Saturday of week 5 of Lent – First Reading

Commentary on Ezekiel 37:21-28

“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.” (St Joseph Weekday Missal)

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

“I shall gather them together from everywhere and bring them home” a sentence which is echoed in the Gospel when John says that Jesus will die “not for the nation only, but to gather together in unity the scattered children of God”. They 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 will be their prince for ever and there shall be one shepherd for them all.” 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 chapter 34 where Yahweh says he will be a shepherd for his people (Ezek 34). 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.

“I shall make a covenant of peace with them, an eternal covenant… I shall set my sanctuary among them forever.” The phrase ‘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 is once again repeated: “I will be their God and they will be my people” – a pledge of mutual commitment. 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.

“The nations will know that I am Yahweh, the sanctifier of Israel, when my sanctuary is with them forever.” 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. “Surely you know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit lives in you” (1 Cor 3:16) and “Don’t you know that your body is the Temple of the Holy Spirit, who lives in you?” (1 Cor 6:19). Again, “And the bread we break: when we eat it, we are sharing in the body of Christ. Because there is the one loaf of bread, all of us, though many, are one body, for we all share the same loaf” (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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