Tuesday of Week 19 of Ordinary Time – First Reading

Commentary on Ezekiel 2:8—3:4

The reading, at first sight, describes a strange apocalyptic vision, but its meaning is clear. The vision of the chariot of Yahweh is interrupted by the vision of the scroll or book, of which we read just a part today. This vision was probably Ezekiel’s first in which, like Jeremiah and Isaiah, he is called to be God’s spokesperson.

God speaks to Ezekiel and calls him ‘son of man’.* This is a phrase in the Old Testament peculiar to Ezekiel (with the exception of two instances in the prophet Daniel). It is used 93 times altogether in Ezekiel and its purpose is to emphasise the great gap between a transcendent God and the human being. But in Daniel it takes on a messianic meaning, taken up later by Jesus, who refers to himself several times as ‘the’ (not ‘a’) “Son of Man”.

Ezekiel is first called on to listen carefully to what God has to say. In this he is not to be like the people who are rebellious and disobedient:

But you, mortal [son of man], hear what I say to you; do not be rebellious like that rebellious house…

The prophet is then to open his mouth and eat what is given him. A hand then reaches out a scroll for the prophet to eat. Unlike most ancient scrolls, it is written on both sides. The implication is that it is totally filled with God’s word and God’s judgement on his people.

The scroll was filled with “words of lamentation and mourning and woe”. Like Jeremiah, Ezekiel’s mission was first to communicate God’s displeasure with his people and to warn them of the sufferings they would endure as the result of their faithlessness. Later on, again like Jeremiah, he will preach a message of hope.

Following the Lord’s instructions, Ezekiel eats the scroll, whose contents he is to share with the people of Israel. When he was being called by Yahweh, the mouth of Isaiah had been touched by a seraph. In the case of Jeremiah, Yahweh had put his words into the prophet’s mouth. Here Ezekiel uses an even more graphic image of how God’s word becomes part of him.

In spite of its content, Ezekiel found the scroll:

…in my mouth it was as sweet as honey.

However bitter their content, the word of God is always sweet to the taste. Because God’s word is always spoken with love and with the well-being of the recipient in mind.

Ezekiel is then instructed to go to the people and to speak Yahweh’s words to them – the words that were on the scroll and which have been fully assimilated by the prophet.

The scene represents Ezekiel’s calling to be a prophet and to speak in God’s name. The eating of the scroll is a symbol of Ezekiel totally absorbing and assimilating into himself the word of God. It will literally become part of him.

We will find a similar image later in the Gospel in the famous chapter 6 of John where Jesus calls himself the Bread of Life:

Whoever eats of this bread will live forever, and the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh. (John 6:51)

To eat that Bread is to take into oneself the very Spirit of Christ and be fully united with him in his Risen Body, the Church. The image of eating a scroll will also appear in the Book of Revelation (Rev 10:1-11).

The Word of God that comes to us through Jesus Christ is not just a set of ideas to be known or even defended. It is a vision of life that we need to absorb into our very being so that it colours and is behind everything we say and do. It results in our being able to say, as Paul did:

…it is no longer I who live, but it is Christ who lives in me.
(Gal 2:20)

And we also need to remember the Eucharistic element in the Liturgy of the Word. The Word of God which is proclaimed to us is meant to be ‘eaten’ and totally assimilated. There is a real presence of Christ there. He is speaks to us through it, but are we listening? This part of our liturgy is so often seen as of less importance…it is not.

*”Son of Man” is translated as “Mortal” in the NRSVue Bible, but the interpretation is the same.

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