BY THE RIVERS OF BABYLON
“Good morning, uncle! How did you sleep last night?” asked Buziah.
“The heavens were opened, and I saw visions of God!” answered Ezekiel.
Buziah was stunned. It was not the answer he was looking for. “Maybe it was something you ate?” he tried again.
“You of all people, nephew, should not be surprised,” he countered. “After all, we have been settled here for several years now and living quite comfortably while Jerusalem is ready for the slaughter.”
“We are only doing what Jeremiah advised,” Buziah said.
At that moment Hazakiel approached, “Buzi, did you hear any more news about Jerusalem?” he asked.
“No, Hazak,” he turned to his friend. “I was just commenting with my uncle on how well things have gone here at Tel-abib.”
“I was hoping that you had news from your friend Hilkiah from Jerusalem,” Hazakiel looked to Ezekiel with hope.
Ezekiel looked at Hazakiel with interest, “Hilkiah? That’s Jeremiah’s nephew.”
“My uncle had a dream last night,” Buziah said with awe.
“Buzi, my nephew,” he said looking at the both of them, “I saw Yahweh enthroned within the Holy of Holies of the Temple. The wings of the guardian cherubim stretched out protectively over the throne-seat made of sapphire!”
“Father, Ezekiel,” Hazakiel with eyes wide asked, “the Temple of Jerusalem?”
“Yes, Hazak, and this crystal platform carried by the winged cherubs were leaving Jerusalem and heading this way to the exiles here in Babylon!”
“Uncle,” Buziah exclaimed, “Yahweh is leaving Jerusalem?”
“The holy God, whom Israel had worshipped in the Temple at Jerusalem, is coming to the people in exile!” Ezekiel revealed. “The Lord God told me to speak to this nation of rebels, a people impudent and stubborn and who were in revolt against his sovereignty from the very first.”
“But father Ezekiel,” Hazak implored, “Will not the Lord God save Jerusalem as before?”
“This is the message I am to bring to his people in exile,” Ezekiel said, “whether they listen or not, they will know that a prophet is among them.”
Buziah and Hazak were both stunned, not knowing what to say.
“And then the hand of Yahweh, holding a scroll, stretched out to me and said, “Eat, son of man. So, I ate the scroll, and it was sweet as honey.”
Ezekiel was among the ten thousand elite of Jerusalem who were deported to Babylon in 598, some twelve years before Jerusalem’s final fall and destruction. That makes him a contemporary of Jeremiah. It was not in Jerusalem, however, that he received his prophetic call, but on the banks of the Chebar in Babylon. There he began a mission among his fellow deportees strikingly similar in certain respects to that of Jeremiah.
The book of Ezekiel is made up almost entirely of prophetic first-person reports and nothing else! The prophet’s own house, it seems, became the place where his oracles were shared with whomever came to listen. He was among those in Jerusalem who were taken captive and brough to Babylon during the exile of King Jehoiachin. At the time of this prophetic call this was the fifth year of this captivity. This means that only five years earlier Ezekiel had been among all the nobles and all the notables of Jerusalem, or more specifically, among the priestly elite of that city.
As background to Ezekiel’s visions, where he sees the glory of Yahweh departing from the temple and being revealed to him in the skies over Babylon, one needs to pay special attention to the priestly concept of “glory” (havod). As the priestly circles in Jerusalem understood it, not just Yahweh’s name dwelt in the temple but Yahweh’s glory, a divine radiance or essence.
Only when we have begun to realize how deeply rooted Ezekiel was in the priestly traditions of Jerusalem can we begin to appreciate what it must have meant for him to be uprooted from the temple there and taken a thousand miles away to the banks of the Chebar on the outskirts of Babylon.
That Ezekiel knew of Jeremiah is worth remembering as we turn to Ezekiel’s vivid account of his prophetic call. Note the reference here to visions from God. What he is attempting to describe for us in this text is not something he actually saw, although an all too real thunderstorm may have been a factor. The four living creatures he saw in this vision are described from below upward, with their wings bearing aloft a cosmic dome representing the sky, upon which there was the form of a sapphire throne and seated on it one having the appearance of a human being. In other words, in this awe-inspiring vision he was made aware of the presence of that very same divine reality that he as priest had believed was uniquely present at the temple in Jerusalem.
At this point, he was told to eat something Yahweh was giving him, and upon looking to see what it was, he saw a hand reaching down form the sky with a scroll that when unrolled was observed to be written all over with lamentation, dirges, and cries of grief. It was implied that this scroll contains the message that he, Ezekiel, must now bring to the people.
It will be remembered that in Jehoiakim’s fifth year Jeremiah had had just such a scroll read at this temple, and that on that occasion this scroll was callously cut to pieces and burned. It is not hard to imagine that Ezekiel, at the time himself a member of the Jerusalem temple hierarchy, would have been present on these occasions and perhaps even participated in the persecution of this prophet.
Ezekiel like Paul underwent a traumatic conversion and joined the ranks of those who now believed that Jerusalem was not indestructible after all.
VIRGINITY OF MARY BY THE RIVERS OF BABYLON
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15th Sunday OT
Amos 7:12-15/ Mark 6:7-13
It is generally recognized that Amos was the first of the Israelite prophets whose words were assembled in a scroll, (that was their form of a book back then), although three others, Hosea, Isaiah, and Micah were his near contemporaries.
He was a herdsman and dresser of sycamores. In Hebrew, herdsman means ‘sheep-master’ and refers to owners and managers of a special kind of dwarfed sheep famous for its wool. He may have been one of the more substantial men of his region. He also lived in a strategically located fortified walled village that had strong ties to Jerusalem administratively and defensively. A series of these fortified cities were built by Solomon.
Amos, the prophet, had a series of visions. One vision was a military invasion that would soon sweep through the land. In another vision Israel was likened to a basket of rotting fruit, ripe for destruction. But seldom was a prophet so out of step with his times. Not since the days of king David had Israel been as powerful or prosperous as right then. From archaeological evidence of the north-Galilean city of Hazor there was an earthquake which Amos mentions and that dates him to the year 760 BC, in the middle years of the long and exceptionally prosperous reigns of these kings of Israel and Judah.
Amos asked why Yahweh was allowing this to happen. Because there was no justice nor uprightness at the gate, where the elders usually held court. Also, the elite were confident that Yahweh was with them and that Yahweh, being who he is, would one day act to bring them as a people to a position of unprecedented preeminence over all others. But Amos called this complacent theology. He also abhorred the practices in the Northern Temple at Bethel against the solemn assemblies and its transparency because it distracts from doing what is really important, like letting justice flow like water and uprightness like a never-failing stream. In other words, their Liturgy was great but their Social Justice stunk!
Because Amos was from the Kingdom of Judah in the South, he was sent to the Kingdom of Israel in the North to prophesy by Yahweh, but they told him to shut-up and go back to the south where you belong and preach there!
In today’s gospel, Jesus sends us out, like his disciples, to preach the gospel through our good actions and words – to our families and friends and to our workplaces. We are also expected to speak out in his behalf when we see injustice against our neighbor. And there will be people who will tell us to shut-up, maybe even to go back where we came from.
After the elections in Kenya there was violence when I lived there at the time. The horrible news began to filter back through reputable witnesses of killings and revenge. One of our brothers came back with news from his home that the local catechist of his parish was killed simply because he was from another tribe. At the funeral, the Priest begged the people to remain calm and not seek vengeance. At one point he finally gave up. He removed his shoes and shook off the dust and got back in his car and left, refusing to continue with the burial. It is a wonder that they did not kill him.
How do we walk the fine balance between the commitments to our faith and to our country? It isn’t easy, and without a serious prayer life and strong faith community one can almost predict where a person’s commitment will be when political lines start to be drawn. The disciples in today’s gospel were at the beginning of their first successful mission to the people of God. Today, the challenges to our faith are more subtle and difficult to discern let alone how to act. None-the-less, we are asked to go forward with the Lord and do the best we can.
We know what happened to the Northern Kingdom of Israel when it fell to Assyria in 721 BC, they disappeared but some were scattered, called the Diaspora. We know what happened to the Southern Kingdom of Judah when it fell to the Babylonians in 857 BC, they disappeared, and some were scattered. We know what happened to Israel when it fell to the Romans in 64 AD, they were scattered. We do know Christianity survived and even spread, especially through the many examples of the witnesses who gave their lives for their faith.
We are blessed with a diverse and welcoming SFdS Faith Community where people come to worship not because it is the local parish but because they choose to come here from many zip codes to be part of this community. May the Lord continue to bless us and help us on our paths as we support each other during the good times and bad. May we allow ourselves to be sent by the Lord to whoever and wherever he chooses and may our Social Justice Programs thrive!!!
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