Most people are not very knowledgeable about Israel’s history,
nor can they name the great king’s who ruled and misruled. But, I
bet even these non-Bible readers can name at least a few of the
prophets. The prophets have made their mark on the formation of
God’s people through the centuries, right up to the present time.
Today’s first reading narrates the call of the great prophet
Ezekiel. Four times he tells about the occasions when God called
him. All of these accounts tell of how God is sending him to preach
to the hardhearted and rebellious Israelites. On our own we humans
are not up to the important, and sometimes, life-threatening task of
prophesying. But God’s call to Ezekiel and to the other prophets
always includes help – big help! – the gift of God’s Spirit. Ezekiel
tells with wonder of the moment when God gifted him: "the Spirit
entered me and set me on my feet."
He’s not just talking about standing upright, is he? A prophet in
any age, including our own, also needs the same life-giving and
fortifying spirit Ezekiel received – to stand us up on our feet.
When we are called upon to speak up for: the rights of others,
conformity to God’s law and comfort for the afflicted, we need help,
lest our own spirit shrink from the task. Being a prophet, even in
the confines of our homes, workplace, church community, or civil
setting, is a risky and, some would say, a foolish business. People
don’t like to change their ways of acting and thinking and they
don’t like the one calling them to make those changes. Which takes
us to today’s gospel.
As I drive around our Texas roads and highways I see bumper
stickers that say, "My boss is a Jewish carpenter"; church bulletin
boards read, "Jesus saves!" Large billboards along the roads invoke
the name of Jesus and make promises to those who believe in him.
People all know something about Jesus; his reputation for cures, and
his wise sayings. Statues and paintings depict him in both private
and public places.
It seems good that the one who was sent from God and was
God-in-flesh is so much a part of our lives. We have many reminders
of him. But there is a way he can be everywhere, but nowhere.
Familiarity can breathe indifference. He can be so present that he
just fits comfortably into the background of our lives, like
wallpaper, our washing machine, the McDonald’s just a few blocks
away, and our evening newscaster. We can say, as the people did in
his native place, "Oh sure, we know Jesus. He’s one of us. He has
been around for years." In our "native place," we have lots on our
minds that take up our every waking moment. There is a danger that
we miss Jesus’ among us, because he so familiar to us, so much part
of the furnishings of our lives – and we have other things on our
Perhaps today’s gospel will open our eyes to what we are missing
– whom we missing. Notice the parallels to our own lives. Jesus
returns to a place where people are very familiar with him.
("Sisters" and "brothers" may have been his cousins in the close
knit community in which he was raised.) They know his trade, he’s
the carpenter. They know he has done mighty deeds and is noted for
his wisdom. Before he left to go preaching he was part of the local
scene, someone they would have spoken with daily. Maybe he even
repaired a roof, or made a chair for them. They probably even liked
But they weren’t willing to take the important next step – beyond
familiarity, beyond knowing the facts about him. They weren’t
willing to believe that, despite his most ordinary appearances and
his, up till then, most ordinary life, that in Jesus, God had
entered their lives. God was there ready to perform powerful deeds
on their behalf, willing to share a wisdom with them they could not
achieve on their own.
What a difference it would have made had they accepted what he
was bringing to them! They would have seen themselves and one
another, as God-loved. They would have treated each other
differently, the way Jesus treated people. They might have changed
their priorities and not measured themselves, or others, by the size
of their homes, property, or their standing in the community.
Nothing would have been the same for them, because they would have
known God, by knowing God in Jesus.
What could be more ordinary than bread and wine? There’s not a
lot on the altar today. We probably serve a better grade wine in our
own homes. This ritual, these prayers, seem so ordinary. They are so
much a part of our lives that we can get used to them and forget
what is being offered here to us. It is the same Spirit that was
given to the prophet Ezekiel, that set him on his feet and sent him
to bring God’s word to the Israelites. It is the very Spirit of
Jesus Christ and it is given to us here today through the Word we
hear and the food we share.
Maybe we can look again at the familiar billboard signs by the
roadside. "Jesus saves" and ask "From what?" Saves us from going
down blind alleys. Saves us from aimlessness. Saves us from guilt
and self-incrimination. Saves us from missing our God, who comes in
the most everyday and ordinary ways to us – those familiar faces in
our own "native place."
for a link to this Sunday’s readings: