Monday of week 20 of Ordinary Time – First Reading


Commentary on Ezek 24:15-24The death of the prophet’s wife becomes a symbol of how the people are to respond to the loss of their Temple.

God warns Ezekiel that he is going to lose his wife, the “delight of [his] eyes”, through sudden illness and death. She would be taken away by a “sudden blow”, some swiftly fatal disease, perhaps some form of plague.

However, when it happens, Ezekiel is to display none of the traditional forms of mourning but is to suffer his loss privately. He is not to mourn or weep. He is to groan in the silence of his own heart, not to lament the dead. He is to keep his turban fastened; it was normal for the mourner to uncover his head and put dust on it. He is to keep his sandals on and not to cover his beard (a gesture of shame or uncleanness). Nor is he to eat the customary bread, perhaps referring to a funeral meal in which neighbours would take part as an expression of sympathy and commiseration.

That very evening his wife died and Ezekiel told the people what he had been instructed to do. Not surprisingly, the people wanted to know the meaning of this rather unusual and unfeeling behaviour. Ezekiel then passes on the message that God had given him for the people.

The beloved sanctuary of God, the Temple, “the delight of your eyes” and “the passion of your souls”, is about to be desecrated, that is, burnt down by Nebuchadnezzar. When it happens, the people are to do what Ezekiel did after the death of his wife. Not that the citizens of Jerusalem are forbidden to lament their sins, but that there will simply be no time for mourning; the catastrophe will be too sudden and cataclysmic. Many, in fact, will simply be cut down by the Babylonian invaders. It will be the punishment for the people’s immorality and idolatries.

Ezekiel and his behaviour over the death of his wife is to be a sign for the people. “All that he did, you shall do when it happens.”

It is not the Temple they are to mourn for but for themselves and their failure to recognise that Yahweh is Lord. The loss of a building is something far less significant than the loss of their own integrity and wholeness.

Obviously, there is no teaching here to discourage people from mourning the loss of loved ones. Rather, the lesson is that we can become so focused on the loss of others that we fail to see  how much should be mourned in our own lives because of our constant failure in our relationships with God and the living neighbour.

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