Zechariah 9:9-17

(God says,)
"Celebrate, my chosen people,
And whoop it up!
Look, the Emperor comes!
With all the trappings of a winner,

"Rising out of obscurity
He will rid our land
Of all the war machines
And of the enemy soldiers.
He will impose world peace.
And, for a change, you will dominate
The whole world from pole to pole.

"Because you sacrificed blood for me
I will free your prisoners of war.
They will come home,
And all your hopes will come true,
Beyond your wildest dreams!

"I will make you into a war machine,
And raise your armies
Against those who have invaded you
And I use you to cut them down.

"Then they will see God:
Like a flash of lightning,
Like a sonic boom,
They won't know what hit them.

"Your armies will have God's protection
And will annihilate those who stand in their way.
Your armies will gorge on their blood,
The way bowls of blood fill as sacrificed animals
Bleed on the altar.

"God will preserve them,
Like jewels in God's own crown.
God will give you everything you always wanted:,
Young men will feel their oats;
And young women will be drunk."

Zechariah was, in 520 B.C.E., a recruiter for Jihad. Call it a Crusade if it makes you feel better: a holy war, regardless of the term you prefer. By the time Zechariah utters this call to arms in the name of God, generations of Israelites had been living under the harsh rule of foreign powers.

It's ugly. There is no getting around it. Generations of oppression and abuse, of hopelessness, lead to this. Nothing in this awful list of what Zechariah promises his people they will do in revenge is anything other than the pent-up reenactment of what has been done to them, over and over, by those occupying powers he promises God will, with them as God's vengeance, overthrow and punish.

When we see the atrocities of I.S.I.L., of genocidal massacres in Burma, of American riots from Chicago and Baltimore in 1868, to Rodney King Ferguson, we are right to call out the hatred, violence and destruction. And, if we will be faithful, we will also recognize that the ugliness we lament is a mirror of what our habits of behaving as though we are chosen above others has has cost, even when that cost has been invisible to us. Or, more likely, costs that we have known but ignored.

As ugly as this oracle is, if it jolts us into a more realistic picture of ourselves, it may be a proper Lenten text after all.

(Eye of the Storm by Peter Forster on Unsplash)