The following Homily was given by Fr. Herbert Nicholls at the Mother of the Light Convent
Little is known historically about Isaiah, but what we know indicates that he was one of the greatest men of his time, respected by men and by God. Tradition tells us that he was from a noble family of some rank, which might explain his easy access to the King. In his 40 years of ministry, 740-770BC, he actually served during the reign of four kings of Judah.
Because of this man’s greatness it might be difficult for us to relate to him, but his success was primarily a fruit of his faithfulness to the will of God. When God called him, he had an overwhelming sense of his own sinfulness. When God revealed His will for Isaiah, the prophet pursued God’s plan with determination.
He started where we must start. He admitted his sins and turned to God for deliverance and he confronted the people with their sins. It is never easy to face the truth, but truth brings healing. God spoke through Isaiah to address their denial.
Over the centuries they had developed self-destructive patterns of behavior that included oppression of the poor, accepting bribes, and lying in order to get what they want. Today, most of us would likewise think of these insignificant sins, perhaps some that we might commit without consciousness.
Although repeatedly confronted by Isaiah, proclaiming the word of God as a warning, the people steadfastly refused to confess their sins, rather blaming God for their misfortunes and sufferings. Has the world really changed in all these centuries?
God told the people through Isaiah that He would deliver them from Exile as had happened to the Northern Kingdom, Israel. But they trusted in God only superficially and thought to save themselves through clever political alliances, first with Assyria and then with Egypt.
The second part of Isaiah (chapters 40-66) is dominated by a message of hope. In spite of the people’s unworthiness God promised that after some time He would lead the people out of captivity in Babylon. Isaiah foretold the miracles and the salvation merited in the Suffering Servant.
Through the words of Isaiah we discover that God’s ultimate purpose for His people is always blessing and recovery.
The message of Ezekiel is similar but perhaps even darker. Discouragement, despair, disillusionment are just a trio of the feelings experienced by the people of Judah during the ministry of Ezekiel. His preaching was later than Isaiah, in fact it was to the Judeans who had not listened and now found themselves as exiles in Babylon.
The people clung to a frayed hope because Jerusalem had not yet been destroyed. The temple had not been overrun. And they assumed that God’s presence in the Temple would spare the Holy City. Would we be convinced that the presence of the Eucharist in the Tabernacle would save the Church and the people from a nuclear attack? They were still deceiving themselves. They failed to realize their sinfulness, and that all sins have consequences.
We also know little of the personal history of Ezekiel. He was about 30 when he began to prophesy God’s word. Five years later he was taken into captivity with his fellow Jews.
The name “Ezekiel” means “God strengthens”, a name appropriate to the man and to his message. For Ezekiel needed the strength of God to proclaim a message of judgment for those who refused to hear it; but also a message of strengthening hope and love following the destruction of the Temple and the Holy City of Jerusalem.
Is the world today listening to Pope Francis and his call for peace in Jerusalem, Palestine and the whole Middle East? Why is it that through the centuries we continue to repeat the same sinful attitudes not recognizing that we are all children of God?
God has been trying to tell us, to warn us, that we are sinners, and that He has come to save us from sin. We need to listen and repent because sin has consequences. We would be wise to heed these warnings. We would be wise to confess our sins. Denial leads to suffering and destruction.
If we have been broken by our failures, and confess them than the words of comfort spoken by Ezekiel are meant for us, unless we continue to hide in the darkness of denial. God can rebuild our lives, like the Temple, no matter how broken we are.
Through Ezekiel’s vision of dry bones, gathering and coming to life, the exiled Jews received hope for a new life. God would do the impossible. He would lead his children back home and rebuild his nation/church from a state of total ruin.
I think many still do not understand how Pope Francis understands his prophetic ministry to call together the exiled –whether it be divorced or remarried, lesbian, gay, bi, or trans-gendered; whether we be Orthodox, Catholic, Lutheran, or Four-Square Pentecostal, whether we consider ourselves Christian, Jew or Moslem, Oriental, or even atheist. God is telling is that we are all His children. Isaiah and Ezekiel invite us today to come home to Him!