Thursday, October 25, 2012

Daily Bible Reading: Ezekiel 14-15 and John 12:27-50

Ezekiel 14 – Ezekiel is visited by the Elders of the people, but he is called to testify against them because they have “enshrined idols in their own hearts” (14:3) and have not been faithful. Ezekiel is to tell them this in no uncertain terms, and Ezekiel “hopes to touch the heart of the House of Israel who have deserted me in favor of a pack of idols” (14:5).

Come back, he urges. But the retribution God plans will not touch the holy ones – those like Noah or Daniel or Job – who are steadfast. But these holy ones will not cast an umbrella of safety over others as the ten innocent ones did in the story of Sodom and Gomorrah.

I find two things interesting in this chapter. One is that it holds that individuals may be rescued from the just wrath of God by their “works” – especially by the integrity in which their works are rooted. And two is the inward opening I felt to consider that one of the “idols” we in our day may be guilty of is the sense of certainty we have about our brand of religion. I am thinking a lot about this these days. The people of God’s creation certainly have deserted the unity of the faithful community in favor of a “pack of idols” (14:5) – separate understandings and sets of certainties they embrace rather than the simple “closeness” God expected “in the beginning.”

Ezekiel 15 – God’s word comes to Ezekiel in a short poem:

“Son of man, how is the wood of the vine [the chosen people] better
than wood from the branch of a forest tree [everyone else]?
. . .
There it is, thrown on the fire for fuel.
The fire burns off both ends [Samaria – then Jerusalem]
The middle is charred; is it fit for carving now?
. . .
As the wood of the vine among the forest trees,
Which I have thrown on the fire for fuel,
So have I treated the citizens of Jerusalem.
I have turned my face against them” (15:2-7).

This is a very short chapter that says pretty much the same thing that is said in 14 but by comparing Israel to the wood of a vine – equally unworkable before and after being charred by the fire – there is not much optimism here.

John 12:27-50 – Jesus’ “hour” – the time of his sacrificial death is drawing close. Jesus becomes very troubled. Should he ask his Father to save him? “No, it is for this reason that I have come to this hour” (12:27). People around him hear thunder and wonder if it is an angel speaking to him. Jesus tells them the voice has come for their sake, not his. “Now sentence is being passed on this world; now the prince of this world is to be overthrown. And when I am lifted up from the earth, I shall draw all men to myself” (12:32).

Passages like this about Jesus drawing all people to himself always draws my mind to a great poem I learned when I lived in Germany after finishing college back in 1968-1969. I actually learned it in German, so this translation is actually new to me. It is Goethe’s “Mahomet’s Gesang” (Mohammed’s Song). Goethe apparently was drawn to Islam, and may have converted to Islam at some point in his life, but the language draws my mind to Christ. He is the stream of life-giving water in whom we flow to the Father. He is the one whose outstretched arms await us so that he can draw us all to him:

See the water gushing from the rock,
Joyfully bright
Like a star
Above the clouds
Gentle spirits nurture his youth
Amidst crags and shrubs.

Fresh with youth
He dances from the clouds
Onto the marble stones below
Rejoicing, splashes back
Toward heaven.

Through paths at the summit,
He chases after the bright pebbles
And leads his brother streamlets forth
With him.

Below in the valley
Flowers bloom
Under his steps
And the meadow lives
From his breath.

But no shaded valley,
No flowers
That wrap around his knees
And flatter him with loving eyes
Can stop him:
Towards the plain he presses on
Winding like a snake.

Streams of water come together
And now he steps out
Onto the plain – sparkling silver.
And the plain sparkles with him
And the rivers of the plain
And the streams from the mountains
Shout to him and call, “Brother!

Brother, take your brothers with you,
With you to your ancient father,
The eternal ocean,
Who with outstretched arms
Waits for us,
Arms that open, ah, in vain
To grasp us who long for him.
For we alas are devoured in the empty wasteland
By greedy sands; the sun above
Sucks our blood; a hill
Dams us up in stagnant pools. Brother,
Take your brothers from the plains
Take your brothers from the mountains
With you to your father!”

“Come all of you!”
And now he rushes resplendent –
A whole people
Lift their prince on high!
And in rolling triumph
He gives lands their names,
Cities are born under his feet.

Unstoppable, he presses on
Leaving behind him tall spires gleaming
In the sun,
Marble cathedrals,
Created from his fullness.

Cedar ships Atlas bears on his shoulders;
Blowing in the wind above him
A thousand flags
Witnesses of his glory.

So, with joyful winds, he carries his brothers, 
His treasures--his children--
With him
To our expectant creator, with thundering
Joy in his heart.

The people wonder how he can think he is going to die. If he is the Messiah, they believe he will remain with them forever (12:34). But Jesus tells them that the “light will be with you only a little longer now. Walk while you have the light, or the dark will overtake you” (12:35).

After this Jesus hides from everyone. It says people could not believe in him because God blinded their eyes and hardened their hearts (quoting Isaiah). Still many do believe in him, even important people in positions of authority. “But because of the Pharisees they did not confess it, for fear that they would be put out of the synagogue; for they loved human glory more than the glory that comes from God” (12:43.)

“Whoever believes in me believes not in me but in him who sent me. And whoever sees me sees him who sent me” (12:44-45).

“The one who rejects me and does not receive my word has a judge; on the last day the word that I have spoken will serve as judge” (12:48).

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