Diary entry # 2: Ezekiel and the New Temple – God calls people home to try again and, with hope, face the facts of what went wrong.
Most times, when we hear about Ezekiel, we hear one of two stories – at least that’s how it seems to me. The two stories we hear are about Ezekiel having a vision of The Wheel and Ezekiel having the vision of The Valley of Dry Bones. But as we shall see, while these two stories are important, they represent the “highlight reel” of the overall story. They emphasize the more positive parts of his life and work. One can never truly live the benefits of what is positive without knowing deeply what is challenging. Before we go further, why don’t we do a quick review of who Ezekiel is?
Ezekiel was a prophet who came to prominence during the exile to Babylon. He lived among the ruling class, a ruling class that had failed the people. Ezekiel was outspoken, more than just a little weird (“out there” we might have said if we were being polite, “unhinged” if we wanted to discredit the truth G_d was speaking through him.) The Exile, as it is known, refers to the era where Israel fell to the Babylonians. And this happened following civil war in Israel where north and south were divided against each other. In simplistic terms, it was an age-old case of the ruling class keeping the working class in crushing poverty in order to try and rub shoulders with the world’s richest nations. For Babylon, invading and conquering a divided nation did not appear to be difficult. If you want to read more about those times, read Jeremiah and Isaiah. Now back to Ezekiel.
In order to keep the nation of Israel weak and under their control, the Babylonians uprooted the ruling and upper classes and moved them to Babylon. To put that into perspective, imagine if our Country of Canada were to be invaded by a foreign country where the language and culture were totally different. And then, all our government leaders and business leaders and military leaders were taken back to that country. Those of us who remained would have nowhere to turn and be completely under the control of the foreign power. A political resistance would be very difficult, if not impossible, to mount. In the meantime, the ruling class, if it were to be honest, would have the responsibility of facing where they had literally sinned, where they got their priorities horribly wrong, where the strong did not protect the weak. For more on this, you read Amos. But every single prophet that we have in the bible warned the nation that disaster was coming if they did not mend their ways.
In the midst of this, in exile in Babylon, Ezekiel rises and takes the ruling classes to task. Believe me, he doesn’t pull any punches. He is brutally honest. In the meantime, I have been taught that it is safe to assume that back home in Israel, those that were captive to the Babylonians became very resentful of the leaders who had failed them. And who could blame them? Ezekiel also speaks in the midst of that resentment. He speaks of what it will take to rebuild the temple, partly as a metaphor for rebuilding the nation. (It makes me think of the movie called “Life as a House” with Kevin Klein, but I digress). Here too Ezekiel speaks with frankness – which is where we often here the stories of The Valley of Dry Bones, where God breathes life into what is seemingly dead, and the vision of the Wheel which refers, in broad terms, to the renewed effort of the project of the “promised land”. Renewed effort doesn’t quite capture the magnitude of the task at hand. Not only does the nation and temple need to be rebuilt from scratch, generations of divisions, deep, deep divisions need to be healed and overcome. The point that I am wanting us to take away is this: Positive as the visions of the Dry Bones and The Wheel are (representing the new temple and restarting of the nation), we should not for a second underestimate the deep soul searching it took the Nation of Israel to try again.
And that’s why I took the time to single out these to passages at the beginning of the reflection. Taken out of context, they become platitudes – motherhood and apple pie – empty of all their power. Taken in context, they speak a much more direct truth. For Israel, it’s not a question of becoming unstuck, but being pried loose from their own misguided direction which led them into the trouble they found themselves. They were, literally, in need of deep soul searching.
Into this tragic failure, Ezekiel is bold enough to speak. He goes all in because really, what choice did he have? Half measures would never have made even a dent in the situation. If you want to get a better sense of it all, you’d really have to read the book for yourself, which I encourage you to do. In the meantime, if you’d like a taste, here’s a link for you to check out: http://topverses.com/Bible/Ezekiel
So. let’s take a pause and take stock of what this diary entry speaks of.
It speaks of a time of tremendous social challenge – of military occupation, of economic collapse, of deep social division and unrest. It speaks of the soul of a nation torn.
And in the midst of that, when people are brought to their knees by their own doing, it speaks of the tremendous hope of resiliency born of God.
And that’s where I’d like to start to wrap up this reflection – the tremendous hope of resiliency that is born of God. For today, in sitting with Ezekiel, the core lesson that I would like us to retain is this: The human condition is improved by our facing our shortcomings, not so that we can punish ourselves and then feel the relief of forgiveness. That kind of thinking creates a very toxic cycle. No, the human condition is improved by our facing our shortcomings, because in doing so, we create spiritual space for healing and renewal. In doing so, we make our souls available to become unstuck. In doing so, we get out of our own way and we connect to G_D, source of life and living.
Like last week, I’d invite you to do two things.
The first is to go and read at least parts of Ezekiel for yourself. Let him speak to you about the more challenging parts of your life. And when you do that, know that he is breathing life into the parts of your life that maybe are those that you have given up on. How does the story speak to you and whether or not your soul is stuck or available? Like last week, take a few days for that to settle.
Also, don’t forget to return to your questions from the introduction. Do this after the few days of settling into the story. Have your answers changed? Are they the same? Is it a bit of both? I hope you enjoy the experience, just like reading a diary.
See you next week! In the meantime, … Be Blessed. Be a blessing.