The prophet Ezekiel in Sunday’s first reading takes us back to a time in Israel’s history when the monarchy is failing. A prophet and poet, Ezekiel was trained as a priest in Jerusalem before the Babylonians took him into exile among the first wave of captives in 598 BCE. He was married and relates the death of his wife with deep feeling (Ezekiel 24.26).
Ezekiel experiences God’s presence with him in captivity. God calls him to eat a scroll of lamentations and woes, to speak to the rebellious people of Israel. Ezekiel urges Israel’s king and people to take responsibility for breaking their covenant with God and worshiping other gods. Nonetheless, in 587 BCE, the Babylonians destroy Jerusalem and the temple and take a second wave of captives into exile.
For Ezekiel God is faithful, unlike the people. In Sunday’s first reading the prophet envisions God replanting the people like a cedar twig. The tree is Israel, a captive people living through tragic loss and blame. In the midst of their hopelessness and powerlessness, Ezekiel proclaims that their just and holy God has already begun their restoration. God says of Israel, “I myself will plant it.”
Ezekiel promises God will transform the people. “I bring low the high tree. I make high the low tree. I dry up the green tree and make the dry tree flourish.”
The future will be not merely a restoration of institutions, the city, and temple, but an interior regeneration, a new heart and new spirit within each individual person (Ezekiel 36.26).
The reign of God overturns our expectations and confounds our sense of being in charge. In this reign poor is rich, weak is powerful, haves are have-nots, and justice is God’s own.
Thus says the Lord God
I myself will take a sprig
from the lofty top of a cedar;
I will set it out.
I will break off a tender one
from the topmost of its young twigs;
I myself will plant it
on a high and lofty mountain.
On the mountain height of Israel
I will plant it,
in order that it may produce
boughs and bear fruit,
and become a noble cedar.
Under it every kind of bird will live; in the shade of its branches will nest winged creatures of every kind.
All the trees of the field shall know
that I am the Holy One.
I bring low the high tree,
I make high the low tree;
I dry up the green tree
and make the dry tree flourish.
I the Holy One have spoken;
I will accomplish it.
- What replanting do we Christians need after the threatening events of 2021?
- How has the pandemic affected your sense of God’s presence?
- What hopes are you planting in your family and neighborhood?