The Lord Punishes, But He Also Restores!
Things go awry. It is not fate, rather it is always the result of decisions made, of infidelities, or prideful attitudes. The consequences are always painful. The loneliness and feelings of loss that arise from separation are some of the greatest sufferings we can experience in this life.
Ezekiel, who is the first prophet to be commissioned outside of Judah or Israel, is speaking to the Judahites who are in exile as a result of the rebellion of their king, Jehoiakim. Because of his rebellion, Nebuchadnezzar, the Babylonian king, was able to lay siege to Jerusalem. In conquering Jerusalem, Nebuchadnezzar deported the royal family and the upper class, including Ezekiel, to Babylon. In the early part of the book, Ezekiel argues that the people are responsible for the punishment of exile, which justifies the Lord’s destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple. In this part of the Book he argues another point. He is telling the exiled Judahites, who accept his preaching, that they are the people the Lord has chosen to be a new Israel, with a new heart. He is clear on one very important point throughout the text, that is: the Lord punishes those who transgress, but he also restores, and does so for one reason, for the sake of his name, to demonstrate that he is the Lord.
How many times have we rebelled and found ourselves on the outside, separated from all that is nourishing, life giving, and nurturing to us? This “rebellion” is not new to any of us. There is something in the fallen reality of the human heart, a tendency, that often demands an absolute autonomy from any and all constraints. It is a matter of pride, or as the Greeks called it, hubris. Some of us struggle more than others with this tendency. And because of this, we have come to know the pain of separation better than most. The real problem comes when we realize that our own suffering is the result of our own decisions, but refuse to accept the responsibility for them. It is a matter of character development, or moral maturity, or the lack thereof, that is at play here.
The kind of faith that God is calling us to reflect on here in this passage is a mature faith, a responsible faith. It is a level of faith that recognizes the paradox, that in submitting willingly to the will of God, by surrendering our will to his, we finally begin to be truly free. For it is in obeying his will that we are finally liberated from the foolish tyrant of the ego. It is selfishness and pride that enslave us to the lie and to the punishment of exile. In submitting to the will of God, we are freed up to love others without expecting anything in return. In our willing submission to the law of Love, we are no longer constrained by the negative law, rather, we become the law, the law of love. And love is the most liberating force in creation.
Lord, we pray that you forgive our foolish rebellions and call us back home from our exiles. Help us to submit to your law of love with “undivided hearts” and give us your promised grace of a “new spirit.” In this alone will we come to know true freedom, the freedom that you have created us in, for your name’s sake. You are the Lord and in accepting your will, with willing hearts, we will find the liberating peace our hearts desire. In your name we pray, Jesus. Amen!
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