by Father Mike Stubbs
One hundred years have passed since the outbreak of World War I. That conflict brought an end to millions of lives. It also caused the breakup of four major empires: Germany, the Ottoman Empire, the Austro-Hungarian Empire, and the Russian Empire.
Throughout history, various empires have sought to dominate the world. They have relied upon military power to impose their rule. They bring a peace of sorts to their domains, but at a considerable cost to their subjects.
In contrast, Sunday’s first reading, Zec 9:9-10, introduces us to a nameless figure full of contradictions. He is a king — yet, at the same time, he is meek. He eschews the weapons of warfare — yet, at the same time, he is able to bring peace to the whole world.
The reading describes his dominion as “from sea to sea, and from the River to the ends of the earth.” This description echoes Ps 72:8. “From sea to sea” means from the Mediterranean
Sea the Persian Gulf. “From the River to the ends of the earth” means from the Euphrates River to the lands of southwestern Europe. This was the known civilized world at the time.
Centuries later, the four Gospels will identify this mysterious figure as Jesus Christ, who enters the city of Jerusalem in the manner described by Zechariah: “riding on an ass, on a colt, the foal of an ass.” He also has come to bring peace to the nations.
Jesus brought peace in a manner very different from that previously attempted. The Assyrians had brought peace to the region by conquering the nations of the Middle East, cruelly enslaving their populations and carting their leadership off into exile. The Persians followed, imposing a rule marked by much more benevolence, but still an absolute monarchy.
For example, the Persians allowed the Jews to return from exile to their homeland. The Book of Zechariah celebrates that return, while recognizing the challenges that it will cause.
Eventually, Alexander the Great will sweep through the Mediterranean world. While he will leave a lasting legacy of Greek language and culture, his empire will stand for only a short time, to be succeeded by the Roman Empire.
All these empires resorted to brute force to rule the world, and ultimately failed. In contrast, Jesus Christ has arrived to govern us by his law of love, to bring us peace through his spirit. That is the empire which will last for all eternity.