Although the passage we hear from the Prophet Ezekiel is brief, its content tells us three important things about this man. First God says: “Son of man, I am sending you to the Israelites. . .” Ezekiel does not assume the role of prophet to himself. God assigns the role to him. God recognizes him as a human being, as a son of man; however, as God spoke to him, a spirit entered into him and “set him on his feet,” a quaint way of saying that God was given him the strength that would be necessary to fulfill his mission.
Next God says: “But you shall say to them: Thus says the LORD GOD!” Though the message itself is not delineated, the authority to deliver the message is clearly stated. Ezekiel will deliver God’s message. Without this authority, Ezekiel would incur grave penalties for assuming to speak for God.
Finally, God says that the Israelites “shall know that a prophet has been among them.” This is not a guarantee that the people will listen to him. In fact God seems to imply that the opposite is true. Whether they listen or not, they will know that God’s prophet has been among them. This sounds very ominous. The people will know there has been a prophet among them because the dire consequences of their rebelliousness will fall upon them.
Ezekiel appears in Judaism, Christianity and Islam. His name means “God strengthens.” The Church recognizes him as the 6th-century BC author of the Book of Ezekiel that reveals prophecies regarding the destruction of Jerusalem, the restoration to the land of Israel, and the appearance of a new Temple. As is the case with almost all the Hebrew prophets, the people did not listen to him or heed his message. The only personal information that we know about him was that he is the son of Buzzi and was born into a priestly lineage.
The responsorial psalm for this Sunday focuses our attention on the word “eyes.” It speaks of the eyes of servants on the hands of their masters, the eyes of a maid on the hands of her mistress, and our eyes focused on the Lord. Ezekiel and almost all of the prophets encountered scorn and humiliation because people did not want to hear what God had to say about their behavior. The only way for the prophets to live through their scorn and their humiliation was to keep their eyes focused on God and the mission with which they had been entrusted.
With the exception of Jonah, each of the Hebrew prophets failed to convince the Israelites of the need to change their ways. There are a variety of reasons for this. However, the opening verses of the Letter to the Hebrews tells us: “In times past, God spoke in partial and various ways to our ancestors through the prophets; in these last days, he spoke to us through a son, whom he made heir of all things and through whom he created the universe.” The messenger changed; however, the message remained the same. Jesus came among us and delivered the very same message that we hear coming from the mouths of the prophets. As it is recorded in the Gospel of St. Mark, Jesus announced: “The kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe.”
Jesus came among us as a son of man, as a human being. As we listen to the Gospel this morning, it is clear that the people of his native place knew who he was. However, that knowledge also prevented them from hearing what Jesus had to say. Because Jesus had grown up among them and had learned his trade at the hands of Joseph and Mary, they took offense at him. They questioned Jesus’ authenticity because they felt that they knew him so well. They thought that he was no better than they were and, therefore, that he had no right to act superior.
Thus it has been ever since. Many prophets, ordinary human beings have appeared in our midst. However, the world has not been able to hear the message. Somehow the world simply cannot get beyond the human nature of the prophet and recognize that it is God’s message that they are delivering. Sadly, the world clings to its own opinions and the notion that God’s Law is outdated, a thing of the past.
Each of us is called to bring God’s Word to our present day situation. Each of the Gospels ends with Jesus commissioning those who believe in him to teach all nations of God’s kingdom. If we do what we are called to do, we will undoubtedly have the same experience that all the prophets endured. Just as the Hebrew prophets kept their eyes on God and God’s commission, so to we are called to do the same. While the world holds God’s Word as it is taught by the Church in contempt, we are called to fix our attention on the Lord. This is precisely why we need to gather to celebrate the Eucharist each Sunday because it is the Eucharist that reminds us that we are a people who have been redeemed through the blood of Jesus who died a humiliating death on a cross.
Fr. Lawrence Jagdfeld, O.F.M., Administrator