Ezekiel (37:21-28) preached in the 6th century in Babylon where the Israelites were in captivity. They believed that they were in dire straits because they had abandoned God’s ways and God was punishing them. If we accept the fact that humankind cannot name or describe God, then we must admit this kind of thinking represents an early stage in the development of our concept of God.
Ezekiel says that God will set things up so that the people can return to their land. They will no longer worship idols and go astray. God will be in heaven and they will be on their land under one leader David. It is essential that tribal, patriarchal gods have the full fealty of the people. Laws, customs, rites and regulations will emerge to assure that God is not angered again. This is the stuff of religion. Religio = to bind. The people are bound to their narrow concept of God. We have to ask what God is doing with the rest of the world while God and the people of Israel are once again getting cozy in their relationship.
Jesus (Jn 11:45-56) continues his work of dismantling their narrow concept of God. The priests and the Pharisees, representing Temple and Torah, step up their attack on Jesus.
Jesus will not accept the Davidic mantle of Ezekiel. Yes, the Gospel writers went to great lengths in the infancy Narratives to show that Jesus was of the line of David. David came to represent the messiah who would come and deliver his people. God would restore them to the glory days of David and Solomon. During the Roman occupation, many hoped the messiah would deliver them from the oppression of the Romans.
As Holy Week comes upon us, we will learn that Jesus presents a completely different concept of God. Abba God is the merciful and compassionate who loves all people—no exceptions.
Using the Hebrew word for mercy, chesed, Merton describes the God Jesus manifests:
The chesed of God is truth. It is infallible strength. It is the love by which He seeks and chooses His chosen, and binds them to Himself. It is the love by which He is married to mankind, so that, if humanity is faithless to Him, it must still always have fidelity to which to return: this is His own fidelity. He has become inseparable from man in the chesed which we call “Incarnation,” and “Cross” and Resurrection.” He has also given His chesed in the Person of His Spirit. The Paraclete is the full, inexpressible mystery of chesed. So that in the depth of our own being there is an inexhaustible spring of mercy and love. Our own being has become love. Our own self has become God’s love for us, and it is full of Christ, of chesed. But we must now face and accept ourselves and others as chesed. We must be to ourselves and to others signs an sacraments of chesed. (Seasons of Celebration, 108-109)
Jesus will not be the triumphant Davidic rescuer. Jesus will be the incarnate sign of God”s mercy. God does not bless Israel or America. God blesses every people and every nation. Jesus recognizes this. He will be the Suffering Servant who calls for love and forgiveness of enemies.
He had raised Lazarus. What a sign! He was such a threat to the “Jews” that he apparently had to go underground. Is he hiding, will he dare come to Passover? People who have spoken truth to power throughout history know what is it to go underground. As far as Caiphas was concerned it would be right for one person to die rather than provoke the ire of the Romans—political expediency rules.
Fearing the “Jews,” Jesus was hiding in Ephraim which today is the small Christian village of Taybeh. When we visited Tybeh, Father Raed told us that Ephraim (now Taybeh) was where people who were underground hid out. Jesus hid in Taybeh with his disciples. He was in a safe place with his closest friends. He knew that he was on a collision course with the Jewish authorities and the Romans. After he raised his friend, Lazarus, he knew that reckoning was just around the corner.
Today, Taybeh is a center for Palestinian nonviolent resistance to the Israeli occupation. We know that God does not favor Jews over Palestinians. God loves all people and wants people to live in peace. Father Raed had started cottage industries, so to speak, to help support the people and to keep more Christians from fleeing the occupied Holy Land. They make candles, soap and Peace Lamps. Father Raed would like to have one of their peace lamps burning in every Christian church. [Taybeh is also the site of the one and only brewery in Palestine. Taybeh beer is quite good.] Why not consider putting a peace lamp in your church? You can get them from Lissa Caldwell (http://holylandartisans.tripod.com/ ).