The Writer’s Case

August 12, 2020

“…A man dressed in Linen with a writer’s case at his waist.” Ez. 9:2

The reading today is from the book of the prophet Ezekiel, who is given a vision of seven people coming from the North. Six bear weapons of destruction, while the seventh is dressed in linen and bears “a writer’s case at his waist.” I am no historian but I imagine with the technology of the time, a writer’s case would have included an animal hair brush, some form of ink, and either papyrus or parchment scrolls of some kind–something on which to write. However, in this instance the writer was not going to use the paper.

The vision included instructions for the writer to go into the city and mark a “thau” on the foreheads of all the people in the city who “moan and groan” over the present circumstances, because of all of the abominations committed by everyone else in the city. The writer would mark such, as the just and favored. Then after the writer went through making his mark, the other six would then go through and slay all in the city who did not have the thau mark beginning with the temple. What is left out of the lectionary that is there in scripture is the intercourse between God and Ezekiel about God’s disappointment and judgment concerning the “abominations”. God says that He is bringing down upon their heads what they themselves have wrought. Finally, this particular passage ends with “the Glory of the Lord,” the presence of God on earth, leaving the threshold of the temple upon the ministering Cherubim. The Lord’s glory rises to heaven, in a sense leaving Jerusalem to its own devices. It is considered to be one of the saddest moments in all of the Old Testament.

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The temple is the point of contact between God and man. In order to relate to and interact with God it was to be in the temple. The sense that readers are left with is that God has revoked the privilege of his presence among the inhabitants of Jerusalem–those who were supposed to be His people and live by His statutes–because they were not living as God’s people. Israel was the chosen people, the people brought out of Egypt, made them victorious of the Canaanites, and prospered them during the reigns of the the judges and kings. Despite, all that God had done for them, they still were not living according to God’s commands. God was patient but time had run out. This judgment was pronounced in order to chastise or admonish Israel. God does not utterly destroy, however. God pronounces such judgments as a way of discipline, like a parent, who punishes with the wisdom to point out and make possible a way to make things right.

Just to comment on the mark–thau. This is traditionally understood by Christians to be a foreshadowing of the cross. Afterall, “thau” is the precursor to the roman letter “T.” By some traditions in the Church, it was believed that Christ was actually crucified upon a thau-shaped cross. St. Francis of Assisi reported having a vision of the crucified Christ upon a Thau cross and has since been associated with the Franciscan order. The mark of the cross upon the heads of God’s chosen was a mark of salvation, preservation from the harsh judgment that was to fall upon Jerusalem. This is meant to be a Christic typology. Christ, the writer, was to come and inscribe the new law of God upon the hearts of his hearers. Those who truly listened were marked, while those who did not listen would have the judgment exacted upon them. What were the criteria to be marked with the thau? Those marked would have “grieve[d] and lament[ed] over all the abominations practiced within [the city]” (Ez. 9:4). It is a mark (no pun intended) of the blessed to be saddened by evil and sin. As Paul says in his canticle of love, “Love does not rejoice over wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth” (I Cor 13:6). Those who are marked with the thau are marked as having a divine love, those who are just and have no part in the abominations being carried out.

The abominations include idolatry, murder, injustice of varying kinds, and infidelity to their identity as God’s people. The word, “abomination,” is said to have two origins in Latin. The more scientific root is related to the Latin, ab omen, as in from an evil sign. The evil committed by the people of Israel will be the “sign of the times” as the cause of God’s departure from the temple. The other, folk etymological root of “abomination” is the Latin, ab hominem, which means “away from” or “departure” from what is human. Abominable things are inhuman–beastly. The people of Israel were not only not acting as God’s people, they were not even acting humanely. They were acting as savage beasts, “eating one another,” as is said of sinners in the psalms.

Historically this vision and the ensuing ones speak of and result in Israel’s exile. Ezekiel will be made to perform the prophetic act of leaving Jerusalem through a hole in one of its walls. In the same way, the best of Israel will be scattered among the neighboring nations while Jerusalem devolves further by its abominations. This will partly set the historical stage for the coming of Christ, the light and dawn of a new era at the darkest periods of Israel’s history.

The anagogical interpretation of this passage becomes clear once we understand that the bearer of the writer’s case is Jesus. Christ came to proclaim a message of God’s favor as the fulfillment of the God’s law and covenant. In times before Christ, such as in this moment with Ezekiel, God’s judgment was punishment. However, Christ came to proclaim a “time of the Lord’s favor,” that now is a time, in a sense, to ask to be marked with the thau. That mark for us today is the invisible, sacramental, and indelible mark of true faith written with the ink of chrism and the Holy Spirit. Christ continues to be the “writer” through the Church today, who goes through the city of the world proclaiming the judgment of God’s love. Then to accept and reciprocate that love is to welcome the “mark” of goodness and be preserved from the judgment of sin’s cost–eternal death. We must only be, then, what we are–human, the new man that is Christ. Through Christ we are no longer mere rational animals destined for death. Our new nature is a “super-nature” in that we are able to become by grace what Christ is by nature–true children of God who “grow” into the full stature of Christ. In other words, to bear the mark of the cross is to be marked as a saint.

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