Summer will be here next week, and I hope that we all will finally thaw out after the longest Winter in, at least my, memory. Many parishioners will be travelling or staying in summer homes, so we will be using email to keep you informed about parish activities and plans. Much will be about the structure of the church but also much is being planned for the new “Church and School” year beginning in September. I will also be using this opportunity to try an experiment. While visiting family several weeks ago they mentioned that whenever they see Green Vestments on the priest the first reading is from the Old Testament. They rarely understand it immediately, rarely hear a homily on it and usually just forget about it. These readings are chosen to reflect and hopefully amplify some aspect of the Gospel for that Sunday and can be very helpful in understanding not only that in particular but our faith in general. Therefore, I will be providing a brief examination of the “first reading” every week in the summer in this email. We can discuss continuing this in the Fall.
With many blessings in Jesus, I remain
Fr William Smith
11TH Week of Ordinary Time,
June 17, 2018
Ezekiel: 17: 22-24
We often think of Prophets as having the gift of predicting the future. This occasionally occurs but the principal gift of the prophet is finding the presence or absence of God in the here and now. Their experience of God can be so profound that they understand from what he has done in the past what he will do in the future. There is no better example of this than the Prophet Ezekiel.
He was born about 622 BC in Jerusalem and died about 570 BC in Babylon and the dates and places tell his story. Jerusalem was situated on the trade route between Egypt to the south and whatever power was dominating the north. Never part of a mighty empire the Jews were able to play one power off against the other to maintain significant independence for over 3 centuries. Ezekiel lived at the time when this ended. In 609 BC they thought that the Neo-Babylonian empire was ascendant and allied themselves with it. By 597 the leadership felt that it was weakening, and they could assert more independence. This was a grave miscalculation and the Babylonians invaded conquered Jerusalem and took many Jewish leaders into captivity. Ezekiel was one of these and he spent the rest of his life in Babylon. In 586 there was another rebellion which resulted in the destruction of the city and the Temple and the exile of the remaining leaders of the people especially the royal court, the scribes and the priests, Without the temple how could the Covenant be maintained and without the monarchy how could the promise to David be fulfilled? All that could be seen was devastation.
Yet Ezekiel saw more. In the 37th chapter he spoke of the dry bones.
4 Then he said to me: Prophesy over these bones, and say to them: Dry bones, hear the word of the LORD!
7 I prophesied as I had been told, and even as I was prophesying I heard a noise; it was a rattling as the bones came together, bone joining bone.
8 I saw the sinews and the flesh come upon them, and the skin cover them, but there was no spirit in them.
10 I prophesied as he told me, and the spirit came into them; they came alive and stood upright, a vast army.
11 Then he said to me: Son of man, these bones are the whole house of Israel.
This was the deadest thing that he could imagine. Bones left in the desert, bleached and brittle from the sun. Yet he said that these bones would take on life again.
He knew the workings of God in his own life and that of his people and knew that God would never abandon them. They would rise again.
And so, they did. The Babylonians were conquered by the Persians in 539. They had a different style of colonizing. Like the British they cultivated the elite and used them to administer conquered territories. They invited the Jewish leaders in Babylon to return to Jerusalem as their agents. They would be allowed some autonomy and could rebuild the temple. Most did not accept the offer and there was a vital Jewish community for as long as there was a Babylon but enough did that that the Jews could rebuild the city and more importantly the Temple
This occurred 30 years after Ezekiel’s last prophecy and notice how “Prophetic” is today’s reading: Ezekiel 17:22–24
22 Therefore say: Thus says the Lord GOD:
I, too, will take from the crest of the cedar,
from its topmost branches tear off a tender shoot,
And plant it on a high and lofty mountain;
23 on the mountain heights of Israel I will plant it.
It shall put forth branches and bear fruit,
and become a majestic cedar.
Birds of every kind shall dwell beneath it,
every winged thing in the shade of its boughs.
24 And all the trees of the field shall know
that I, the LORD,
Bring low the high tree,
lift high the lowly tree,
Wither up the green tree,
and make the withered tree bloom.
As I, the LORD, have spoken, so will I do.
This section is a summary of the beautiful allegory of the Eagle (Ez. 17:1-22) and may have been added by Ezekiel or one of his assistants’ later but reveals this insight: God promised the people of Israel that he would always care for them and so He will replant the family of David on his Holy Mountain, Sion, in a restored Temple.
The message is prophetic for us as well. We are experiencing a time of great confusion which threatens to erupt into complete chaos. Allies are now treated as opponents if not enemies and former enemies are treated as friends, we once expected social and financial mobility but now seem as stratified as the ancient regime. The list could continue. As we will see in today’s Gospel, God has not forgotten us, and we can expect that although he may chastise us he will never abandon us.
Next week we will return to this same experience but see it from the perspective of Isaiah, Until then, have a blessed week and may we all enjoy at least a week of Spring.