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Prisoners of Hope

June 29, 2020

“Return to your stronghold, O prisoners of hope; today I declare that I will restore to you double.” Zechariah 9:12

The exile had ended but that didn’t mean everything had gotten better. Our Old Testament reading for this coming Sunday makes this clear. The passage is best known by Christians because of the prophecy that our king will come to us, “humble and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey” (9:9). The people awaited their king because after Babylonian exile they found themselves languishing under Persian rule. The Davidic line had not been restored. People still suffered, some of them through unjust imprisonment.

Just because one bad period ends doesn’t mean that everything will get better. I grew up being taught that America had a problem with racism that ended when the North won the Civil War. Sure, it took a few years to sort everything out, but the Civil Rights Act of 1964 fixed everything. I’m simplifying things, of course, but not by much. Of course, I’ve long known that our national situation is much more complex than I was given to believe by teachers and textbooks. Racism persists, oppression continues, and white supremacy and privilege are still present. People still suffer, some of them through unjust imprisonment.

Zechariah’s language is worth noting. He doesn’t refer to these prisoners in Jerusalem as prisoners who hope, but as prisoners of hope. Even while they suffer unjustly, they are imprisoned also within the hope of the God who will restore to them double. In Christ Jesus, we are imprisoned in God’s grace. God will not let us go. God will see salvation through. But we can only be truly imprisoned by one thing at a time. So it is that the chains that bind us are broken. We can cast aside racism. We who have privilege can use it for others. We can speak the truth about how real the problems are, trusting that the truth will make us free. We can advocate for those who suffer, including those who are unjustly imprisoned.

Our nation has real problems. They won’t be fixed overnight. But we are all imprisoned in the hope of God. God will not let us go. Go will see salvation through. The King, humble and riding on a donkey, is coming and he shall command peace to the nations.

Be well, friends. You are loved.

God of freedom, thank you for the gift of hope. We rejoice that our King has come, and that he will come again. In the meantime, help us to live with hope and to work to bring justice and peace to others. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Image: Zecharias, Michelangelo, Sistine Chapel, between 1508 and 1512 (public domain).

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