By Michael Fitzpatrick
A Reading from Ezekiel 11:14-25
14 Then the word of the Lord came to me: 15 Mortal, your kinsfolk, your own kin, your fellow exiles, the whole house of Israel, all of them, are those of whom the inhabitants of Jerusalem have said, “They have gone far from the Lord; to us this land is given for a possession.” 16 Therefore say: Thus says the Lord God: Though I removed them far away among the nations, and though I scattered them among the countries, yet I have been a sanctuary to them for a little while in the countries where they have gone. 17 Therefore say: Thus says the Lord God: I will gather you from the peoples, and assemble you out of the countries where you have been scattered, and I will give you the land of Israel. 18 When they come there, they will remove from it all its detestable things and all its abominations. 19 I will give them one heart, and put a new spirit within them; I will remove the heart of stone from their flesh and give them a heart of flesh, 20 so that they may follow my statutes and keep my ordinances and obey them. Then they shall be my people, and I will be their God. 21 But as for those whose heart goes after their detestable things and their abominations, I will bring their deeds upon their own heads, says the Lord God.
22 Then the cherubim lifted up their wings, with the wheels beside them; and the glory of the God of Israel was above them. 23 And the glory of the Lord ascended from the middle of the city, and stopped on the mountain east of the city. 24 The spirit lifted me up and brought me in a vision by the spirit of God into Chaldea, to the exiles. Then the vision that I had seen left me. 25 And I told the exiles all the things that the Lord had shown me.
The Lord’s creative work is radical because it never returns things to the way they were. The promise to gather up the remnants of the people of God and restore them to their land comes with some startling consequences. When they gather, the people will have to remove all idolatrous practices. In response, their deliverer will unite them with “one heart,” not their former “stony heart” but a new “heart of flesh.”
One aspect of this metaphor’s remarkable power is that hearts are naturally fleshy. In other words, the Lord is not taking a community of humans and changing their natural heart for a supernatural, other-worldly one. Quite the contrary: the disobedient community is the one with the unnatural heart, the heart of stone. Divine deliverance does not take us out of our humanity, but restores its possibility, by creating in us a truly human heart of flesh. This heart signifies that these people have “a new spirit within them,” becoming animated by God rather than sinful idol worship.
In a recent essay, Alastair Roberts describes how “the Scriptures seek to take up residence in us,” enfleshing itself in our flesh and internally motivating us from its wisdom and gospel. This is what Ezekiel has in mind, God’s very word and spirit taking up residence in us, pumping our veins with true life-blood. We live because the Lord first lives in us, but when people see our heart of flesh, they should be able to say, “Ah, so that is what it means to be human.”
Michael Fitzpatrick is a doctoral student in philosophy at Stanford University. He attends St. Mark’s Episcopal Church in Palo Alto, Calif., where he serves as a lay preacher and teacher.
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Today we pray for:
St. Francis Episcopal Church, Houston, Texas
The Diocese of Buye (Anglican Church of Burundi)