“A third of the people will die by plague and famine; another third by the sword, and I will scatter the rest everywhere; these I will also pursue and pour out my anger on them.” These are God’s words which prompted Ezekiel to announce the destruction of a holy people. Do these also apply to the present crisis in the Church?
In many countries in a short time the Church has lost its imposing facade of well- attended temples and rituals, a practicing majority, a faithful clergy who were present everywhere, the security of unquestioned faith and the universal obedience to the center: Rome. All is collapsing. Many people hoped that the renewal begun at the Council would produce quick results. Yet, every day what seemed to promise a secure future is disappearing.
Other words from Ezekiel come to mind: “I will not allow you to be a people like the rest, rather I will rule over you by force. I will gather you from among the nations and I will confront you. You will be under my authority.” Could God be calling on des truc tive forces? Could God be the one breaking down the human structures we believed to be the Church? Of course, something will remain, a remnant as Ezekiel puts it. That is to say, those whose faith will have been purified through trial and in whom the Holy Spirit will act with more freedom.
What was just said is enough to help us understand the value of the Book of Ezekiel for today. He was God’s witness in the final years of the kingdom of Judah, though living among those exiled in Babylon.
We will surely be surprised at the language he attributes to God. He shows God as venting his resentment and jealousy by continually threatening his people and taking delight in their predicament and agony. Would it be possible, however, to speak about love without mentioning jealousy and violence?
We also find jealousy and violence when God comes to conquer a sinful people. The husband goes looking for his unfaithful wife among her lovers and brings her back by force. Ezekiel’s excessive words must not make us forget other pages of the Bible where God expresses himself tenderly, but we cannot ignore them either, under the pretext that God is a good daddy. We may have experienced in our own flesh the misery of the sinner challenging God. Ezekiel’s role was to express the bitterness of sin and the anger of God.
The Book of Ezekiel
Ezekiel may have been a young priest taken to Chaldea with the ten thousand exiles after the first siege of Jerusalem in 598 (see 2 K 24:14). There he was called by God as he tells us (chapters 1 and 2). The first part of his book (chapters 1–24) contains his discourses predicting the total destruction of his country.
After the prophecies against the foreign nations, we have the third part of the book, which contains the promises to the exiles: God does not want his people to die.
We know of races that have disappeared and of immigrants who forget their land because they found work in another country. In the same way the Jewish people might well have disappeared after the crisis in which Jerusalem was devastated. While they were in Babylon, exiled in a much more prosperous country, the older people yearned for their homeland, while the young thought only of taking advantage of their new situation. Ezekiel, with his challenging teaching, kept forming the consciences of those who, one day, would return to Judea to build the new kingdom of God (chapters 33–39).