A Neighbor's Shade

The short and relatively obscure prophet Zechariah has something to say about our neighborhoods, our marches, our president and our churches. The ninth and tenth verses of Chapter 3 say this: 

"See, the stone I have set in front of Joshua! There are seven eyes on that one stone, and I will engrave an inscription on it,’ says the Lord Almighty, ‘and I will remove the sin of this land in a single day. 
“‘In that day each of you will invite your neighbor to sit under your vine and fig tree,’ declares the Lord Almighty.”

Let’s skip the wierdness of a stone with seven eyes, and focus our eyes on the action of God and its consequences. God promises a glorious day of restoration and purification. And then he foretells a surprising and immediate result.  

Just a bit of backstory:  Israel had been in exile. No longer free to maintain a government based on their faith, they found themselves in a post-Hebrew culture, forcibly removed from their familiar way of life. But the exile didn’t last forever, and Cyrus the Great overtook the Babylonians in 539 BC. Israelites started to return to Jerusalem the very next  year. Zechariah and his contemporary Haggai delivered messages to these returning faithful about a reconstruction project to restore the temple. This passage is about the reconstruction of God’s holy people as symbolized in the reconstruction of the temple. God is saying that there is more than bricks and mortar to restore. Faith and fidelity lie in ruins. Brotherhood and dignity in rubble.  

And it’s in this mess that God, the judge, acts mercifully. Presented with a priest in filthy rags, symbolic of Israel’s sin, God not only forgives, he restores. In short, God does what God always does. He wipes away Israel’s guilt. He makes all things new. And the result of God’s action is peace, trust, brotherhood, and good neighbors.  

“‘In that day each of you will invite your neighbor to sit under your vine and fig tree,’ declares the Lord Almighty.”

This is a departure from previous shade-sitting visions of Israeli peace and security. In 1 Kings 4:25, 2 Kings 18:31, and Micah 4:4, Israel is assured of a time of peace in which “everyone will sit under their own vine and under their own fig tree.” But here, as consequence of a God’s sweeping and cleansing initiative, the children of Israel will sit in their neighbor’s shade.  

A consequence of God’s kingdom arriving is civic peace. Good citizens of heaven are good citizens on Earth. When the kingdom breaks in, walls break down. When peace reigns, doors open.  

Part of the Christian's work in announcing the reign of King Jesus is denouncing the suspicion that prevents peace with our neighbors. To live in Jesus’ kingdom is to invite our neighbors to sit in our shade. This is why Jesus commanded us to love our neighbors. And in the frighteningly divisive culture where we find ourselves, this is work that we must do.