Today’s gospel reading at Holy Mass offers us a good warm-up for Sunday’s gospel. Today we hear the Lord Jesus refer to
Zechariah, who died between the altar and the temple building.
Let’s clarify a couple things: First, apparently the altar for animal sacrifice stood outside the original Temple of Solomon. The burning flesh of the lambs and other animals rose from the courtyard up to the heavens.
Second, of which Zechariah does the Lord speak here? How many Zechariahs appear in the Holy Scriptures? 1. Zechariah, father of ________. John the Baptist! 2. Zechariah, son of Berechiah, who prophesied when the Israelites returned from exile in Babylon. And 3. Zechariah, son of Jehoida, who lived 2 ½ centuries before that.
Zechariah, son of Jehoida, condemned the people of Jerusalem for worshiping pagan idols. He warned the people that the Lord had abandoned them—because they had abandoned the Lord. Instead of listening to his righteous warnings, they stoned him to death in the temple courtyard.
Now, the connection with Sunday’s gospel reading is this: When Zechariah lay dying, he said, “May the Lord see and avenge.”
We can see why Zechariah would have said that. Here he was, a faithful teacher of the Law of Moses, defending the honor of God in the Lord’s own Temple—and he meets a cruel death at the hands of bad people solely because he was trying to open the door to God for them. So he prayed that the world would not descend into total meaningless chaos, but rather that the Lord act to restore justice.
This sounds like the widow we will hear about in Jesus’ parable on Sunday, the widow who pleads insistently to the judge: “Render a just decision for me against my adversary!”
We live in the great age of mercy, when all sins can be forgiven because of the blood Christ shed for us. Injustice still holds sway on earth; mercy reigns above. The mercy of God gives us hope for ourselves, in spite of all our own injustices.
But what also gives us hope is the truth that moved the praying hearts of Zechariah and the widow in the parable. The reign of injustice on earth will end. God waits for the repentance of all He has chosen. Then justice will be done. All wrongs will be righted. The meaningless chaos of a world that kills the gentle messengers of God—it will be transformed by the divine Judge into a kingdom of true and eternal peace.