Heart Transplant – Thursday, 20th week in ordinary time – Ezekiel 36:23-28
We are still reflecting on the oracles of restoration that are found in Ezekiel chapters 33-39. This section is dedicated to the oracles that pertain to the land and the people and this chapter in particular focuses on the restoration of the community that live in the land.
We are also looking at the highpoint of Ezekiel’s theology of salvation and justification. This theology is based solely on the fact that it is God’s grace and his grace alone that saves us. The words of Ezekiel are similar to the words of his predecessor, the prophet Jeremiah, who echoes similar words in Jeremiah 31:31-34.
Our focal verses (24-28) are midway through an oracle which begins in 36:16 and ends in 36:38. The opening verses of the oracle provide a history of the house of Israel focused on their misdeeds. They are reminded of their past and their disobedience, but the prophecy does not end there. Despite these actions and precisely because of God’s concern for God’s holy name, God will act now to rescue them.
God begins by reminding the Israelites that He has been perceived as ‘ineffective’ in the eyes of the nations because of the wickedness of his people. It was Israel that provoked God’s hands and forced them into exile. Now, the scattering of the Jews among the nations gave the impression that God could not protect his people. What has been undone by the Israelites by their action can only be restored by God so that seeing the actions of God the nations may recognise and glorify the one true God.
I guess the same can be said of every Christian, who by their behaviour, desecrates the holy name of God. Sanctifying and glorifying the name (person and power) of God is what God’s people are called to do, a fact made evident in the Lord’s Prayer: “hallowed by Thy Name.” Think about it; we are the only Jesus some may ever see; what if our actions bring scandal to the Church and to the name of God?
This restoration that God has planned, involves a gathering of his people scattered among the nations. From our ‘sinful lands’ from the ‘flesh pots of Egypt’ that we have created for ourself, God will pluck us out. The focus is on HIS GRACE not OUR MERIT. When Ezekiel first gave this prophecy, Israel was practically desolate and her people were exiled. God promised to not only bring back His people from the Babylonian captivity, but also promised a greater and more complete gathering to come. God didn’t give them the land because of their righteousness (Deuteronomy 9:6) and He won’t restore the land because of anything good they have done. God in His grace, gives us what we don’t deserve.
The book of Ezekiel contends that the exile is a punishment for the people’s corruption. It is for this reason they are in need of purification. By a simple ritual action of sprinkling clean water, he will cleanse them from former ways; of lives steeped in sin and idolatry. Finally, he will give his people, his once rebellious people, a new heart and a new spirit. By this, he will replace their hearts of stone with hearts of flesh. Notice that they don’t need a spiritual heart; they need a beating heart, a working heart. This is the spiritual transformation promised in the new covenant. Instead of the law working from the outside in, God promised a new heart to work from the inside out.
For the Jews, the ‘heart’ was the seat of thinking and loving while. So, in giving them a ‘new heart’ God was giving them a new way of looking at life, not from their point of view but from God’s point of view. But it was also a ‘new spirit’ that they were to get. The new spirit is the power to live as an entire nation, not just as individuals living in a nation.
The people will be transformed through heart surgery and renew their covenantal relationship with God. Ezekiel uses the language of Exodus (and Jeremiah) to explain this bond: “you shall be my people, and I will be your God.”