Wednesday of week 19 of Ordinary Time – First Reading

Commentary on Ezek 9:1-7; 10:18-22

The reading is in two parts:

1, Slaughter of idolaters (9:1ff); and 2, God’s glory leaves the Temple (10:1ff).  It is another apocalyptic-style account using very symbolic language in which God’s punishment comes on all those who have sinned.

As Ezekiel listens there comes the thundering voice of God. He is calling on the “scourges of the city”, that is, those who are to inflict punishment on wrongdoers.

Immediately six men are seen coming from the gate on the north side of Jerusalem, each one armed with a deadly weapon, a war club or a battle-axe. In their midst is another man, dressed in white and with a scribe’s ink horn in his belt. Clearly the latter is the one who keeps a record of people’s doings. These are the six guardian angels of the city with the seventh dressed in linen. They correspond to the seven angels of the judgement in the Book of Revelation (Rev 8:2,6).

They stop in front of the bronze altar in the Temple. Now the glory of the Lord, traditionally understood as seated on the cherubim (in the Holy of Holies), moves towards the Temple threshold. God is leaving the Temple.

He gives instructions to the man in white. He is to put a mark on the foreheads of all those who deplore the idolatrous practices that are going on. These are the faithful remnant of God’s people. The mark was a taw, the last letter of the Hebrew alphabet, which looks like an “x” (and so translated here as “cross”). The rest were to be mercilessly struck down. (The text does not indicate that anyone was, in fact, found worthy to be marked with a taw but it would indicate the remnant that was spared to return from exile.)

Ezekiel is pre-eminently the prophet of personal and individual retribution. The innocent inhabitants of Jerusalem are to be spared while those guilty of idolatry are punished. With other prophets, the whole community, the innocent along with the guilty, may be punished.

The punishment begins right at the entrance to the Temple where God’s people are and begins with the eldest and excludes none – old men, youths and maidens, women and children. The Temple is to become defiled with the corpses of people who are unclean. It does not matter because Yahweh is no longer there.

In the second part of the reading, Yahweh leaves his sanctuary. Riding as usual on the cherubim, he leaves the Temple by the east gate. The east gate was the main ceremonial entrance into the temple and was also known as “the gate of the Lord”. It overlooked the Kedron valley towards the Mount of Olives.

Now Yahweh has left Jerusalem and the Temple. In the final verse (not part of our reading) we are told that “the glory of the Lord rose from the city and took a stand on the mountain which is to the east of the city”.

For us Christians, God is never confined to one place. He is everywhere and we are urged to seek and find him in all things. We do not seek him in a temple. On the contrary, we are called to be his temple, the place where he is present. However, we can expel him from our hearts and bring ruin on ourselves just as the people of Jerusalem did.

The choice is ours.

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