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Posted by on Oct 1, 2023

Not too late to change

Not too late to change

I attended a play recently in which the world and all within it was beautiful and peaceful until spirits of anger, fear, doubt, distrust, and other negative emotions began to surround and disable the healthy functioning of the people. Eventually a wise old man went into the forest alone to seek wisdom and a solution for this terrible problem. He was advised to seek the solution through the air, the water, the earth, and fire. The wise ones of the mountain told him the people would need to pass through trials involving these forces and elements in order for life to return to the peaceful state that had existed before the coming of those evil forces. The people passed through these challenges and emerged into a community, singing of the wonders of life.

This play took the place of the more traditional ones for the festival in which it was performed. In those traditional plays, there is a dragon (from one or another of the world’s traditions) that somehow is threatening the people. With the help and guidance of angelic or spiritual forces, specifically Michael the archangel in some stories, brave people are able to tame the dragon. The dragon then provides power and help to the community to support life for all.

I have been reflecting on the difference in these stories. The first left me and many others with a sense of incompleteness. The forces that had upset the lives of the people had not really been addressed. They had not been transformed in any meaningful way. There was no reason to assume they would not return at a future date to cause even more harm. Anger was not transformed into forgiveness. Fear did not give way to courage. Doubt did not grow into a readiness to explore deeply and find inner, hidden truths. Distrust didn’t grow into a willingness to take a chance on reconciliation and healing. There was no redemption or transformation of the deep, and often fearful powers that can cause such pain and suffering in human life and damage to our ecosystem. The dragon-powers within each of us that can cause such hurt and suffering in human life did not receive the gift of transforming grace. In the traditional stories, the dragon-forces are brought under control and improve life for all. A much more satisfying result.

These thoughts fit into my reflection on the readings this week. The prophet Ezekiel spoke to the Jewish people in exile in Babylon. Prior to his time, the assumption had been that God’s judgement and any punishments for wrongdoing were communal. If others in a family or a community had broken the law, everyone would have to suffer the punishment. God was seen as a judge whose decisions affected all, whether guilty or not. So the sins of the parents were punished in the lives of their children too. If a child was born blind, for example, the question might be asked, as it was yet in Jesus’ time, “Whose sin was it that caused this”– the child’s or the parents’?

Through Ezekiel the Lord asks, “Is it my way that is unfair, or rather, are not your ways unfair?” The Lord reminds them that if a good person turns from doing good things and chooses evil, that person will bear the guilt. But if a person who has been doing evil things turns away from evil and begins to do the right thing, that person will live rather than die. It’s never too late to turn away from evil. It’s a question of individual decisions and actions. God will always give life to the one who chooses to do the right thing. (Ez 18:25-28)

And what is the right thing? St. Paul reminds the Philippians that humble, loving service to each other in the community and beyond is the calling of Christians. We are to be humble as Christ was humble. To make his point even more clear, he quoted an early hymn in which we are reminded that “though he was in the form of God … he emptied himself … coming in human likeness…” Jesus even accepted death on a cross – a shameful, humiliating death. (Phil 2:1-11)

In his teaching, Jesus made the same point about our choices as individuals, by telling a story. “A man had two sons…” He asked each of them to do some work in the family vineyard. One son refused, but later changed his mind and went to work in the vineyard. The other son said, “Sure, Dad.” But he never quite got around to going into the vineyard and doing what his father had asked him to do. Jesus posed the question to the religious leaders who were questioning him, “Which of the two did his father’s will?” Of course, the answer was clear. The one who initially refused, but then changed his mind and did what had been requested.

Jesus made it clear that the ones whose actions, professions, or status in society made them the least likely to be counted among those pleasing to God, would be welcomed into the kingdom because they heard and believed his message. Those whose positions seemed to make them more likely to be pleasing would find themselves excluded because of their failure to believe it and change their lives. (Mt 21:28-32)

We each must decide, again and again it seems. How do we live out our calling to service? Where are our talents needed? Where is a kind word, or a smile, or a simple act of forgiveness going to be the key that helps another person to hope and continue onward on their journey? How do we help to bring reconciliation and transformation of the dragons within ourselves and in our society to build a better world?

As we enter into a new month and a new season, may we be ready to listen and to allow ourselves to be transformed into sources of healing and reconciliation in our families, our workplaces, our communities, our nation, and our world. It’s a beautiful world, just waiting for us to wake up and grow together in love.

Readings for the Twenty-sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time – Cycle A

 

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Posted by on Apr 11, 2014

The Gathering of Israel

The Gathering of Israel

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.

 

 

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