Ezek 2:2-5, Mark 6:1-6
We hear today, the calling of Ezekiel, as a prophet. He is already warned that his mission is going to be anything but easy. And Jesus, in the gospel, identifies himself as a prophet. He is the fullness of what the prophets foreshadowed, and he is rejected like the prophets of old. But who are these mysterious prophets? And do we have prophets in our own times? There are. And they are you and me; we are the new covenant prophets. We were called to be a prophet, when we were baptised into the prophetic office of Christ himself. What was true of these prophets is true for us. And we can expect to face rejection just like they did.
Let’s look at the calling of Ezekiel. It says, And when he spoke to me, the Spirit entered into me and made me stand; and I heard him speaking to me (Ezek 2:2) Prophets were prophets because the Word of God came to them. They were servants of the Word. And it is the Spirit of God who enables Ezekiel to listen to the Word of God. The first thing the Spirit does, however, is to cause Ezekiel to stand. Why stand?
Man was created with the animals on the sixth day. The first thing that differentiates us from animals is that we stand. The default position of animals is on all fours, looking down at the earth from which they came. To be bent over, constantly looking at our phones as we walk, is to take the position of animals. Man was meant to stand. The Spirit was making Ezekiel aware of his dignity as a son of God. Man was meant to look up to God from whom he gets his life. He has been created for greater things than animals. And he becomes this by receiving the Word that God speaks to him. To stand, indicates a position of authority in the court of God. Daniel is appointed to stand before the king (Dan 1:19). When Zechariah does not believe Gabriel, he decides to let Zechariah know whom he’s just offended: I am Gabriel, who stand in the presence of God (Lk 1:19). It was also the normal posture of prayer for the Hebrews. Habakkuk says, I will take my stand to watch…to see what he will say to me…concerning my complaint (Hab 2:1). It is a posture of attention, of careful listening. Prophets were given access to God’s word, his plans for his people.
Christians are birthed through baptism, into the prophetic office of Christ. It means that we have the capacity to hear God. This is the most important vocation for any Christian. One of the great responsibilities of Christian parents is to be the first teachers of their children. This includes sitting with them and helping them with their homework, of course – and forming them in what is good and bad. But the most important part of it is to teach children how to hear God for themselves. Children have a great capacity for God. It is the privilege of Christian parents to let them know that God can speak to them. But to be able to teach others, we have to be familiar with hearing God for ourselves.
To stand was also to be ready to contend, just as we use it in English. Job’s friend challenges him: set your words in order before me; take your stand (Job 33:5). Paul says, take the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand (Eph 6:13). Jordan Peterson notes the same in his 12 Rules. To stand up straight with your shoulders back is a posture of confidence. Interestingly, he notes that it is a position of vulnerability. It is to be open to the world. You are not crouched, defending yourself, like a prey animal. It is a posture of courage. To stand in prayer, before God, is a position of vulnerability, of surrender (indicated in a different way by kneeling). It says that I am not going to defend myself from God’s light, from his Word.
God says to Ezekiel, who is in exile, in Babylon, that he’s sending him to a nation of rebels. God’s referring to Israel, his people, not Babylon. It is God’s people who are refusing to listen to his Word, and they’ll fight Ezekiel when he announces it to them. But before Ezekiel contends with them, he has to contend with God. Because Ezekiel is one among the rebels to whom he is being sent. It is only when Isaiah sees the vision of God, that he realizes, I am a man of sinful lips and I live among a people of sinful lips (Isa 6:5). The prophet was not simply a messenger of God, carrying a message. He was the message. He first had to be transformed, and so becoming a sign to others.
Transformation though, is painful. We want to protect ourselves from it. When the light of God shines on us, we begin to see the places where we are broken and need healing. Sins from which we have to repent. Left to ourselves, we can easily settle for what is lower, like animals. It is God’s Spirit which has to raise Ezekiel and make him stand. To live as sons and daughters of God, to stand, involves a struggle. But in the process, our lives become whole, meaningful. We often think of Christianity as a kind of moralism or a set of rules to be followed. But we have no strength to keep these commands. They become burdensome and we reject it. We become a nation of rebels. But Christianity is prophetic from start to finish. Israel’s creed began with the Shema Israel! Listen Israel! It starts with listening to God, contending with the Word and allowing the power of this Word to transform our lives. This is the Word with which God created everything. It is life-giving, there to make us new. We don’t have to defend ourselves before this Word. Then, we become that word to others. It also means that our lives will not be acceptable to people, just as the Word was, first to us.
The martyrs are the clearest example of the fullness of this prophecy. They were those who stood before God, were transformed by his love, became that sign which was destroyed. St Polycarp, the greatly revered bishop of Smyrna was the disciple of St John the Apostle. The Roman soldiers who came for him, heard him praying and were so deeply moved, that they were ashamed to arrest him. The magistrate ordered him to renounce Christ, but he said, “82 years have I have served him, and he has done me no wrong. How can I blaspheme my King and my Saviour?” He was condemned to be burnt. Polycarp was completely at peace, and miraculously, the flames would not burn him. Instead, his body started glowing and everyone got the scent of freshly baked bread. It was a sign of his transformation. He had become bread for the world, like his Master. His peace at martyrdom, his transformation did not happen overnight. It was 82 years of faithful living in the light of God and trusting His Word, as God led him. Polycarp died as a soldier plunged his spear into him. Polycarp knew how to stand before God.
We might not all be martyrs (thank God), but we are called to the same life of faith. We experience this in our daily lives, at work, in our vocations. Christian marriage is a form of martyrdom. It is an invitation to greater and greater generosity of heart, which is painful, because we are prone to be selfish. It is a call to live for the other, rather than for oneself. It means being open to life as God might bless, with children. That will often involve a struggle and making sacrifices. And it will involve being criticized by others who might think you’re being foolish or worse, as you live God’s word. But those who have the courage to stand before God also know his great joy and peace. They need have no fear of standing before anyone else. And the world will know that a prophet has been among them.