Proper 9 • Ezekiel 2:1–5 • July 8, 2012

“Thus says the Lord God” (Ez 2:4). Notice what is missing? (Ex 3:13–15; Ex 20:2) The Lord Yahweh does not identify himself as the God of Israel, “your God.” What the Lord will say through Ezekiel will not be easy for the people of Israel to hear. The Lord God’s words are intended to kill a rebellious people and drive them to repentance so that Israel might live (Ez 3:21). So it must also be for the modern hearer. They must hear what the Lord God says to them through Ezekiel.

Yet there is a significant challenge for the hearer in truly hearing this Word of God, especially falling as close as it does to Independence Day. On this political holiday, U.S. citizens are most prone to think of themselves as independent and voluntary actors in all facets of their lives, just like those, as it is mythically thought, who founded the country. This OT reading, on the other hand, manifests a people and prophet both bound by and to God. Israel is bound to be rebellious against God. They can’t help act otherwise (3:7). And Ezekiel is bound to deliver the Lord God’s Word to rebellious Israel, lest he die (3:4, 11, 18). The Lord God is in control, although we consider ourselves to be independent, voluntary actors.

Such independent thinking rears its ugly head in our hearing of this text. Often, baptized hearers immediately identify themselves with Ezekiel and his call (although one wonders, given the demands God places upon Ezekiel, why anyone would want to identify with his call). Yet God and Ezekiel’s intent is that the hearers identify themselves in the reading as Israel, rebellious child of God at that.

But first, what of this Israel, the chosen people of God? Israel is a “nation rebelling,” a house of rebellion![1] The ultimate point of this text is that Israel is a nation of rebels. (It is for this reason I would recommend expanding the pericope in reading and preaching to 2:7 or 3:3 so that a more complete account of Ezekiel’s commissioning to a rebellious nation might be proclaimed.) The covenant people of God actively disdain and reject the one true God, their God, the Lord Yahweh. Though counseled not to be afraid of this rebellious house and their scornful looks (3:6), Ezekiel is to speak God’s words to them whether they hear or refuse to hear.

In this light it must be remembered that Ezekiel’s words are first addressed to Israel, God’s covenant people. Most of us are gentiles, not the firstborn of the house of Israel. Yet this reading is not even about them. It is about Ezekiel and his call to go to Israel. So the preacher must proclaim this text with Ezekiel and Jesus, the final fulfillment of the prophetic vocation, at the center. The Gospel reading for this Sunday, Mark 6:1–13, makes this application of the Ezekiel reading clear. Jesus comes to his hometown of Nazareth to teach. They take offense at him, and Jesus marvels because of their unbelief, their unwillingness to hear God’s Word, their rebellion. What Ezekiel will experience in Israel’s unwillingness to hear is multiplied in spades in the rebellion against the Son of Man, Christ Jesus. Liturgically, the coupling of this Old Testament reading with this Gospel reading represents in liturgical narrative form the story of the parable of the tenants that Jesus will tell in Mark 12:1–12 (which unfortunately is omitted from series B of the three-year lectionary). The prophet Ezekiel is rejected and so is Jesus, the son of Man, God’s Son.

And we have seen the rebels…and they are us! As gentile rebels, we are already identified with the rebellious house of Israel. How then do we become the house of Israel that God claims for himself? We become Israel through the Word of God that is proclaimed in the name of Jesus to the gentiles as well (Acts 10:34–11:1). Even gentiles who war against God can be put to death—just as the rebellious house of Israel is—turn from their rebellious ways, trust in God and his Son, and be brought to new life in him. We gentiles become rebellious Israel through the cross of Jesus and are raised as part of the new Israel through the resurrection of Jesus. In hearing and believing in this Word of God in baptism, hard-hearted gentiles hear Ezekiel’s word, and their hearts are turned from stone to living hearts. Thus, the preacher must preach so that rebel gentiles return to the word in their baptism and become once again the new Israel of God. (The hymn, “As Rebels, Lord, Who Foolishly Have Wandered,” [LSB 612] captures the journey of rebellious Israel well.)

The proclamation of the word didn’t stop for Ezekiel with prophesying it. He was commanded by the Lord God to literally eat the scroll with God’s Word upon it (2:8–3:3). So Jesus also drank the cup (Mk 10:38) of lamentation and moaning and woe (Ez 2:10) that comes from the rebellion of Israel. And in exchange all of Israel receives a cup of blessing and the bread of life. The preacher can proclaim that the hearer likewise participates in the Word by inwardly digesting it in the supper of Christ’s body and blood. Ezekiel’s word of woe and life in Christ Jesus becomes part of the very being of the baptized. Then they receive Ezekiel’s mantle through Christ and proclaim, “Thus says the Lord God,” to the world, whether they hear or refuse to hear.

Endnote
[1] Horace D. Hummel, Ezekiel 1–20, Concordia Commentary Series (St. Louis: CPH, 2005), 76–77, 84–86.

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