Very seldom in the gospels do we read about Jesus preaching in a synagogue. We can easily imagine the expectations of the audience in a synagogue. Likewise, we can understand why Jesus never connected with such audiences.
When Jesus was in his home region, people were always suspicious of him; they questioned his wisdom and the power he showed in miracles. He was always without honour among his closest acquaintances where he grew up.
In today’s first reading, Ezekiel almost anticipates Jesus’ experience six centuries earlier, throwing light on the person and mission of Jesus as well as on Christians’ mission and role at this juncture of history in which we live.
Ezekiel ministered with his people at a time of discontinuity, before and after the Babylonian exile of God’s people. And Jesus was inaugurating with his own life and mission a time of discontinuity in Israel’s religious history. We too seem to live in times marked with discontinuity from the perspective of religion. But while Ezekiel was wise enough to anticipate what was about to happen with the exilic experience, and Jesus was preparing the people for the changes about to happen, we are still in denial about the radical changes that demand a rethinking of our way of proclaiming the faith and connecting with people where they are and with their needs where God is concerned.
Our ministry is still robed in conventional religion and so there is rejection and people are leaving. In such circumstances, it is easy to blame culture and society and the changes that, we claim, have impacted so much on the lives of individuals to the extent that many are estranged from religion and Church life. But the issue is not that society has changed, but rather that we as a Church have not changed. We continue to perpetuate the faith and religion as anachronisms, relics of times past.
Ezekiel’s perception of reality enabled him to make a deep, anguished assessment of his people’s situation. He was aware from the beginning that he was sent to a people who were “defiant and obstinate” and was assured that “whether they listen or not, this set of rebels shall know that there is a prophet among them”.
Ezekiel at first harshly criticised Jerusalem; he announced its destruction and that God’s presence will depart the city. But later he helped the people make the transition and receive the newness of God and perceive new historical possibilities. This is what made him a prophet – that he was wise enough to manage change.
The key to Ezekiel’s proclamation is that God cannot be trivialised and taken for granted. This is important for us today when, paradoxically, the ‘religious’ world around us is collapsing, yet we continue to perpetuate a religious facade. The rejection of Ezekiel, of Jesus, and today of much of what we say as Christians is a rejection that should open our eyes to the fact that, as Walter Brueggemann writes, God is not trapped in any of the places prepared to house God.
The issue today is not that people are becoming non-believers, but that it is unclear what we believe in, at least from the way we project our religion. Our way of measuring people’s beliefs discloses not a concern for the people but for institutional survival. The institution of religion and our models of the Church must sometimes end in ruins to make way for something new that comes from God. This was the pattern followed in Ezekiel’s time, when the exile questioned people’s beliefs, in Jesus’ time, when people’s beliefs were sterile religious practices.
The same pattern is evolving today. Yet we still risk proclaiming a God not worth believing in, given all that impacts on the way we live and all that is on offer to refill our deepest desires.
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