Saturday of Week 5 of Lent – First Reading

Commentary on Ezekiel 37:21-28

About today’s First Reading, the St Joseph Weekday Missal says:

“The union of all tribes is a frequent element in messianic prophecy. God is to unite the nation in a new covenant in which there are five essential elements:

•Yahweh, its God;
•Israel, his people;
•Life, ‘on the land where their fathers lived’;
•‘My sanctuary among them’, as a sign of the presence of the Lord and law;
•David, as the one shepherd over them.”

The prophet foresees a time when the two divided kingdoms of the Jews (Israel or Ephraim and Judah, the Northern and Southern kingdoms) will be united forever into one, and when all those living abroad who belong to Israel will come back. This will be a feature of the Messianic age.

The reading says:

I will take the people of Israel from the nations among which they have gone and will gather them from every quarter and bring them to their own land.

This sentence is echoed in the Gospel when John says about the unwitting prophecy of the high priest Caiaphas:

…he prophesied that Jesus was about to die for the nation, and not for the nation only, but to gather into one the dispersed children of God. (John 11:51-52)

These will then will give up all their sinful ways and all forms of idolatry and abominations, with which they had been plagued for so many generations, and will be cleansed by God.

My servant David shall be king over them, and they shall all have one shepherd.

The coming Messianic ruler is called David because he will be a descendant of David and will achieve for Israel what David had – except more fully. He is likened to a shepherd, who cares for his flock, echoing where Yahweh says he will be the “shepherd of my sheep” (Ezek 34:14). We recognise Jesus in this ‘Messianic David’, and later Jesus will also call himself the Good Shepherd, protecting his own and looking for those who are lost.

The passage continues:

I will make a covenant of peace with them; it shall be an everlasting covenant with them, and I will…set my sanctuary among them forevermore.

The phrase “everlasting (or eternal) covenant” occurs 16 times in the Old Testament, referring to that made with Noah, with Abraham, with David, and a ‘new covenant’ made in Jeremiah (32:40).

The covenant formula, a pledge of mutual commitment, is once again repeated:

…I will be their God, and they shall be my people.

It is through Jesus, through the covenant signed by his blood on the cross, that the New Covenant will be ratified and is still in force. With one big difference – it extends now, not to one people or race, but to the whole world:

Then the nations shall know that I the Lord sanctify Israel, when my sanctuary is among them forevermore.

And that ‘sanctuary’ for us is the ongoing and visible presence of the Risen Lord, no longer identified with a building, but in his People, who are now his Body:

Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you? (1 Cor 3:16)

Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, which you have from God, and that you are not your own? (1 Cor 6:19)

The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a sharing in the blood of Christ? The bread that we break, is it not a sharing in the body of Christ? Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread.
(1 Cor 10:16-17)

And indeed, as today’s Gospel ends, it points to the coming Passover feast when the sacramental celebration of Jesus’ Pasch will be celebrated – that celebration by which we commemorate and make present the inauguration of the New Covenant on Calvary.

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