New heart, new spirit, commentaries on Ezekiel
Year 2 , Week 19, Monday Glenroy 1976
The freedom of God
“On the fifth day of the month (it was the fifth year of the exile of King Jehoiachin), the word of the Lord came to the priest Ezekiel son of Buzi, in the land of the Chaldeans by the river Chebar; and the hand of the Lord was on him there. … Like the bow in a cloud on a rainy day, such was the appearance of the splendor all around. This was the appearance of the likeness of the glory of the Lord. When I saw it, I fell on my face, and I heard the voice of someone speaking.” Ezekiel 1:2-3, 28
The priest Ezekiel has gone into exile to Babylon, in the first deportation. There, so far away in a foreign land, he prophesies to his saddened fellow exiles. Like Sinai, more glorious than Sinai, the presence of God is manifested on the banks of the River Chebar, with clouds and flashes of lightning. Like the Temple liturgy, more glorious than the Temple liturgy, God comes with noise and the sound of mighty waters. Like the Ark of the Covenant, infinitely more glorious than the Ark, the Lord dwells above the four living creatures, the cherubim. In Ezekiel and the exiles, so far away, he continues his mighty purpose.
God’s presence is more glorious than Temple and Ark. He does not depend on them. His presence is not confined to its former manifestations. Even in the land of exile, more so in the land of exile does God appear. Most of all, on the gibbet of the Cross is God revealed, made fully known in Christ’s glorious ignominy. God does not depend on anything created, no matter how holy; he is supremely free. He transcends all the laws and all cults; he is supremely powerful. He manifests himself where and how he wills; he is all holy.
Year 2 , Week 19, Tuesday Glenroy 1976
Vision and vocation
“He spread it before me; it had writing on the front and on the back, and written on it were words of lamentation and mourning and woe. He said to me, O mortal, eat what is offered to you; eat this scroll, and go, speak to the house of Israel. So I opened my mouth, and he gave me the scroll to eat. He said to me, Mortal, eat this scroll that I give you and fill your stomach with it. Then I ate it; and in my mouth it was as sweet as honey.” Ezekiel 2:10, 3:1-3.
After seeing the extraordinary vision of God’s majesty, Ezekiel receives his vocation. Not tables of stone, not a spoken message, but a scroll is given to him; not with laws upon it or a message of peace, not a covenant or stories of the past, but “lamentations, wailings, moaning”. His future work is given to him: to write prophecies. Even though his audience has already experienced the trauma of exile, his message is still more terrible. He does not bring them consolation but desolation. And yet, as he eats the scroll it tastes sweet to him, and satisfies his hunger.
A vocation from God must begin with a vision of God. Every vision of God involves a vocation to service. No matter what the vocation may entail, it is sweet. No matter what else we might prefer to do, only a vocation will satisfy.
At one point stands the holiness of God, at the other, the people of God. The vocation is a link between them. Every vocation is as different as every vision, but all are one since God is one and human good is one.
Year 2 , Week 19, Wednesday Glenroy 1976
“To the others he said in my hearing, “Pass through the city after him, and kill; your eye shall not spare, and you shall show no pity. Cut down old men, young men and young women, little children and women, but touch no one who has the mark. And begin at my sanctuary.” Ezekiel 9:5-6
The avenging angel had gone among the Egyptians and struck down the first-born of those whose abode was not marked with the blood of the lamb. The people of Israel had taken confidence from this predilection God had shown them, but it was an overweening confidence. Again destruction comes to a nation. Not one angel but seven; not taken from one class only but from both warrior and priestly caste; not the extermination of the first-born only but of old and young alike, men and women, virgins and children; not of foreign Egyptians but of the very people of God. If the Egyptians had refused to allow the Hebrews to go and sacrifice on Mt Sinai, Israel has done far worse. In the very Temple itself they had offered sacrifices to idols. As God has punished the Egyptians, far more terribly and for a far worse sin, he decimates his people.
These readings of destruction are a timely warning. If the Jews could not presume upon the indulgence of God because of his kindness to their forbears, neither can Christians presume on God’s indulgence because he raised their Christ from the dead. As God could decimate his people because of their idolatry, so can he decimate the Church if it neglects the true spirit of Christianity.
Year 2 , Week 19, Thursday Glenroy 1976
Prophet as symbol
“Say, “I am a sign for you: as I have done, so shall it be done to them; they shall go into exile, into captivity.”” Ezekiel 12:11
The exiles on the River Chebar in Babylon were the first group of deportees from Jerusalem. They hoped they would be the last and that they could soon go back to their homeland. Ezekiel destroys their hopes. The rest of their brethren will be sent into exile and the punishment will be complete.
Ezekiel shows this by acting out a play. He pretends to be a Jerusalemite going into exile. As they ask him why he packs his bag during the day, picks it up in the evening and walks away, he says: “The thing that I have done will be done to them: they will go into exile, into banishment”. The prophet’s action reveals the mind of God and brings about the people’s fate.
Ezekiel is a symbol. The pretense he has made is not a pretense. It is a reality. It shows the future at seed in the present. It effects what it pictures. It affects body and will, sense and soul, heart and mind.
This is the vocation of everyman: to be the symbol of the Future Man.
Year 2 , Week 19, Friday Glenroy 1976
“But you trusted in your beauty, and played the whore because of your fame, and lavished your whorings on any passer-by.” Ezekiel 16:15
From unpromising material God has made Jerusalem into a great and beautiful city. Adorned with Palace and Temple, aqueducts and noble houses Jerusalem had, for a while, earned a place among the significant capitals of the Middle East.
This fact is presented in today’s reading as the result of God’s love for an abandoned child. No one loved her, God has loved her completely. Abandoned at birth, God brings her to the flower of age. Left in unholy blood, the Lord has cleansed her and made her his own. She had nothing, God has given her everything.
This very generosity is the basis of her fall. So beautiful, she becomes “infatuated with her beauty”; so heaped with riches, she was nothing but wealth; so loved by God, she wants to be loved by all gods. She has loved the gifts but forgotten the Giver. For this reason, her future is unstable. The flux of history deprives her of her wealth and position. Until she comes to know the deeper value of life she must bemoan her loss. Until she realizes the true wealth God gives, she will be deprived of all wealth. Until she is stripped of all other goods, she will not know the highest good. Until she endures the cross – in the person of Christ -–she will not achieve her glory: to be with God, to be of God, to be God.
Year 2 , Week 20, Monday Glenroy 1976
“The word of the Lord came to me: Mortal, with one blow I am about to take away from you the delight of your eyes; yet you shall not mourn or weep, nor shall your tears run down.” Ezekiel 24:15-16
Ezekiel has gone into exile. The loss of homeland is made worse, there in exile, by the loss of his wife. Yet he must endure even more. God will not let him mourn for her; he must treat her loss as though it were no loss and must not perform the customary mourning rites. This is because Ezekiel has a prophet’s task and must give a sign. God does not mourn the loss of Jerusalem. He is well rid of the adulteress nation. His anger is followed by silence. He does not even feel anger. Jerusalem does not exist for him.
God is just. When Christians show they are idolatrous by being unjust to their neighbour, God will call them, insistently, to love. But when they prove their idolatry by refusing to change, God is angry and his anger will be a fire of judgment upon them. But this anger is sweet compared to what comes next, for after his anger comes silence. He turns his face away from them. This they cannot endure. His face in anger is still his face turned towards them. But when he and all the saints eventually turn elsewhere, Christians have no meaning for Him. They do not exist for him. Silence is the final torment.
Year 2 , Week 20, Tuesday Glenroy 1976
“The word of the Lord came to me: Mortal, say to the prince of Tyre, Thus says the Lord God: Because your heart is proud and you have said, “I am a god; I sit in the seat of the gods, in the heart of the seas,” …. therefore, I will bring strangers against you, the most terrible of the nations; they shall draw their swords against the beauty of your wisdom and defile your splendor. They shall thrust you down to the Pit, and you shall die a violent death in the heart of the seas.” Ezekiel 28:1-2, 7-8
The city of Tyre stood on a rocky island near the coast of Palestine. Surrounded by the seas, she sent her ships far and wide, amassing a fortune and ruling a vast empire. Success had encouraged Tyre in the worship of her god. Indeed, Baal, a god of increase, had seemingly increased Tyre till she thought she was herself the god.
This folly angers Ezekiel. As he sees the armies of Nebuchadnezzar leaving a fallen Jerusalem to attack Tyre, he predicts her downfall. “You will die a violent death, surrounded by the seas”. The place of her pride is the place of her fall.
Tyre was correct in wishing to be divine, in wishing to be at once city and temple. But she was in error concerning the nature of God who is not a god of material prosperity. God is found at that point where the spirit meets the Spirit. This juncture is the concern of God, and the finest concern of human beings. This is where ‘city’ and ‘temple’ are one. This is where the human becomes divine. The union of Spirit and spirit gives eternity and fullness of every sort.
Year 2 , Week 20, Wednesday Glenroy 1976
The true shepherd
“Thus says the Lord God, I am against the shepherds; and I will demand my sheep at their hand, and put a stop to their feeding the sheep; no longer shall the shepherds feed themselves. I will rescue my sheep from their mouths, so that they may not be food for them.” Ezekiel 34:10
The leaders of the people – the kings and the priests – had the duty of securing justice and truth. Yet they had led the people astray and abused them. Therefore, they lose the mandate of heaven. The triumphant Chaldeans depose them, but more importantly God disowns them. They lose their authority.
There will be no leaders, no teachers, no need for brother to say to brother “Here is the Lord”. God will inspire each one directly. The Spirit will come upon the whole community so that each is a shepherd to the other. By passing the whole people through the crucible of suffering, God raises them in his Spirit.
There is no other way. Only through the crucible can one be refined. God pours out his Spirit above all on those who are crucified. Such a death leads to life.
Year 2, Week 20, Thursday Glenroy 1976
A new spirit
“I will take you from the nations, and gather you from all the countries, and bring you into your own land. I will sprinkle clean water upon you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleannesses, and from all your idols I will cleanse you. A new heart I will give you, and a new spirit I will put within you; and I will remove from your body the heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. I will put my spirit within you, and make you follow my statutes and be careful to observe my ordinances. Then you shall live in the land that I gave to your ancestors; and you shall be my people, and I will be your God.’ Ezekiel 36:24-28
At last the Lord has done with punishing and purifying his people. He prophesies their restoration. He will bring them back to their homelands, cleanse them, give them a new heart and a new spirit, in an eternal covenant. The people did indeed return and await the fulfilment.
Christians perceive that Jesus is the one in whom all sin is put to death; he is the one with the new heart, the new spirit, he is the one with whom a new and eternal covenant is made by the glorification on the cross. He is the one in whom all the prophecies of the Old Testament are fulfilled.
And through him Christians perceive they share in the fulfilment. When they are joined to him by faith and interior knowledge, then they too have a new heart, a new spirit.
They look forward to when this first step of faith is complete, when not only the heart but the whole self is renewed, when all disharmony and ignorance and sin are removed, when the whole body is become spirit. They shall enjoy that unity of knowledge and purpose, that directness and compassion, self-determination and spontaneity, that vigour and joy, when every fibre will be a world and every movement a sign. Then they shall be free of all that is foreign, of the limitations of time. Then the covenant will be complete, they and God being one.
Year 2, Week 20, Friday Glenroy 1976
Restoration and resurrection
“Then he said to me, “Prophesy to these bones, and say to them: O dry bones, hear the word of the Lord. Thus says the Lord God to these bones: I will cause breath to enter you, and you shall live. I will lay sinews on you, and will cause flesh to come upon you, and cover you with skin, and put breath in you, and you shall live; and you shall know that I am the Lord.” Ezekiel 37:4-6
The punishment has been so terrible, the destruction of Jerusalem and the House of David has been so total, the purification has been so keen that the exiles have lost heart. “Our bones are dried up; our hope has gone”.
Ezekiel begins the task of consolation. Should their bones have dried up, no matter! God will refresh them. Should their hope have gone, no matter! God will bring them back to their promised land. Once they are purified unto death, then their restoration in truth is possible.
Ezekiel says all this in a vision. As God fashioned humans from the dust of the earth, so he will fashion a new people from an assemblage of bones; as God breathed life into the clay doll, so will the four winds breathe new life into refashioned bones. Marvelous though creation is, the re-creation of Israel is more marvelous.
Yet this work is just a restoration. With Christ it is resurrection. Their restoration is a foreshadowing. As the people had to experience the ultimate in the pain of body and soul, so too the Christ had to experience the ‘numbering of his bones’, had to cry out “My God, my God, why have you deserted me’. Once Christ had been reduced totally, he could be raised completely. Once his trust in God had been perfectly revealed, once the purification had led further than exile, right into his own death, then he could be raised and resurrected. The people are restored to a condition they had before, but Christ is raised to a glory he never experienced as man. The people go back to their own land, but Christ ascends to heaven.
Raised in the Spirit, his body has a strength, a liveliness, a durability, a sensitivity that goes beyond what can be observed. Christ lives in his body and beyond the confines of body, his body brought to its full perfection and beauty, its utmost development and strength. His body is perfect; his hope is fulfilled.