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Bible Commentaries

The People's Bible by Joseph Parker
Zechariah 1

 

 

Verses 1-9

Spiritual Times and Seasons

Zechariah 1:1-9

We dislike men who know the day upon which they were converted. We have lived, by the temptation of the devil, down to that low point. Our reason for disliking such men is that we do not know the day of our own conversion; and if we do not know when we were converted, how is it possible for any one else to know when he was converted? All the prophets must go down before this narrow and shallow criticism of ours, because they give the day and the date, and almost the very hour. The difficulty is for a man to forget the day when he first saw the Lord. Why, there is no other day. All the Song of Solomon -called other days are so many nights, or at best twilights. We never saw the true day until we saw the light that is above the brightness of the sun; this day puts out all other light, this incident of conversion puts out all other history, or throws it into its right perspective and relationship. Zechariah was a youth. That is a term which ought to be explained, because it conveyed a meaning in the Hebrew which it does not convey in English. A "youth" does not necessarily mean a child or a boy. Jeremiah said he was a child, "a little child." So are we all in the presence of a century: what must we be in the presence of eternity? Joseph was called a child, or a youth, when he was twenty-eight years of age; the men who mocked Elisha were called little children: they may have been forty years old. All these terms are relative, and are not to be understood except by a clear conception of the circumstances under which they were used. The Lord chooseth both old men and young; his message will fit any age: sometimes he has a word to us that a boy could not utter; sometimes he has a message to deliver that only a young heart can properly announce, because it alone has the requisite freshness of sympathy and music. The Lord has a word which only men of business can speak; and they will not speak it. There are some sermons that ought never to be preached in the pulpit; they ought to be preached in the market-place, or over the counter, or on high "Change; and men of business only can speak them with clearness and precision, and moral, because personal, authority. There are some texts that preachers have no business with; they cannot pronounce the words aright; they can utter the individual syllables, but they cannot run them into that persuasive music which belongs only to the tongue of honest commerce.

"The prophet" ( Zechariah 1:1). Zechariah is not ashamed of his function. We are not to read "the son of Iddo the prophet," according to English punctuation; the comma ought to be after the word "Iddo"; and, omitting the intermediate genealogy, the word will then stand—"The word of the Lord unto Zechariah the prophet." How can the Lord send his word to anybody but prophets? Other people could not understand it. Here is a mystery, but it is a mystery of fact rather than of speculation or dream. Some men laugh at the Gospel. Do not mock them; they cannot do aught else. Why I cannot tell, I did not make the universe; the human heart is no construction of ours. There are men to whom there is no Church. Do not reason with them; you cannot put liquid into a vessel that is open at both ends; do not waste your words: the kingdom of heaven is sent to them who can understand it, feel it, catch its music, and answer it with kindred melody. All this involves much questioning; all this indeed supplies the basis upon which angry cross-examination might take place; and we know it. The explanation may come by-and-by, and that explanation will be adequate; meanwhile, there are men to whom sermons cannot be preached because they cannot be heard. There are souls on whom hymns are wasted. How this is we know not.

When the Lord sends his word to his chosen one he will make it easy for that chosen one to deliver it, will he not? No: he sends his servant upon hard work. When did the Lord ever give any servant of his an easy function? When did he say to his Jeremiah , or Ezekiel , or Daniel , or other prophets, Come now; this is easy, this will cost you nothing; you could do this at odd times? Never. There are men who can apparently do the Lord"s work without suffering through it; but it is not the Lord"s work they are doing, or if it be the Lord"s work in any superficial sense it is not done with the Lord"s spirit, which is the spirit of the Cross, the spirit of shed blood, the spirit that keeps nothing back. There be those who say that the Lord deceived us by going into a swoon. A poor Lord to follow and unworthy of being followed! If he only swooned in love he is a deceiver. All who teach that dead Christ who lived again must be prepared to carry heavy weights, and run long distances, and say words that scorch their tongues.

Zechariah was commissioned to say to the people, "The Lord hath been sore displeased with your fathers." "Sore displeased" is somewhat feeble. Yet it is significant. The word which Zechariah really used was, "The Lord hath been wrath with a wrath." Real Hebrew, word upon word, with cumulativeness of emphasis until repetition becomes argument, and reduplication becomes eloquence. The details are left to the imagination. Who will set down the Lord"s judgment in numbered particulars? He who would do so would trifle with all the higher aspects and meanings of providence. When all heaven is draped with one cloud of anger, where is the man who would take paper and pen and write thereon the detail of the wrath of God? Take it in its summariness; take it in its unbroken unity.

But being "displeased with your fathers," what is that to do with us? Let Darwin himself be commentator. Darwin says, "No being can ever get rid of its antecedents." If the Bible had said that, we might have smiled at the fanaticism, and charged the book with a species of immorality, because it follows men from age to age, and says, You!—the man who was not in Eden when the fruit was stolen. Darwin says he was, and Darwin was a prophet. That is to say, if ever there was a man who did anything wrong, all men belonging to that man can never shake him off. Have we sufficiently considered the solidarity of history? Do we really know that there is only one Man in the world? Not one individual, or not one Prayer of Manasseh , spelling man with a small m: but only one Man. So we recur to our question, Where are those who separate themselves from humanity, and shelter themselves under the canvas of their ancestral respectability? It is well for the theologians that they can quote Charles Darwin, because Zechariah is of no account. Only a man who has collected ten thousand insects and pinned five thousand butterflies, and studied night and day the minutest processes of nature accessible to the microscope or the telescope,—only he may now be believed. Zechariah had no telescope—poor Zechariah! "Your fathers": what have we to do with our fathers? Everything. Did you object to being made rich by your father? When do you want to cast your fathers off? When you can get no more out of them: but Darwin says a Prayer of Manasseh , a creature, cannot get rid of his antecedents—and Darwin had a microscope! We are thankful for such testimony; it is the testimony of patience, intelligence, and fearlessness, and ought to be valued by every student of human nature.

But there is another factor in the universe that does not come within the ken of the microscope:—"Therefore say thou unto them, Thus saith the Lord of hosts." That is religious. If there is a Lord of hosts, that makes all the difference in the universe. Of course, I had thought before I came to this that the universe got into existence in some kind of surreptitious manner; I did not know how it stole in upon me, or where I was when it came into existence, but I have been given to understand that it made itself in some kind of way, or came out of something so minute that nobody ever saw it, and nobody ever remembers its exact name; it came out of particle, or atom, or mist, or fire-vapour, or cloud. Perhaps: but where did the thing it came out of come from? That is what we want to know. If you start with an atom, we only ask where the atom came from. It is going to be a greater mystery than we at first supposed; a grander display of power, a more august, tremendous wisdom. Hear the new name—"The Lord of hosts": is there a power outside of us that rules us, directs us, on the ground of having made us? If Song of Solomon , that makes all the difference in the argument. If we are not alone in creation, who is it that divides and spoils our solitude? The Lord of hosts is unthinkable. So is everything under the sun and above it, in its higher, deeper, grander meanings. Zechariah does not deliver any message of malediction or of benediction as the result of his own inspiration, or any movement on his own part. Whatever he says he sanctifies by a name; that name is "the Lord of hosts," and Zechariah believed that the universe was made all the more possible and beautiful and useful, because it was created by the Lord of hosts. We accept his doctrine; it looks to us more rational than any other.

What will the Lord of hosts have done? He will have a gospel proclaimed, and that gospel shall be the great doctrine of the possibility of human conversion—"Turn ye unto him." That is the word that makes highest history. Here you have an action proceeding in one direction, and a voice says, Reverse, halt, turn, come back! That is a new possibility in life, we never thought of that before. We understood that if a motion was created, it must go on through eternity; but here is a power that says, Whatever is going on one way can go back the other way. There is a voice, rational or irrational, that says, Whatever we do can be undone, if we associate ourselves with an economy larger than the world which we call the world of nature. "Be not as your fathers." What, is it possible to shake off your antecedents? Is it possible to be grafted into another tree? Is it possible to start a new history? What? Listen—"If any man be in Christ, he is a new creature." Here, then, we have conversion, reconstruction, regeneration, sanctification.

In the fifth verse we have an extraordinary colloquy: "Your fathers, where are they? and the prophets, do they live for ever?" How many pensive sermons we have heard preached on these inquiries that have no relation whatever to the question, except a relation of accommodation! The colloquy is between the prophet and the people:—Your fathers, where are they? saith the prophet,—dead, gone, perished, crushed beneath the wheel of righteous retribution: your fathers, where are they? And the people answered—Well, what of it? the prophets, do they live for ever? If our fathers were bad men and are dead, the prophets you say were good men, and are they alive? The prophets, do they live for ever? And so the colloquy proceeds—a colloquy of angry exhortation on the one side, and angry and scornful recrimination on the other. Zechariah says, Your fathers are dead,—and the people say, So are your prophets. The hearers are dead, so are the preachers. This power of reproach, this genius of recrimination, must be carefully watched. There is a law of dissolution, as well as a law of penalty. The prophet was not speaking about the mere dissolution of the fathers, as who should say, Even the wisest men are mortal. He was pointing to their removal as a proof of the righteous retribution which governs human affairs. As for the prophets, when they die, they die by a natural process, and pass on to a higher development; in so far as they were good men they never die. Zechariah is not dead; David the sweet singer is not dead; Mary the mother of Jesus is not a dead woman; the Saviour lives for ever.

Zechariah is not only empowered to deliver a message, he is authorised to found all his messages and expostulations upon his own personal experience. Unless a theologian is a converted Prayer of Manasseh , and has a testimony of his own about Christ, he is an invader of the sanctuary, he is a trespasser, though a preacher.

Now Zechariah speaks in his own person, saying, "I saw by night." What an extraordinary combination of terms! It is all some men can do to see by day; they can only see dim outlines; they do not see realities, they see images, types, and symbols; the prophet says, "I saw by night," which is in reality the only true time for seeing. If you want to see your dead friends, look for them at midnight: all the lights out, all the curtains drawn, the room all darkness; then, hush! they come. Another man may say, I never saw. Very good; what of it? Who ever charged you with having seen anything? Because you do not see, was Zechariah blind? Because you have never seen anything under your feet but the paving-stones, have other men not seen flowers? Who made thee a ruler or a judge of other men"s power of insight and penetration? Zechariah says he saw, and he saw by night, and he saw "a man riding upon a red horse, and he stood among the myrtle trees that were in the bottom; and behind him were there red horses, speckled, and white." It is easy to sneer at these visions; the sneer is a tribute. Men by sneering show the limit of their own capacity, and the limit of their own influence. Zechariah saw. Some living men are always seeing, and are always being mocked. That must be so. Have no fear of them that kill the body, and after that have no more that they can do: cultivate the spiritual faculty, encourage, so to say, your spiritual vision to look for more and more light and beauty. Some of us do live more in the spiritual than in the Song of Solomon -called material. When men ask me if I believe in the supernatural, I say, No: there is no supernatural. Why? Because what you call nature is not nature in any limited, sensuous, and superficial sense: there is nothing but supernatural. We deny the etymology and the exactness of the term; "Super"—that is the part of the word we cast away, and we say, All creation, all matter, all souls, live on the appointed level, and God is in all, and above all, and round about all. We do not admit the distinction between nature and supernature; we find the standard of judgment in God"s personality. Men see different things in the world, and they must interpret their own symbols or get them interpreted. We never saw a man riding upon a red horse, and standing among the myrtle trees; but he is always there; it is the eye that is wanted, not the man. "Elisha prayed, and said, Lord, I pray thee, open his eyes, that he may see. And the Lord opened the eyes of the young man; and he saw." That is the sublime mystery of development.

"And the angel that talked with me." That is poor, but the literal rendering is grand—"And the angel that talked in me." That is it. The interpreter must always be in a Prayer of Manasseh ,—"The water that I shall give him shall be in him a well of water springing up into everlasting life." Listen to your soul, listen to yourself, listen to yourself when you are in your best moods, when the keys of heaven are given to you, and the Lord says, Ask what thou wilt, and it shall be done unto thee. Then seize the crown, and hold it with a faithful hand.


Verses 1-21

The Spiritual Jerusalem

Zechariah 2

The prophet Zechariah is so apocalyptic in his way of seeing everything, and stating what he does see, that it is next to impossible to give a final literal interpretation of his prophecy. His book in the Old Testament takes some such place as the revelation of John the Divine in the New Testament It should always be remembered that apocalyptic writing cannot be literally interpreted, and therefore readers should be very careful how they build large and judicial doctrines on texts of very doubtful purport. With this understanding we may look at the weird and pictorial words of Zechariah in the hope of being able here and there to see something that may help our better life. It is worse than folly to attempt to literalise such writing as Zechariah"s. There Isaiah , of course, a strong temptation to some minds to do this; but experience has shown that such labour is generally, if not universally, fruitless—not fruitless only indeed, but leading to angry and clamorous controversy which never can be settled to the satisfaction of the disputants.

Zechariah lifted up his eyes again, and looked ( Zechariah 2:1): that is about all that is possible to any man. Zechariah puts himself into an attentive and receptive relation, and there our duty begins and ends, so far as receiving messages from heaven is concerned; afterwards we have to go out and carry these messages into effect; at the first, all we can do is to lift up our eyes in expectancy, and look as if inspired by an assured hope. This must be our way of treating the Bible. We do not see everything in one look; we have to look again and again. Jesus Christ did not quote the Scriptures once for all when he contended with his enemy in the wilderness; he told that enemy that it was "written again." Every new day has some new vision of God for the soul that longs to see divinest beauty. All the old things will bear looking at again. The sunset is never old in any sense of exhaustion, of suggestion, beauty, and glory. The tiniest flower that blooms in spring or summer will bear looking at again and again, and will always have some new aspect of loveliness to show to us, if our eyes be directed to it with expectancy. How true this is of the whole scheme of divine providence! Read the days as they pass, and see how swiftly God is writing the story of human life and the revelation of his ineffable purpose! All this writing is done in daily business, in general strife, in the clash of arms, in the emulation of empires, and in all the affairs and elements that constitute human progress. We should see more if we looked with more eagerness. Only to the open eye will God show himself. Nor is that the eye of the body, it is the eye of the heart. Yea, blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.

Zechariah saw "a man with a measuring line in his hand" ( Zechariah 2:1). Surely this may be taken as a sign of judgment! When God brings men to the standard, he means either to approve or condemn them. So when God lays the measuring line upon a city and upon a life, surely his purpose is to find out its defects, and to judge accordingly. Ezekiel saw this same angel. Various prophets have referred to the same mystic messenger as operating energetically in vision and in action. We may see him to-day if we look for him. The angels are not dead; we have concealed them within the clouds of our unbelief, or fear, or selfishness, but the clouds are purely of our own creation, and they do not affect the reality of spiritual existences. In this verse the angel declared his purpose, which was "To measure Jerusalem, to see what is the breadth thereof, and what is the length thereof." Whilst this conversation was proceeding between Zechariah and the angel, "another angel went out to meet him," and would appear to have delivered the precise message which Zechariah was intended to hear, namely, "Jerusalem shall be inhabited as towns without walls for the multitude of men and cattle therein." It is important to notice the architectural outline of this Jerusalem, because it suggests that it cannot be the earthly Jerusalem that is meant. To be without walls, was in ancient times and places to be without defence; to have no wall, was to be a continual temptation to surrounding peoples. So long as Jerusalem was without a wall, her life was one of constant and humiliating fear. The period of her restoration and security was indicated by the building. It had been promised to Daniel that her "street shall be built again, and the wall, even in strait times." Nearly five hundred years before the coming of Christ Nehemiah mourned, saying, "The remnant that are left of the captivity there in the province, are in great affliction and reproach, the wall of Jerusalem also is broken down, and the gates thereof are burned with fire." It would appear, therefore, that the prophecy looks forward to the times of Christ. He was to have a Jerusalem not limited and bounded by walls and fences and landmarks; his city was to be without any such boundaries, and was to gradually expand on the right hand and on the left, until the whole world should become the city of God. "Thine eyes shall see Jerusalem a quiet habitation, a tabernacle that shall not be taken down; not one of the stakes thereof shall ever be removed, neither shall any of the cords thereof be broken." This would seem to refer to limitation, but the prophet proceeds, "Spare not, lengthen thy cords, and strengthen thy stakes; for thou shalt break forth on the right hand and on the left."

Is the spiritual Jerusalem to be a city without a wall of defence? Is it to be the prey of the enemy? Is it to live a life of continual exposure? The answer is given in Zechariah 2:5 :—

"For I, saith the Lord, will be unto her a wall of fire round about, and will be the glory in the midst of her."

These firewalls escape the attention of our poor vision. We think the Church is not safe unless we build up walls of creed, and dogma, and ceremony, and all manner of mechanical arrangements; we seem to be determined not to leave any room for divine providence in the economy and progress of the Church. Be it known unto us, one and all, to meddlers of every class and kind, that the Lord himself is a wall of fire round about his Church. Elisha prayed that the young man"s eyes might be opened, and no sooner were they opened than he beheld this same wall of fire. We are also inclined to create minor glories and grandeurs in the Church; we have our hierarchies, our gradations from the highest to the lowest, our appointments of a ceremonial and ritual kind; our great men, our fertile writers, our keen debaters, our brilliant assailants of error, and our magnificent defenders of positive truth; all these in their right places may be of much use, but we must remember what God says in this same verse—that he "will be the glory in the midst of her." Similar words are found in the prophecy of Isaiah , "The Lord shall be unto thee an everlasting light, and thy God thy glory." Of Christ we read prophetically: "In that day shall the branch of the Lord be beautiful and glorious" to the "escaped of Israel."

" Hosea ,, Hosea , come forth, and flee from the land of the north, saith the Lord; for I have spread you abroad as the four winds of the heaven, saith the Lord" ( Zechariah 2:6).

The Lord having founded a city of defence, calls all his people to it. They have not to build one Babylon to oppose another; with their own hands they have to create no defence; they have simply to come to the city of God: "Go ye forth of Babylon, flee ye from the Chaldeans, with a voice of singing declare ye, tell this, utter it even to the end of the earth; say ye, The Lord hath redeemed his servant Jacob." The music of Jeremiah is in the same lofty and thrilling key: "Flee out of the midst of Babylon, and deliver every man his soul: be not cut off in her iniquity; for this is the time of the Lord"s vengeance; he will render unto her a recompense." At all times the command of the Lord is to flee and deliver ourselves from opposing forces. We are never told merely to flee, as if to outrun the enemy; we are always invited to some particular goal, some divinely-built and divinely-protected Jerusalem. The sinner is not commanded to flee away from his sin; he is commanded to flee to his Saviour. The same doctrine is laid down in divers directions, but it always indicates the specialty of God"s provision for those who flee from evil. "Wherefore come out from among them, and be ye separate, saith the Lord, and touch not the unclean thing"—this is negative, this is simply to call up the soul to some perilous adventure, the soul not knowing the issue of its endeavours, but the promise follows the command—"and I will receive you." So commands and promises roll together in these marvellous communications from heaven.

"For he that toucheth you toucheth the apple of his eye" ( Zechariah 2:8).

The Old Testament is full of the most endearing expressions regarding the relation of God to his Church. It would be easy to show that there is more real tenderness in the Old Testament than in the New so far as the expression of sentiment is concerned. The one thing that invests the New Testament with supreme tenderness is the Cross of Christ: in presence of that spectacle all other tenderness becomes but a variety of cruelty. No man can touch the saint without first touching the Saviour. The glory of the Lord is round about the humblest of his people; so that he who would smite the obscurest worshipper must force his way as through a circle of guardian fire. What can be closer in the way of relation than that which is expressed by the image before us? Precious in the sight of the Lord is the life of the saints, the whole course of their conduct, and precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his saints. It would seem as if the Lord saw nothing but the saints, because all his arrangements are made with a view to their culture, their edification, and their final and eternal fellowship with himself. Does not the image teach us that God"s people seem to be part of God himself? Can any man remove the pupil of his eye without losing his sight, and thus inflicting injury upon his whole constitution? We are partakers of the divine nature, if so be our life is hidden with Christ in God. Know ye not that your bodies are the temples of the Holy Ghost, and the Holy Ghost dwelleth in you? Behold, what manner of love the Father hath bestowed upon us, that we should be called the sons of God: not something outside God, but something partaking of his very nature, something identified with his very deity. This is a great mystery: but I speak concerning Christ and the Church.

"Sing and rejoice, O daughter of Zion: for, lo, I come, and I will dwell in the midst of thee, saith the Lord. And many nations shall be joined to the Lord in that day, and shall be my people: and I "will dwell in the midst of thee, and thou shalt know that the Lord of hosts hath sent me unto thee" ( Zechariah 2:10-11).

It is impossible that the Church should keep a silent tongue amid the shower of blessings poured out from heaven upon the inheritance of the Lord. We are called upon to sing and rejoice, and shout and clap our hands, and enter into all possible manifestations of exultant delight We cannot arrange for such experiences, saying that to-day or tomorrow we will hold high festival in the Church of God. There are times when the soul is filled with such a sense of the divine presence and glory that it must break forth into singing, and betake itself to demonstrations which, to the carnal mind, must seem not only eccentric, but wild and irrational. The soul must know the secret of its own gladness, and fully respond to all the indications of the divine pleasure. A silent church is an ungrateful church. A silent family is a family that represents unthankfulness and impiety. A silent life gives no testimony to the indwelling and all-ruling presence and energy of the Holy Spirit.

The promise that many nations shall join themselves to the Lord in that day, and shall become the people of the Lord, is a grand evangelical prophecy. Isaiah had looked forward to the time when proselytes in considerable numbers should join the true Israel. Jeremiah also had predicted something of the same consummation. They, however, seem to have limited their vision in some directions, but Zechariah now takes up the prophecy, and says that many nations shall join themselves. The Jews had made no converts among the heathen; the Jews had been scattered everywhere, and yet the nations had not allied themselves with the great Jewish current of history and development; but now comes the prophecy that many nations shall join themselves unto the Lord. From eternity this has been the thought of God. We are nowhere taught that God had fixed his love upon one particular nation to the exclusion of all other peoples. Even God must begin at some historical point, and he began with a people of his own special creation, but he only began with that people, that he might add to it all the other peoples of the earth until the whole world should be filled with his glory. The title of Israel was "the people of God," or, in other words, "A people unto himself." The heathen were represented as "not a people," and God purposed to provoke Israel to jealousy by these outlying nations. Israel was very dear unto the Lord, not because of good behaviour, but because of his own purpose and grace. The figure which Jeremiah employs indicates the utmost closeness: "As a girdle cleaveth to the loins of a Prayer of Manasseh , so have I caused to cleave unto me the whole house of Israel, and the whole house of Judah, saith the Lord; that they might be unto me for a people and for a name, and for a praise, and for a glory." This was not to be the exclusive and final privilege of Israel; but to these enjoyments many nations were to be admitted. Thus Christ is to see of the travail of his soul, and be satisfied. The Church of God is to consist of Israel and the Gentiles. The unity of humanity is realised and acknowledged in the Son of man.

In the twelfth verse we come upon an expression which has often been unduly limited, namely, "the holy land." The verse reads, "And the Lord shall inherit Judah his portion in the holy land, and shall choose Jerusalem again." The land was made holy by the presence of God. It is not land separate from all the other portion of the earth, and technically described as "holy." Wherever God is there is holiness. The whole earth is to be filled with the knowledge of God, then the whole earth will be the holy land. Let us understand, therefore, that we are not dealing in this verse with a merely technical expression. We are looking forward to a time when the whole earth shall be God"s Palestine. Happily we are not to think of the conversion of the heathen as something independent of the purpose of God in the general administration of earthly affairs. Even when the whole world is converted, it would appear as if Jerusalem should be the centre of the new empire. It is true that repentance and remission of sins are to be preached among all nations: the beginning was to be made in Jerusalem.

When, in the thirteenth verse, we find the exclamation, "Be silent, O all flesh, before the Lord," the literal word is "Hush!" The whole human race is to have nothing to say to God, is not to argue with God, has no part or lot in any equal controversy with God: the duty and the privilege of the earth is to be silent when the Lord raises himself out of his holy habitation and speaks to the creatures of his hand. According to the thirteenth verse there is a time when God seems to be perfectly indifferent to the affairs of life. It would appear, indeed, as if the Divine Being were in slumber, for we read of his being "raised up." These, however, are but accommodations of language to human weakness and usage. For ever and ever the eyes of the Lord are open, and the heart of the Lord is filled with solicitude towards his creation.

 


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Bibliography Information
Parker, Joseph. "Commentary on Zechariah 1:4". The People's Bible by Joseph Parker. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/jpb/zechariah-1.html. 1885-95.

Lectionary Calendar
Tuesday, September 17th, 2019
the Week of Proper 19 / Ordinary 24
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