Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
I confess that I do not often spend much time reading the prophet Ezekiel. The first reading at Mass this weekend from Ezekiel 17:22-24 comes in the context of the great prophetic tradition of Israel. God sends prophets to His people to teach them and, very often, call them back to the right path when they have gone astray. The fuller context of the reading we hear this weekend includes God pointing out the many good things He has given to Israel, only to be answered by ingratitude or infidelity to the covenant. Thus, with the image of a tender cedar shoot, God promises to establish something new and majestic, to which all the earth will turn. The prophet, of course, is preparing those who listen for the coming of Jesus Christ. It is Jesus who promises to draw all people to Himself when He is lifted up on the cross (cf. John 12:32). It is Jesus who is “planted” on a high mountain – Calvary. The Gospel tells us that as Jesus taught, people came to him from everywhere (cf. Mark 1:45).
Like the people of ancient Israel, we are aware of God’s many blessings. How fortunate we are in so many ways! Even in our sufferings and challenges, we cannot help but recognize God’s abundance and blessings. At the same time, we can ask ourselves if we are sufficiently aware of these blessings and the covenant of love God has established with us. Do we recognize that our profession of faith has practical, lived consequences and that we are obliged to “hold up” our end of the bargain?
What is the promise God makes to us? We are promised forgiveness of our sins through the Blood of Christ poured out on the Cross. This forgiveness of sins opens the way for us to share Christ’s eternal life in the heavenly kingdom of God. The order of creation, when Adam and Eve walked in conversation with God in the Garden of Eden, is restored. This covenant requires something of us in return. First, we respond with our faith in Jesus Christ. This faith is expressed not only in our profession of the Creed, but also in the works that accompany our faith. Thus, St. James reminds us that “Faith without works is dead,” (James 2:26). Our faith professed and acted upon is our covenant response to the New Covenant established by Christ. Do we live out the covenant? Are we faithful?
Our God is a God who keeps His promises. The covenant established by Christ is new and we are invited into this faithful relationship every day. The sacramental life of the Church help us to remain faithful to the God who has given all for us. The Gospel we proclaim inspires us to put our faith into action. If we are to be the tender cedar shoot that Ezekiel speaks of, we must be faithful and alive in God’s grace. The more alive we are in the Gospel and in the covenant, the more the whole world will be drawn to the covenant. The tender shoot planted on the high mountain draws all things to itself, just as Jesus, lifted up on the Cross draws all men to Himself. In the same way, the Church – globally and locally here in this parish community – is planted on a mountain. When we, the members, live in fidelity to our baptismal promises, fed by the graces we receive in the sacraments, we become a living sign of God’s presence, and the whole world is drawn into the fruitful branches of this majestic cedar that Ezekiel foresaw.