Tuesday of Week 4 of Lent – First Reading

Commentary on Ezekiel 47:1-9,12

About today’s passage from Ezekiel, the Vatican II Missal states:

“In the Middle East, desert land was commonplace and water all-important. Water was a symbol of God’s saving grace. The prophet Ezekiel described a future idealised Temple, the source of deepening waters and fertile abundance.”

A marvellous river, flowing out from under the Temple, is a manifestation of the blessings conferred on the land by Yahweh’s return to live among his people. It is linked in today’s Gospel with the healing of the man who was waiting for the waters of the ‘Sheep Pool’ to move.

The First Reading describes an ever-increasing stream of water flowing out from the Temple. It is to be understood as a healing, life-giving water. And, in the background, there is the image of the river flowing through the Garden of Eden, a symbol of the life that God gives to all creation. In the world of the Middle East, a world of parched deserts, water signifies great blessings, just as dryness and drought signify a curse.

Although not fed by any tributaries, the river continues to increase remarkably, until it is too deep to wade across. The banks of the river are seen to have an abundance of trees, again reminiscent of the fertility of Eden (Gen 2:9). The river flows on into the deep depression that marks the course of the River Jordan and into the Dead Sea, so named because its high salt level makes life impossible. But it is to be understood that the river will make the Dead Sea’s waters wholesome. Literally, the angel says that the river will ‘heal’ the waters of the Sea:

…when it enters the sea, the sea of stagnant waters, the water will become fresh.

That this lowest (1,300 feet below sea level) and incredibly salty (about 35 percent) body of water should be able to sustain such an abundance of life indicates the wonderful renewing power of this “river of the water of life” (Rev 22:1).

The prophet says:

…there will be very many fish once these waters reach there. It will become fresh, and everything will live where the river goes.

Here we have the image of miraculous water flowing from the Temple and conferring a marvellous fertility. The power of the water is such that, as it flows into the Dead Sea where nothing can live because of its saltiness, the sea flourishes with fish, and fruit trees of every kind grow along its shores. There are overtones of the creation of the teeming waters in the Creation story (Gen 1:20-21). Ezekiel writes:

Wherever the river goes…everything will live…

In the context of the Gospel, this water is the Life that Jesus gives:

…whoever believes in me will never be thirsty. (John 6:35)

Truly, this is a symbol of the kind of life that God wishes us to share with him. Jesus says:

I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.
(John 10:10)

Let us during this Lenten season experience the healing power of Jesus, a healing power which was initiated at our Baptism, but which needs to continue for as long as we live.

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