Previously we saw the beautiful picture of how the Lord makes us clean and clothes us with royal garments, preparing us as brides for the marriage. It was, of course, a picture of the work of salvation and even of how we are transformed and made acceptable through the works of Jesus.
As we read onwards, we enter a completely different mood in the scriptures – yet still some positive lessons to learn.
But you trusted in your beauty and used your fame to become a prostitute. You lavished your favours on anyone who passed by and your beauty became his. You took some of your garments to make gaudy high places, where you carried on your prostitution. You went to him and he possessed your beauty. You also took the fine jewellery I gave you, the jewellery made of my gold and silver, and you made for yourself male idols and engaged in prostitution with them. And you took your embroidered clothes to put on them, and you offered my oil and incense before them. Also the food I provided for you – the flour, olive oil and honey I gave you to eat – you offered as fragrant incense before them. That is what happened, declares the Sovereign Lord.
This is quite a change of mood from what came previously in the chapter! It is only the beginning of a very long list of complaints and then consequences.
For some reason, this brings to mind the prophecy of Moses in Deuteronomy 28 which has a similar balance to what we find here in this prophecy. There, as here, the first part of the chapter is full of blessing, but then there is more than three times the amount of writing about curses on the Israelites should they become disobedient to god. And so, in this chapter of Ezekiel, we have the shorter part about the caring and loving way that god brings life to the dying and cares and nurtures and makes beautiful. But this is followed by a very long section of complaint and consequences.
There is one conclusion that you should certainly not draw from this! You could look at the proportions of the scriptures in these two chapters, the one in Deuteronomy and the one of our reading, and think that they represent the character of our god in a rather negative way. What I mean by this is that you could think that god is one quarter blessing and three quarters cursing, one quarter building up and three quarters tearing down. You can get the impression of an angry god with a short fuse, ready to explode at the least excuse.
So, for a moment, it is worth pausing to think about what we have already learned from Ezekiel that shows us this impression of god is totally wrong. The most important factor is that the Lord had been patient with Jerusalem for 390 years. This is quite a few lifetimes, and a lot of patience! God gives us, by this, an example of patience and love that should be an example to us all.
Instead, we have Christians praising those who would kill those in the LGBT community. We have Christians cursing other Christians and condemning to hell for the most minor and unimportant disagreements about scripture and interpretation. We have Christians being so judgemental and obnoxious that, frankly they turn the hearts of others against Jesus and the gospel.
Yes, it is true that if you are a Christian and truly living the lovely and loving life that comes with this, there will be those who make fun, or who would persecute you, or would even avoid you. We are warned of this a few times by Jesus and in other parts of the New Testament. But this is as a result of righteous living and, above all else, letting the love of the Lord flow through your life and out into the world. The love that is even to bless enemies and the despised, and caring for their needs. (How much do you see that? Anyone ready to take a tasty halal meal to a radicalised Moslem this Christmas to share the love of God?)
But instead of sharing love and blessing others, instead of spreading happiness because of a heart that was blessed by the works of the gospel, what we find is Christians judging others and cursing to hell. We have the face of better-than-thou attitude, and the weakness of character that needs to present itself as ‘I’m right and you’re wrong.’ It is ugly. Very ugly. Would you want to listen to anyone who makes a first impression to you by telling you that you are an ugly abomination that will burn in hell? I think the percentage of people who keep their ears open after such an introduction would be very low indeed.
And so we begin to have a hatred of the church and Christians not because of righteous living, and certainly not because of the loving acts of caring for neighbours and people who are not friends or family…. No, we have hatred and persecution because so many of those who claim the name of Christ are being totally obnoxious to those they meet, and even pouring scorn on those who do follow the words of Christ to help the homeless and those in desperate needs.
In USA and UK there is enough money in the churches to end the poverty of every homeless and jobless person in those lands. Of course we should not reward laziness! But the church is also full of people able to love and to counsel and to put people on the path of constructive living. So why is this not happening? Because so many are too busy judging the poor, and saying that they are there because of the curse of god and because of sin in their lives.
Really? You sure about that? You know the details of the life of that homeless person dying in the cold while trying to sleep next to the dumpster at the entrance to the park….?
The church and Christians should be a blessing, showing the love of the Lord and healing broken situations. In today’s world, we have the ugly picture of the church kicking the down-and-outs… And love lies bleeding in the streets and dying.
Think that the Lord doesn’t want us caring for those rejected by others? Well look again at the verses leading up to today’s reading! Here is our example! That which was rejected and despised and left to die, covered in blood and unwashed – this the Lord rescued and cared for and made beautiful. He can do the same for you. He expects you to treat others this way.
So examine the way you treat others.
And check your level of gratitude.
It seems to me that it was lack of gratitude that was at the heart of the fall from grace of Jerusalem. For sure, many men have learned that giving beautiful and expensive gifts to a woman is no guarantee to win her heart. She may gladly receive them and then give nothing back in return, and eventually say she has had enough of you. Better the woman who is truthful and says from the start that you are not her type, rather than enjoying the gifts she knows will come, and then later bringing the rejection when she has seen someone more to her tastes… This experience is a common one for many men, leaving a bitter taste in the mouth and the knowledge that they have been used. But the picture presented to us in our reading is of an attitude much worse.
In a society where, on the whole, people are not hungry, are not struggling to find work or to own a home, and where wealth is growing, we begin to see the darker sides of humanity come to the surface. These people forget to be thankful and to realise that they are already the lucky ones – and that in other places there are those who feel hungry all the time every day, and who have no home at all. These people can begin to despise the poor and needy, and lust after more and more. Selfishness increases and gratitude decreases.
Then the willingness to ‘do what it takes’ to fulfil those selfish desires. And these desires, for sure, are centred on money and things. People are blind to the fact that they are already become idolaters when things turn this way.
And so, the good things that were given into your life before, now begin to be used to help reach out and obtain these objects of idolatrous lust. Instead of gratitude, we see what was given being used for baser purposes. It brings shame, but it also can lead to worse evil as we shall discover in the future readings.