17 August 2010Ezekiel 24:15-24
"Mortal, with one blow I am about to take away from you the delight of your eyes; yet you shall not mourn or weep, nor shall your tears run down." (v.16)
You may well find this passage shocking. How can one not mourn
the death of a partner? How can it be an act of God? We have to
think ourselves back into the attitudes of the time. A prophet
often got the message across by his own personal conduct, in this
case by not putting on a public show of mourning for his wife's
death. His grief is real but is to be kept hidden (see verse 17 -
"Sigh, but not aloud").
Ezekiel is among forced exiles, deportees, in Babylon (modern Iraq), grieving for their homeland, and above all for Jerusalem and its Temple, the focus of their faith. His message is that worse is to come: city and Temple will be destroyed. But they are not to treat it as disaster. They have brought it upon themselves because, as a people, they have not lived up to the religious and moral obligations of being God's chosen people.
Historically there were political and military factors involved in the defeat of Israel and the destruction of Jerusalem and its Temple, just as there were no doubt medical reasons for Ezekiel's wife's death, but everything is seen in terms of God's sovereign activity. Today we might wish to say that God was working through events that had other causes, rather than directly causing them.
When we take this passage in the context of other readings this week we can begin to see the underlying point. Until the people can recognise their own failings that have contributed to their downfall there is no possibility of renewal. Renewal does not mean simply returning to the ways of the past, but a new beginning.
To what extent is it right to see something that happens to us as an act of God?
In some cultures public demonstrations of grief are taken for granted, in others mourners are expected to grieve in private. What are the pros and cons of these customs?
Is it true that renewal can only come when we acknowledge our past mistakes? Why?