion three times before their final journey to Jerusalem ( Mt 17:21-21, 22-23; 20:17-19; Mk 8:31; 9:30-31; 10:32-34; Lk 9:22-27, 44-45; 18:31-34).

Luke 9:23-24 Then he said to all, "If anyone wishes to come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.  For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it."

Next, Jesus tells them something that is incredible. Jesus gives His disciples three commands:

  1. to deny
  2. to take up
  3. to follow

His command for each one to "take up his cross daily" must have shocked His disciples. In fact, they didn't understand and would not come to comprehend His words until after His glorious Resurrection (Mk 9:32; Lk 18:34). In this teaching on the conditions of discipleship, Jesus uses a cross—the hated symbol of Roman execution—as an image of submission, obedience, and salvation. Crucifixion was the most excruciating form of capital punishment that was known in the ancient world, and therefore the Romans only reserved crucifixion for non-Romans and not for Roman citizens (St. Paul, a Roman citizen, was beheaded while St. Peter was crucified by the Romans). This is the first mention of crucifixion and prefigures Jesus coming sacrifice, something the disciples will remember afterward. He will not tell them He will be crucified until the third prediction of His Passion (see Mt 20:19).

In verses 23-24 Jesus tells His disciples that true discipleship is based on the willingness to daily die to self and to live for Christ—to willingly endure those struggles that are necessary to faithfully and obediently serve Christ and His Kingdom. This means completely identifying with Christ's message even to the point of death. But the paradox of the promise is whoever goes so far as to "lose his life" for the sake of Christ (to suffer martyrdom) will "save his life"—meaning that person will live eternally in Jesus' heavenly Kingdom. This is the challenge the Christian faces daily—to die to self in resisting selfish desires in the temptations to sin and to live in righteousness by doing acts of mercy and compassion in imitation of Christ.  Jesus didn't promise us that this depth of devotion would be easy, but He did promise that the rewards for faithful obedience are eternal.

Catechism references:
Zechariah 12:10-11; 13:1 (CCC 1432, 2561)
Psalms 63:2-6, 8-9
Galatians 3:26-29 (791, 1227, 1243, 1425, 2348)
Luke 9:18-24 (CCC 2600, 1435)

Michal E. Hunt Copyright © 2013, revised 2016