The first reading of the Mass for Saturday of the fifth week of Lent, the day before Holy Week begins, is from the book of Ezekiel, chapter 37, verses 21-28. It begins:
Thus says the Lord God: I will take the children of Israel from among the nations to which they have come, and gather them from all sides to bring them back to their land.
In this prophecy, Ezekiel goes on to proclaim that the kingdoms of Israel will be reunited, the people will return to true worship of their God, David will be prince over them, and the Lord will again place His dwelling among them. By this all nations will know that it is the Lord who makes Israel holy.
Who was Ezekiel?
Ezekiel was born in Israel, but was taken to Babylon at age 25 after the conquest of Jerusalem, one of 3,000 exiled members of the upper class. He received his call to prophecy in Babylon when he was around 30 years old and in his prophecies predicted the destruction of Jerusalem. Once the city and temple had been destroyed, crushing the hopes of the exiles, Ezekiel’s prophecies turned from reproach for failure to obey the Lord to promises of the Lord’s renewal of Jerusalem and the return of the people to their homeland.
The conquest of Babylon by Persia resulted in the return of the exiles to their land, the reconstruction of the temple, and the renewal of temple-based worship. The Lord’s promise made through Ezekiel was carried out, though Ezekiel himself never returned to his homeland.
A promise kept — End of story?
The Lord’s promise to gather the children of Israel from among the nations and bring them back to their land, where they would be one nation with David as their prince and the Lord’s sanctuary among them includes a double layer of promise. The first and most obvious layer was fulfilled with the return of the exiles and their descendents to Jerusalem. Jerusalem and the temple stood as the center of Jewish life until the Romans destroyed the temple in 70 AD.
With the destruction of Jerusalem and the forced relocation of the people from their homeland out into other nations, it seems that the promise was not to be permanent. God and his sanctuary no longer lived among the people on their own land. This has led some to argue that the restoration of the Jewish people to the land of their ancestors is a requirement for the ultimate fulfillment of salvation history, something that must happen before Jesus can come in his final glory and the physical world can end with the advent of the Heavenly Kingdom.
Another approach would be to consider another, deeper layer in the prophecy, one not even suspected by Ezekiel. The second layer of prophecy points us to the mission of Jesus. Jesus saw his mission as the gathering of Israel for the beginning of God’s final kingdom. He started from the bottom up, working with ordinary people in Galilee, teaching the good news of his Father’s great love and mercy. He knew, however, that eventually he would need to bring that same message to the religious and political leaders of his time. That led him to Jerusalem and the events of Palm Sunday and Holy Week.
Why would this reading be placed just before Holy Week?
This reading, coming just before the narration of the events of Jesus’ last week of life, reminds us that he came to gather all of us as well, children of Israel through adoption by God, and bring us back to God’s land, united into one people, with himself as our King, and with God’s dwelling-place deep within our hearts.
As we enter into Holy Week, let us rejoice that God is with us, still leading his children from exile and separation into one kingdom, with the Son of David as our saviour. May our hearts always be open to welcome his presence within.
“No prophet arises from Galilee.” This statement from St. John’s Gospel (Jn 7:53) reflects an attitude that is all too common even today. It arose in the context of the growing controversy over the teaching and ministry of Jesus. Some were saying he might be the long-awaited Christ. Others remembered that the Christ was to be of the family of David and so should come from Bethlehem. Even among the religious leaders, there were differences of opinion about Jesus and whether he could possibly be the One. Finally the matter was closed with the observation that all of the predictions of his coming said that the Prophet was not to come from Galilee.
The finality of this statement struck me today as I listened to the Gospel. In the context of their traditions and their centuries of reflecting on those traditions and prophecies, the Jewish people and their religious leaders had developed a very specific expectation of how God would fulfill the promises made through Abraham and the prophets. The Messiah was to come from the line of David. David’s city was Bethlehem. No one raised and educated in the Galilee could possibly be the Christ.
Yet Jesus was from Nazareth, a small Galilean town. And he came teaching with authority. He didn’t say, “Scripture says …” and simply quote the Law or the prophets. He said, “You have heard it said … but I say …” He taught with authority and what he taught did not necessarily conform to the established understandings of the Law. Sometimes his teachings clarified that the Law is a guideline but that respect and care for humans and their needs comes before literal obedience to a law. Sometimes his teachings went beyond the demands of the Law and called for a much higher level of love, mercy and care that are more like the way God deals with us. Sometimes he reminded his listeners that not the smallest aspect of the Law was to be ignored, but rather that he had come to fulfill the Law.
Who Jesus was and is, the source of his authority, his mission as savior, God’s vindication of his teachings and life in the Resurrection, and how we are to carry on that mission today are all important things to consider. But those concerns were not what struck me. The question that struck me today is, How often do I/we make judgements about people and what their role in life could possibly be? When we assume that a person who comes from an economically poor area cannot speak words of truth to us, then maybe we are missing Christ speaking to us. When we decide that a family member or friend has always acted in a particular way and will never do otherwise, what kind of chains are we putting on the person? How are we trying to limit what God is doing in a brother or to trying to do through a sister to reach us?
Incarnation includes the fullness of humanity
With the Incarnation, God became fully human. Jesus is fully divine and fully human. In his humanity, he is the most perfect human who ever lived. His divinity supported his humanity. It did not in any way blot out or diminish his humanity. But that humanity is one he also shares with each of us. Being human is not a bad thing. Humans have amazing potential to become ever more perfectly human, just as Jesus was human. God wants to bring us as humans to a closer relationship and intimacy within God’s own life as Trinity. When we put up a hand to dismiss someone or stop someone from following the divine call to become ever-more immersed into the Trinity and the out-flowing of love that such immersion brings to the world, we may be putting up a hand to try to stop God’s action in our lives and our world. What a tragedy that would be!
In the remaining couple of weeks before Easter, let us pray that we will not join those honest men of so long ago in trying to stop or limit God’s initiatives because they don’t fit the model we envision of how and through whom God will work today. Let us take great care not to declare, “No prophet (teacher, mystic, messenger. leader) arises from …”
On the Feast of the Presentation of the Lord, also known as Candlemas, we remember that Joseph and Mary took their firstborn son to the temple to present him to God, according to the traditions of their faith. An old man and an old woman met them at the temple. Each recognized the baby (only forty days old) as the One who had been promised from of old.
The man, Simeon, who had come “in the Spirit” to the temple, took Jesus in his arms and gave thanks to God, saying, “Now Master, you may let your servant go in peace, according to your word, for my eyes have seen your salvation, which you prepared in the sight of all the peoples: a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and glory for your people Israel.” The old woman, Anna, was a prophetess who lived in the temple. Her words are not recorded, only that she gave thanks to God and spoke to all she met of the child she had seen.
In this feast we see a continuation of a theme begun in Advent and celebrated through the Christmas season. “A light shines in the darkness.” (Jn 1:5) “A people who walked in darkness have seen a great light.” (Is 9:1) “Rise up, Jerusalem, and shine forth” (Is 60:1) “Sing joyfully to the Lord, all you lands.” (Ps 110:1b) “We saw his star at its rising and have come to do him homage.” (Mt 2:2) “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.” (Mt 3:17) We hear these strains again and again in the first months of our liturgical year, calling to us to listen and understand what has come to pass.
The Holy Spirit opens our eyes and our hearts to see the coming of the Promised One among us, just as was the case with Simeon, Anna, the Magi, and John the Baptist. When our eyes have been opened, we see the light shining through and overcoming the darkness. It is a light for all peoples; no more “us vs. them”, no more exclusion of anyone simply because he or she is different or a stranger. The Spirit fills Jesus and leads him into his public life. The Spirit fills Simeon and leads him to the temple. The Spirit leads the Magi to notice the star and set out on a journey to find the child it heralds. The same Spirit calls us too. We are to be lights for our world. We receive a candle at our Baptism and we are told to keep it shining brightly until the day the Lord comes for us.
And so we take candles and light them again, as we celebrate the coming of the Light of the World and the presence of the Spirit among us, helping us to recognize His coming.
December 23 — O Emmanuel
“Our king and our lawgiver, the hope of the nations and their Saviour: Come and save us, O Lord our God.”
Where are you?
When will you come O God With Us?
O God of Justice
How can a child give us
What good is it
O Come God With Us
O Child of Grace and Comfort
December 22 — O Rex Gentium
“O King of all the nations, the only joy of every human heart; O Keystone of the mighty arch of man, come and save the creature you fashioned from the dust.”
Dust thou art — to the Stars you are called
King of All Hearts
You have only your chains to shed
Death has no more claim
December 21 — O Oriens
“O Radiant Dawn, splendor of eternal light, sun of justice: come and shine on those who dwell in darkness and in the shadow of death.”
The shortest day gives way
The sun returns
Darkness underneath the bright lights and
In the bright Santa Cruz sun
December 20 – O Clavis David
“O Key of David, O royal Power of Israel controlling at your will the gate of Heaven: Come, break down the prison walls of death for those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death; and lead your captive people into freedom.”
And lead us into Freedom
Break down the prisons
With swimming pools
O Sol Invictus, Unconquered Sun
December 19 – O Radix Jesse
“O Flower of Jesse’s stem, you have been raised up as a sign for all peoples; kings stand silent in your presence; the nations bow down in worship before you. Come, let nothing keep you from coming to our aid.”
Logged clean, the chosen people swept away,
But that flower of Jesse, David’s line,
Your Kingdom come, O victorious one.
Have another drink, watch some TV,
This saving thing and your coming
December 18 – O Adonai
“O sacred Lord of ancient Israel, who showed yourself to Moses in the burning bush, who gave him the holy law on Sinai mountain: come, stretch out your mighty hand to set us free.”
Be careful what you pray for.
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Please join us in the joyful anticipation of Christmas during this time of stillness and waiting that is Advent. We remind ourselves that the celebration of Christmas begins on the Eve of the Nativity, the 24th. There are two weeks to celebrate this great feast of God with us. Leave the hustle and bustle and share the gift of peace with your loved ones.
December 17 – O Sapientia
“O Wisdom, O holy Word of God, you govern all creation with your strong yet tender care. Come and show your people the way to salvation.”
What wisdom is this folly?
That God should come to share our death?
What Word of God, the Fullest Godself Expression on High
That governs all, would come for us in such lowliness?
O Wisdom? O Foolishness of Divine Love,
You seek us out, O Wisdom from on high.