Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Ezekiel Part 1: God's Relationship With Israel

Alright, I promised you all a reflection on the book of Ezekiel. Here goes. This was a really challenging book for me, probably the toughest book I’ve ever read in the Bible (even harder than Revelation…and that’s saying something). It is hard to follow what God tells Ezekiel. One moment, He seems to condemn the Israelites and tell them that they will be destroyed forever, and the next moment, He says, “You will live in the land I gave your forefathers; you will be my people, and I will be your God” (Ezekiel 36:28). I am going to post two reflections on this book. Today I’ll attempt to explain God’s intentions for the Israelites.

Ezekiel - Sistine Chapel

God wants to punish the Israelites. However He has a reason for this. It can be summed up in one verse that appears slightly differently in numerous places in the book of Ezekiel. “You will suffer the penalty for your lewdness and bear the consequences of your sins of idolatry. Then you will know that I am the Sovereign LORD” (23:49). Thus, God, once again, wants to wake the Israelites up to the Truth. Unfortunately, it is not in the good times that people remember the Lord but in the bad ones. By punishing the Israelites through captivity by the Babylonians and Egyptians, God reminds the Jews that He cares about His people, that He desires a relationship with His people and is angered when He is forgotten and even insulted. Ezekiel’s message to Judah is shocking. Yes. But God has plans for the Jewish people and even the Gentiles. God’s anger does not last forever. “For I am God, and not man – the Holy One among you” (Hosea 11:9b). God wants to unite all people. “I will place over them one shepherd, my servant David; he will tend them and be their shepherd. I the LORD will be their God, and my servant David will be prince among them. I the LORD have spoken” (Ezekiel 34:23-24). And we all know who this new David is. Jesus Christ. In Ezekiel, God compares himself to a shepherd who is in charge of a flock of sheep. “I myself will tend my sheep and have them lie down, declares the Sovereign LORD. I will search for the lost and bring back the strays. I will bind up the injured and strengthen the weak, but the sleek and the strong I will destroy. I will shepherd the flock with justice” (34:15-16). Elsewhere God proclaims to the “wicked prince of Israel,” “Take off the turban, remove the crown. It will not be as it was: The lowly will be exalted and the exalted will be brought low (21:26). This proclamation is echoed in many places in the scriptures. Hannah sings, “[The LORD] raises the poor from the dust and lifts the needy from the ash heap; he seats them with princes and has them inherit a throne of honor” (1 Samuel 2:8). Mary echoes Hannah in her Magnificat: “He has brought down rulers from their thrones but has lifted up the humble. He has filled the hungry with good things but has sent the rich away empty” (Luke 1:52-53). God wants to show the Israelites the Truth. He wants them to see that life is a gift, a sacred gift. He is the Father, the One who gives the gifts, but He wants respect. Will we love God as He loves us? Or will we only recognize Him when it is too late?

Thursday, September 16, 2010

An Opportunity for Reconciliation Amongst Christians and Susan Boyle Singing

I must confess that in the past two weeks I have been at a loss for ideas for blog posts. I am in the process of reading the book of Ezekiel and I'll be the first to admit that it's really challenging. I hope to be able to post a reflection on some aspect of this book once I finish it (I'll be done in a few days). But right now I have a better idea. In the past few months I have really been looking forward to the pope's visit to the United Kingdom. What I've looked forward to the most is the ecumenical dialogues that this visit will spark. Catholics, Anglicans, and Scottish Episcopalians in particular will, I hope, get to know each other more, and I am truly excited about this. After all, in Europe especially,but in America as well, secularism and relativism are the two greatest threats to Christianity at the moment, and I trust that it will only get worse unless Christians unite, stop bickering, and stand up for the Truth together.

Early this afternoon, Pope Benedict celebrated mass at Bellahouston Park in Glasgow, Scotland. And guess who got to sing for the pope? Susan Boyle. I've posted here the link to the video of her performance for you to enjoy. Her voice is breathtaking and her claim to fame is even more so...quite a remarkable woman. Boyle sang I Dreamed a Dream (which made her famous on Britain's Got Talent) and How Great Thou Art.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Who do you say I am?

“Are you greater than our father Jacob, who gave us the well and drank from it himself, as did also his sons and his flocks and herds?” (John 4:12).

“Are you greater than our father Abraham? He died, and so did the prophets. Who do you think you are?” (8:53).

Jesus takes up the question and responds to it with another question. “Who do you say I am?” (Luke 9:20b). The disciples explain that “[s]ome say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, that one of the prophets of long ago has come back to life” (9:19). Certain Jews say, “Aren’t we right in saying that you are a Samaritan and demon-possessed?” (John 8:48). The crowd’s responses are diverse, but the question still remains. “Who do you say I am?”

In his book Jesus of Nazareth, Joseph Ratzinger (Pope Benedict XVI) describes a Rabbi’s quest to understand Jesus. Rabbi Jacob Neusner wrote a book called A Rabbi Talks with Jesus in which Neusner was one of the people listening to Jesus on the mount. Although Neusner was fascinated with Jesus for a time, he ultimately decides not to follow Jesus becomes he comes to the conclusion that Jesus claims to replace the Torah, to replace the Law. Jesus claims to be the same God that as a Jew Rabbi Neusner has been worshiping throughout his whole life. Neusner’s fidelity to his Jewish faith and to the Law that was given through Moses prevents him from accepting Jesus.

The Jews, recalling prophets in salvation history, cannot accept a carpenter’s son to be greater than the patriarchs. They find that Jesus’ claim to be greater than the Law, to be the giver of the Law in fact, cannot be reconciled with their Jewish faith; thus many choose, like Rabbi Neusner, not to follow him. And although Jesus repeatedly attempts to convince the Jews that the scriptures all point to his coming, many cannot take the leap of faith.

“Who do you say I am?” Peter responds, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God” (Matthew 16:16). Jesus also responds to his own question: “Before Abraham was born, I AM!” (John 8:58).

So, who do we say he is? That is the question. We must decide.