Our picture this week is of a prophet who lived about 600 years before Jesus. His name is Ezekiel, and this is a modern image of him created in the ancient style of an icon, by a Greek iconographer called Maria Ginala.
There are a lot of prophets in the bible, but they weren’t there to tell the future. They were there to face people with what God was saying in their time and place. Their job was (and is) to remind the people what it means to belong to God: to be God’s people. Ezekiel lived in a very difficult time, when the people of God were being taken from their land of Israel and forced to live in the strange land of Babylon. We call it the exile, and it’s a really important part of our faith history. The way that the people responded to the exile was to see it as God’s judgement, and Ezekiel spent a great deal of time telling what they had done wrong.
When bad things happen people still sometimes say, or imply, it is God’s judgement. I’m not sure I believe it is quite as straight forward as that, but I do think we need to take responsibility for our actions and the impact they can have. The reality is we all have the power to do things that can be very destructive to ourselves, others and our entire planet.
The words of Ezekiel that I have been studying this week are surprisingly connected with the story of The Very Hungry Caterpillar that I talked about last week. In that story I reflected on how we struggle to know when we have had “enough”. We can sometimes believe that consuming is the purpose of life, when, in reality, transformation is. The words of Ezekiel I’ve been reading very much echo this, as he basically says to the people that it isn’t too late – if they take responsibility for what is going wrong and stop trying to blame others (in their case the previous generation) then God will save them. God, says Ezekiel, takes no pleasure in their suffering. If they turn from their ways, they will live. I think what Ezekiel sees as God saving them is in fact this truth: that when we change our ways and our attitudes, the world around us changes too and life becomes more liveable.
The possibility of transformation is a wonderful gift. When a caterpillar settles into a cocoon, they dissolve and cells that have been silently present since they were first hatched, start to work and they are transformed into a butterfly. The prophet Ezekiel says to the people that they can be transformed, if they do what they need to do to nurture the seed of transformation that is within them – just like the caterpillar in the cocoon. It’s nurturing that seed of transformation that Ezekiel is concerned with. And crucial to the possibility of transformation is honesty. Being honest about what we have done before God.
Another story I have been reflecting on this week is one that Jesus tells about two siblings who are asked by a parent to do a task for them. One of them says yes, but then does not keep their commitment, and the other says no, but then changes their mind. Jesus tells the story to challenge people who are angry because they do not think God is at work in him. It’s a story about faith: of being able to see when God is at work and change our mind – or be transformed. It’s also a circular story as the one who said yes and then no still has the chance to say yes in the end and so be transformed!
There is much we need to take responsibility for and many reasons why we need to be transformed. We need to take responsibility for what is happening to our planet and stop believing we can carry on with business as usually, consuming all we can and getting angry when we have to make changes that are costly or inconvenient. And even if we have said or done something in the past that we now know is not true to how the world really is or what it means to live in community, the possibility of transformation makes it possible for us to change.
And in all this God is good. God is not there judging us for what we have done wrong, but God is there encouraging us to take responsibility and then celebrating with us when we allow transformation to happen.
If you’d like to talk about anything I’ve said, please do send a message and we’ll get in touch as soon as we can.
Every blessing this week as we all live to be the people God knows we can be.