Imagine yourself meeting Zechariah in ancient Judea. Or just imagine meeting him right now.
Zechariah does not disappoint! He opens with a short poem, an oracle of doom:
Big empires, and small countries, there is nowhere to hide. Whoever you are, I’m talking to YOU! Yes, you, shepherds! Literal shepherds working hard to make a living by managing flocks. Metaphorical shepherds, too, those responsible for managing the communal affairs of the working people.
And you, the audience member, know this will be a performance filled with double entendre, words and skits with multiple meanings.
Next Zechariah invokes God. Now you know, this is going to be a religious performance, too. Zechariah says:
God told me, “Go tend those sheep. Go tend them, because their shepherds are not taking care of them, only looking to sell them out and line their own pockets.” Okay, I said, I’ll do the job with double commitment and double skill; maybe I can be a role model for those poor people. So I got two shepherd’s crooks, not just one.
Zechariah picks up two staffs, one in each hand, and waves them in the air. He continues:
I named one “Favor” and the other “Unity.” And I got to work. But during just my first month, I saw three other shepherds simply give up, leaving the sheep to die. I was so disgusted and impatient, too, because my help was so useless. So I broke my staff Favor!
Zechariah breaks his staff with a loud crack, and you gasp!
I broke it because – know this, people! — God doesn’t favor any of you. Everyone will have the same fate.
Zechariah continues. And now you, the audience, can guess where he’s going when he says:
At that point, my employers realized I had been there to give them a message from God. With my job done, it was time to go. So I said, “Pay me, if you want to.” And they handed me a cheque, paying me at a slave-wage pay level. I donated it to the Temple. But I saw how they valued me, and I realized: human fellowship and interpersonal respect don’t exist anymore in this society. So I broke my staff Unity.
Zechariah breaks it with a loud crack, but this time, you don’t gasp, you just applaud. But he holds up his hand; he’s not finished yet. And he says:
Then God told me: Go, outfit yourself like one of these useless shepherds. Because that’s the only kind of shepherd you’ve got here. The kind that ignores the lost, the injured and the frail. And feasts on the healthy, ripping them apart. Well, the time is coming when those people won’t be able to plan or act. Let the sword descend!
And you, a member of the audience, clap and shout!
And you say to your friend, “I’m disgusted with those big businesses paying less than minimum wage. Zechariah’s sure got their number.”
And your friend says, “I thought he was talking about the city council. They are making an absolute mess of the affordable housing initiative.”
Someone overhears you and says, “It made me think of the schools I’m sending my kids to. Where there’s no sensitivity to diversity, and no peace-oriented teaching to help the kids create a sustainable community.”
Someone else says “The real barrier to peace isn’t schools, it’s the military industrial complex. The army and its cronies getting rich off us, and paying no attention to national security.”
And even though you all heard something different, you can agree on one thing: Change has to come, change is coming, it’s going to be big, and it’s going to involve a terrible upheaval. If you were a religiously inclined person, who talked in mythical language, you might even say, “God is coming!”