Poor Ezekiel. Obedient to God’s request, the prophet packed a bag, dug through a wall with his hands, and, in the evening, scrambled through that hole and wandered off into the darkness while other people looked on. Many of them must have thought him a fool or a madman.
A few years earlier, Ezekiel and his fellow Jews had been driven out of Jerusalem and into a foreign land when the Babylonians had conquered the holy city. Now, away from the temple and the place of their worship, the people were confused by their situation. Had God abandoned them? God asked Ezekiel to act in certain ways in order to catch the attention and draw the gaze of the people to teach them the meaning of their current sufferings.
Ezekiel received a particular call to act as a sign through which God would explain why he had allowed the exile. The exile was both punishment and a means of righting the relationship between the sinful people and God: “Then they shall know that I am the Lord, when I disperse them among the nations and scatter them through the lands” (Ez 12:15). The exile serves to clarify and rejuvenate the Israelite’s knowledge of the Lord—a knowledge that brings a happiness beyond any other.
God still calls people to be signs of his action, to illuminate the way to the fullness of life. Married people are called to be witnesses of God’s faithfulness and love. In our current culture, stable and fruitful Christian families stand out as beacons of faith and hope, as it takes a great deal of faith and hope to be open to bringing a child into the world. In a more direct way, members of religious communities stand as signs of God’s kingdom. St. John Paul II recommended that religious wear the habit because it “is a sign of consecration,” (Vita Consecrata 25). And the religious person’s consecration and “profession of the evangelical counsels makes them a kind of sign and prophetic statement for the community of the brethren and for the world” (Vita Consecrata 15). Everyday when we put on our habits, we remind ourselves, and those who see us, that this world is a world of shadows and that our life is in Christ.
When our lives become signs for God’s kingdom, we can expect the question people put to Ezekiel: “What are you doing” (Ez 12:9)? Why are you getting married? Why are you becoming a religious brother, a priest? And our answer must include something that Ezekiel’s life could only foreshadow, the greatest sign of all—the cross. The cross is the lamp burning on a stand that gives light to everyone in the house. It is the preeminent sign of God’s love, saving and healing a broken world. Christ is the sign of Jonah, the man who disappeared from the face of the earth, who was resurrected, and who has become our life and our joy.
So should we even say “Poor Ezekiel”? Yes. He suffered on account of God’s call and in his suffering grew closer to his divine master. He was the poor man whom the Lord heard. He was the poor man close to the heart of God. This is our joy—to become poor signs, instruments of salvation in the hands of a merciful God.
Image: William Blake, Ezekiel