‘Over the house of David and the citizens of Jerusalem I will pour out a spirit of kindness and prayer.” The Prophet Zechariah, addressing the citizens of Jerusalem as the era of old testament prophecy neared its conclusion, prepared the people for the advent of the Messiah, in whom would be their hope and redemption.
The first step in welcoming the Lord would be a spirit of prayer, a truly inner conviction that we are held in God’s loving kindness. For us also, in any renewal that we propose for ourselves, or for the Church, the first step must be this prayerful surrender of ourselves to God’s loving kindness.
The prayerful hope proposed by the Prophet Zechariah was closely linked to repentance, to an understanding of the tragedy of sin. “They will look on the one whom they have pierced; they will mourn for him as for an only son, and weep for him as a people weep for a first born child.”
In the fullness of revelation we identify “the one whom they had pierced” with Christ, the only begotten Son of the Father. In every generation we, like the citizens of Jerusalem, must face and acknowledge the tragedy of our sinfulness. It is only in the humility and pain of such repentance that we are prepared for the coming of the Lord and his promised salvation. “When that day comes, a fountain will be opened for the House of David and the citizens of Jerusalem, for sin and impurity.”
Christ himself, in his death and Resurrection, is the living fountain of grace promised for our salvation. In him is the grace to acknowledge our sinfulness: deep within us he becomes the living stream of water welling up to eternal life. St Luke’s account of Peter’s confession of faith underlines, in a different way, the same steps of conversion and renewal. Like the Prophet Isaiah, Luke stresses the prayerfulness that opens our hearts to salvation. “One day when Jesus was praying alone in the presence of his disciples he put this question to them. ‘Who do the crowds say that I am?’”
Only in the conscious prayer that unites itself with the prayer of Christ are we enabled to hear and understand what faith demands. Only in such prayer do we understand what Christ is for us, and, with Peter, truly confess him to be the Christ of God.
As the Prophet Zechariah had linked the promise of salvation with the acknowledgment of “the one whom they had pierced”, so Jesus identified himself with sin’s tragic consequences. “The Son of Man is destined to suffer grievously, to be rejected by the elders and chief priests and scribes and to be put to death, and to be raised up on the third day.”
Jesus intended these words as something more than the prediction of his saving death: they represented a way of life that would truly become a communion with Christ’s death and Resurrection. “If anyone would be a follower of mine, let him renounce himself and take up his cross and follow me.”
Let us pray that, in a spirit of kindness and prayer, we might be embraced by “the one whom they have pierced”. In his suffering let us mourn for the tragedy of our sinfulness, and in his Resurrection let us rejoice in the promised fountain of grace. In St Paul’s words: “You are, all of you, sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus. Merely by belonging to Christ you are the heirs he has promised.”