AMDG

During these weeks we are following the story of Ezekiel in the readings at mass.  Some of the readings and the violence of God are very challenging, especially at a time when our news bulletins are full of stories of religious violence.   A sign of a good preacher is not to avoid the challenging readings but to tackle them face on.  Last week we had an excellent reflection from Karen Eliasen – one of the team at St Beuno’s.  Karen has given me permission to share it on the blog.  

Ent. antiphon: “Arise, O God, and defend your cause, and forget not the cries of those who seek you.”  

Karen Eliasen, St Beuno’s

80All this week, and next week, we have readings from the Book of Ezekiel. Ezekiel himself comes across as many things: he’s part prophet, part priest, part visionary mystic, part plain old madman. But however we label him, Ezekiel is above all someone who is in continuous dialogue with God. The whole of the Book of Ezekiel bristles with passionate exchanges between God and this mad prophet. Mostly these exchanges are about people doing wrong, and about what God is doing about people doing wrong. In today’s reading, we encounter a terrifying God, terrifying because he is furious at his own people, and he’s furious because his people are doing wrong. And so in his fury, God commands death for them. “Kill and exterminate them all,” God shouts to a group of armed men. God commands death for his own people, and the command is carried out; all is destroyed, and Ezekiel is witness to this:  Jerusalem is laid waste, the Temple is burnt to the ground, the people are starved, slaughtered, hauled into exile. These are the events that Ezekiel is writing out of – extreme, drastic events of unimaginable violence. And it is such events that Ezekiel and God are having their passionate exchanges about. God’s people are doing wrong; but what kind of a God then makes everything, everything – come to such an end? Will God not show pity, will he not show mercy, at all? Ezekiel, like God, is angry; but he is also concerned about God’s seeming lack of mercy.

Now we might easily convince ourselves that this merciless God lunging out at us from the pages of Ezekiel has little to do with the God of the Gospels. Here is what Jesus in today’s Matthew Gospel has to say about people doing wrong: “If your brother does something wrong, go and have it out with him alone” … talk it over, and if that doesn’t work, go and tell the community. And if that doesn’t work … well there is a cool, calm, and collected legal system in place to deal with it. Dealing with people who do wrong is not to be fuelled by the fury of a great armed anger, but by law. At least that’s how it is if you are a human being. But what if you are not a human being. What if you are God? What if you are Ezekiel’s God? This is not a God different from Jesus’ God. The God who is at the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple is the same God who is at the crucifixion of Jesus. And this same God is Lord not only of death but Lord also of life. For we all know very well that Ezekiel’s God not only commands death, he also promises us life – he promises us new hearts and rivers flowing with living waters, he promises his people a covenant of peace, of shalom. Just like the God of the Gospels, who is there at the crucifixion, does.

3_11_2010_christians_iraqSo when we find ourselves far from shalom, even find ourselves in extreme and drastic circumstances far beyond law, when it feels like our whole world is being undone, what about God then? How do we, like Ezekiel, even begin to exchange words with God then? What is our prayer then? Scripture has one hope: we can cry out. Like the Israelites in Egypt, we can cry out. That’s the very prayer we heard in the entrance antiphon today– did you catch that plea right at the beginning of Mass just now: “Arise, O God, and defend your cause, and forget not the cries of those who seek you.” Let us not forget the cries of those who seek God –  including ourselves.

Ezekiel 9:1-7; 10:18-22; Mt 18:15-20