The Exile’s Pack

August 13, 2020

A Commentary on Ezekiel 12:1-12

Today’s reading continues the story of the prophecies of Ezekiel. This time instead of simply spoken words, God makes a sign of Ezekiel and orders him to perform a prophetic act.

A prophetic act is still a message from God to the people. Instead of words, the prophet performs a symbolic act–a living metaphor about what has been, what is the case at the present moment, or what is to come. It is a kind of performance art that helps to convey the implications of the message. This is not the only occasion in which a prophet is asked to do this. The prophet, Hosea, was asked by God to marry a prostitute (Hosea 1:2). This was to demonstrate the current situation between God and His people Israel. Hosea represented God and the prostitute represented Israel. His people were unfaithful despite all that God had done and His goodness to them. Christ himself will also perform prophetic acts such as the washing of the feet or the cursing of the fig tree. They are messages conveyed through symbolic acts.

Ezekiel is made to prepare an “exile’s pack” stuff that a person would carry with them if they had to leave their home and never come back. One might imagine taking those things most precious and necessary–family heirlooms and all the money, but also clothing and provisions. God instructs him to prepare the pack so that it may be seen in the day, then in the evening make a small hole in Jerusalem’s protective walls, and exit the city through it in darkness with face covered so as not to be seen. In this case, the act tells of Jerusalem’s future. The exile’s pack or load is supposed to be the “best” of Israel, with a “prince” among them. Again, an exile’s pack entails what is most precious to the exile. God is telling the people that in the impending exile, Israel’s “best and brightest,” the just, holy, talented, and educated of them will be carried off and scattered away from their home.

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This prophecy comes to fruition in the form of the Babylonian exile. A similar message is conveyed through the prophet Jeremiah and the parable of the good and bad figs (Jeremiah 24). As punishment upon Jerusalem and Israel for its infidelities and abominations, the gifts God has given through the holiness of certain of Jerusalem’s people will now be employed to serve Israel’s enemies. The remnant, as they are often called, will be left to rot like bad figs and become desolate. However, this is not the end of the story, prior to this chapter, God speaks of how He will again gather the scattered exiles and remake them into a people that follows Him as they should–the famous “heart transplant” prophecy (See Ezekiel 11:19). But the exile needs to take place first, as a chastisement or punishment to teach Israel a lesson about fidelity to the covenant.

Spiritually speaking, there is a lot to be unpacked. We may speak of the role of the prophet and the prophetic office of the Church and its individual members to the rest of the world. There is also an allegory here of Christ, who shall “shoulder His burden” of the cross out of the city of Jerusalem to be exiled from the land of the living. Lastly, there is the anagogical reading of Ezekiel who represents the whole of mankind, who exiled from paradise by his sinfulness, must endure being scattered in the world until being reconstituted and gathered back together in heaven as a people and in resurrection.

Morally speaking there are several vantage points to speak of but the two poles or foci around which to emphasize are the places of Ezekiel and of the people to whom he is prophesying. God wishes to prophesy through our lives–our every act and word should speak of God and His glorification. One of the Jesuit mottos AMDG (+ad maiorem Dei gloria+) was St. Ignatius’ way of reminding everyone, particular members of his order, that in everything done, do it “for the greater glory of God.” Seen or unseen, every action of life on earth can be offered to the purposes of God’s kingdom, whether it be a parent’s extra moment of patience with their child, a little generosity toward a stranger, or even taking the time to sweep the kitchen floor. This synergizes with St. Therese’s “Little Way” in which she encourages everyone to do little things with great love, something everyone is capable of.

Each individual of the Church, in their own state of life is asked to be a prophet in this capacity. Seen or unseen, build up the kingdom of God at every moment. Do something good if even for one’s self–read, pray, self-discipline, exercise, improve–all for the sake of being a better offering to God ultimately. State of life is also an important consideration in the performing of prophetic acts. A priest or religious is prophetic by being constant in their work of prayer and in carrying out the duties of their consecration. A lay person, likewise, has the duty of being the Church out in the “exilic” existence of this world. A parent who acts as a parent according to God’s will is crucially important today since the world is experiencing a widespread fracturing of families that result in higher rates of depression and anxiety.

One should also hear this message as one of those whom Ezekiel pronounces against. It is never easy to admit failure to listen and infidelity, but it is the reality of every human being, apart from Mary and Jesus, to be a sinner. There is some measure of rebellion in every fallen soul that takes a lifetime of battle, prayer, and grace to heal and absolve. It takes acceptance of the grace of humility to recognize one’s concupiscence, particular weaknesses, and root sins. It’s painful because it admits of the tragic realization of self-destruction. Akin to our fallen nature is a form of the belief that ignorance is bliss. That somehow, if I do not acknowledge something to be true, it is not true. In other words, the psychological state of denial. The people of Jerusalem who heard and saw Ezekiel’s message, as we read later in chapter 12, were a people in denial. Human nature has not changed. Sinfulness will drive what good is in us out, and spiritually we will rot if we fail to live according to God’s law. An important consideration about God’s law that we somehow forget is that it is not an arbitrary set of commands according to some divine whimsy. The God of “I AM” commands what He commands of us so that each of us can also fully realize their own “I am.” The law of the Lord is good! It makes sense. Murder, obviously, is not conducive to the fulfillment and well-being of any person or community. While that is a an extremely obvious example, my point is true of the rest of the commandments. To follow God’s laws brings about a good state of affairs.

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The reality is we will fail, commit acts of abomination, and sin. Ezekiel’s prophetic message in this case is that we are punished for these acts because the results of sin itself are its own punishment. Every act of infidelity drives a little more love from our hearts, and makes us a little less than what we are. Like the exile’s pack, sin carries off what is best in us. However, just like in the wider context of this story, God does not utterly destroy in revenge (though that would be well within His right to decide such). Rather, it is a rehabilitative punishment. God will gather back together. The sadness experienced by sin is truly a grace because no one wants to be sad. We want happiness. This happiness, Christ tells us, is awaiting for us in the beatitudes–in mercy, purity, the desire for holiness, and humility. It waits for us in the sacraments because the love lost through sin is regained with extra with every return to God’s altar or confessional.

There is also an allegorical moment in this prophecy that is really pronounced toward the end of the selected passage:

“The prince who is among them shall shoulder his burden and set out in darkness, going through a hole he has dug out in the wall,and covering his face lest he be seen by anyone.”

Ezekiel 12:12

The exile mentioned here is a type of crucifixion. One of the titles of Christ is the “Prince of Peace” and Jerusalem means in Hebrew, jairu shalom–“new peace.” Christ, the Prince of Peace and Son of God is made to carry the cross out of Jerusalem to the outskirts of town, the place of the skull. There Christ will be exiled from “the land of the living” (Psalm 27:13) that is the present Jerusalem by an incredulous people (sounding much like the people of Ezekiel’s time) escaping through a hole in the earth–the tomb. However, God will resurrect Jesus, “gathering him back together,” and bring him back to a new Jerusalem, a “new land of the living.”

A face and it being seen or covered has clear symbolic relations to death. It is a theological tradition that to see the face of God would mean to die. The face of God is a euphemism of knowing and experiencing God as He is. However, human nature is ontologically incapable of this and so would die in the process. By way of analogy, think of the eye going blind looking directly at the Sun for too long. Throughout the old testament, there are moments of people covering their face because the glory of God was passing by (cf. the prophet Elijah in the book of kings, or the people as Moses conversed with God face to face). Jesus is God, whose divinity was, in a sense, veiled in flesh. People could not believe that He was in fact the incarnate Son of God. In this way, his face, his true identity was covered.

Lastly, anagogically reading this passage, we read about the story of humanity as a whole. In the Salve Regina (Hail, Holy Queen) prayer, we refer to ourselves and the world as “poor banished children of Eve” who are “mourning and weeping in this valley of tears”, “our exile.” The whole human race can be considered the house of Adam and is rightly called a “rebellious house” (cf. Ez. 12:2). Adam and Eve were exiled from Eden and accursed but not utterly destroyed by God. What I find interesting is there are some mystical traditions that say the blessing of God went with them and was handed on unbroken through the generations from Adam to Jesus. This special blessing was embodied or present in various objects. Although, Adam and Eve lost the light of praeternatural life, not all of that life was extinguished and they carried it in them. It was passed on in the blessing from father to son, and manifest in altars, the ark of the covenant, and ultimately in the person of Jesus (Cf. Anne Catherine Emmerich’s visions of scripture). This divine blessing would be the “exile’s pack” that which was most precious to the human race as it was expelled from paradise. However, like Ezekiel consoled by God’s ultimate judgment, the human race will not wipe outself out. There will still be a people to be God’s people. They will be gathered together again, those whom God had scattered across time and space, under the one household of heaven. This people will truly have God’s law written upon its heart.

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