Saturday, July 04, 2009

1st Reading for the 14th Sunday in Ordinary Time

From: Ezekiel 2:2-5

The Prophet’s mission

[2] And when he spoke to me, the Spirit entered into me and set me upon my feet; and I heard him speaking to me. [3] And he said to me, "Son of man, I send you to the people of Israel, to a nation of rebels, who have rebelled against me; they and their fathers have transgressed against me to this very day. [4] The people also are impudent and stubborn: I send you to them; and you shall say to them, 'Thus says the Lord God.' [5] And whether they ear or refuse to hear (for they are a rebellious house) they will know that there has been a prophet among them.
2:1-3:3. The vision by the river Chebar is all about the grandeur and glory of God, who is sovereign over all things; whereas the account given of the call of Ezekiel tells us about the prophet and about the people of Israel, for whom the message is meant. The prophet is described as a son of man, whom the Spirit moves, a prophet among the people; and they are a rebellious people. The account takes the form of an address by the Lord containing a command to pass his word on to the people (2: 1-7) and a symbolic action in which Ezekiel eats the scroll given to him by God (2:8-3:3).

2:1. “Son of man”: this title is used repeatedly in these opening chapters. It occurs later on, too, more than ninety times; but it has special significance here, which is the first time it is used. Because Ezekiel is living in exile in a foreign and therefore unclean country, he cannot be given grand titles. He is an ordinary mortal, one creature among many, on an infinitely lower level than the Lord; one more among his people, like them an exile, a person brought low, but also someone who has hope in his heart. St Gregory the Great explains the title like this: “He is brought up often into heaven and his soul rejoices at great and beautiful mysteries which remain invisible to us. But it is fitting that he be called "son of man" while he contemplates those hidden wonders, so that he will not forget who he is or glory in the splendour that has been revealed to him” ("Homiliae in Ezechielem prophetam", 1, 12, 22).

2:2. “The Spirit set me upon my feet”. In the vision of God’s glory, the word “spirit” has three meanings. It is a natural thing -- a stormy wind, breath, spirit (1:4; cf. 13:11). From this comes the second meaning: "spirit" is an inner, superhuman strength which guides the actions of living creatures and cherubim, deciding when they should move and where they should go (cf. 1:12, 20, 21). But in the account of the call of Ezekiel, “spirit” has a third meaning: it is lifeforce, reminiscent of the “breath of life” that God breathed into man at the moment of creation (cf. Gen 2:7); this meaning will be seen more clearly in the vision of the bones brought back to life (cf. 37:5, 6, 8, 10). As a life-force, every time that the spirit affects Ezekiel, it is to ‘‘set him on his feet’’ (cf. 2:1; 3:20), to “lift him up’’ (cf. 3:12, 14, 24), so that he is better able to hear the word of God and to see what is happening in the temple of Jerusalem cf. 8:3; 11:1; 43: 5) or in Babylon (cf. 11:24). It is therefore an inner energy that transforms the prophet and helps him to hear or see things that he could not if left on his own, for he is a mere “son of man”.

2:3. Israel is a “nation of rebels” or, as it is put a little further on in the text, a “rebellious house” (2:8). The book defines the people of Israel in this negative way (cf. 2:5, 6, 8; 3:9) because it sums up the sinful history of their forebears and their own hostility towards God. Their rebelliousness involves arrogance towards God, rejection of his commandments, and refusal to listen to what he says. It makes them stubborn: one can even see it in their faces. Time and again Ezekiel tells them that their sin is grave, for they have freely chosen to adopt this attitude. They “will not listen to you”, the Lord says to Ezekiel, “for they are not willing to listen to me” (3:7). Precisely because sin requires a free act of the will, the prophet puts special emphasis on personal responsibility. Each individual will be punished for his or her sins, not for those of their forebears (cf. 18:1 32). Because the people are so rebellious, God wants the prophet to he especially docile: “Do not be rebellious” (2:8). The Lord asks him to listen carefully to the word of God and to accept it joyfully. The gesture of eating the scroll shows what docility requires. Even though the scroll contains “words of lamentation and mourning and woe” (2:10), the prophet will find it “sweet as honey” when he does what he is told.

2:4. “Thus says the Lord God”: this makes it clear that the prophet is not speaking on his own behalf. It is usually termed a “messenger formula” (words a messenger uses to preface his message), and occurs often in other prophetical books, particularly Isaiah and Jeremiah. However, in Ezekiel, where it appears almost 130 times, the name of God is reinforced (“Lord God”), to signal the infinite majesty of the Lord who speaks with full authority. The people’s stubbornness in rejecting God’s word is an act of rebellion, and the docility shown by the prophet is an almost obligatory act of submission. Ezekiel never resists the voice of the Lord, never raises any personal objection or difficulty unlike Isaiah and Jeremiah. On the contrary, knowing that he is passing on a divine message, not inventing one of his own, he must do this bravely, and never flag, even if the people refuse to listen (cf. 2:6-7; 3:11). “True prophets are those who say the words that God has spoken to them; the prophet of God is the one who delivers the words of God to men who cannot or do not deserve to understand God himself” (St Augustine, "Quaestiones in Heptateuchum", 2, 17).

2:5. “They will know that there has been a prophet among them”: a formal confirmation that Ezekiel is indeed a prophet. At a time when there was no king (for he was the prisoner of Nebuchadnezzar) and no temple (for it had been profaned and destroyed) and no social or religious institutions among the Jews, prophets acquired increased status. The prophet was God’s only representative among the people; he was the only one with authority to demand that they listen to his message.
Source: "The Navarre Bible: Text and Commentaries". Biblical text taken from the Revised Standard Version and New Vulgate. Commentaries made by members of the Faculty of Theology of the University of Navarre, Spain. Published by Four Courts Press, Kill Lane, Blackrock, Co. Dublin, Ireland. Reprinted with permission from Four Courts Press and Scepter Publishers, the U.S. publisher.

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