Though I wrote some time ago about my developing interest in the traditional liturgical calendar of the Church, I’m not yet following it. Instead we have, at our church, developed a preaching calendar for this year that focuses on the prophets, major and minor.
This has been an interesting and motivating challenge, at least for me. I love the prophets – most of them. My favorite parts of the bible are among the prophets (but so is the one book that I really cannot stand…) There is so to learn from the prophets.
And we’ve come now to the book of Ezekiel.
Saint and Doctor of the Chruch Jerome called the book “a labyrinth of the mysteries of God.” And the rabbis forbad anyone under the age of thirty from approaching it. Its allegories are obscure and some of the book approaches, if not crosses the line into pornography. Ezekiel himself seems almost schizophrenic.
He veers from frenzied actions like a furious pantomime of the siege of Jerusalem to prolonged periods of catatonic silence and immobility. He subjects himself to degradation and defilement. He cuts himself. He starves himself. He talks about mysterious visions and mystic journeys outside of his body. He shouts vulgarities that no dignified and respectable man of God would utter.
And it’s no wonder that he seems schizophrenic. This kind of physical and mental torture seems designed (by God?) to cause a psychic break. And break Ezekiel does. In becoming the prophet of God, Ezekiel becomes everything but himself.
He speaks as the voice of God.
He acts as the enemy of the people
He takes the sin and punishment of the people of Israel on himself.
He becomes a visible sign to the people of all that that they could not or would not say.
In chapter 3 Ezekiel is lifted up in the Spirit for a visionary encounter with the majesty of heaven. He sees the glory of Yahweh and hears the sound of an earthquake. And he says, “I went in bitterness and in the heat of my spirit, [but] the hand of Yahweh was strong upon me.” (3:14)
Is he a madman, driven by religious fervor? In some sense, yes.
And because of that, I feel a certain amount of pity for Ezekiel the man, cut off as he was from his homeland , from his intended career as a priest in the temple, from his own wife, and from his community. He was alone with his ravings and with his God. Ezekiel suffered for his faith.
So my pity is mixed with admiration and respect and esteem and gratitude.