19Aug 19 August. Friday, Week 20

1st Reading: Ezekiel 37:1-14

The valley full of dry bones will be revived

The hand of the Lord came upon me, and he brought me out by the spirit of the Lord and set me down in the middle of a valley; it was full of bones.He led me all around them; there were very many lying in the valley, and they were very dry.He said to me, “Mortal, can these bones live?” I answered, “O Lord God, you know.”

Then he said to me, “Prophesy to these bones, and say to them: O dry bones, hear the word of the Lord.Thus says the Lord God to these bones: I will cause breath to enter you, and you shall live.I will lay sinews on you, and will cause flesh to come upon you, and cover you with skin, and put breath in you, and you shall live; and you shall know that I am the Lord.”

So I prophesied as I had been commanded; and as I prophesied, suddenly there was a noise, a rattling, and the bones came together, bone to its bone.I looked, and there were sinews on them, and flesh had come upon them, and skin had covered them; but there was no breath in them.

Then he said to me, “Prophesy to the breath, prophesy, mortal, and say to the breath: Thus says the Lord God: Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe upon these slain, that they may live.”I prophesied as he commanded me, and the breath came into them, and they lived, and stood on their feet, a vast multitude.

Then he said to me, “Mortal, these bones are the whole house of Israel. They say, ‘Our bones are dried up, and our hope is lost; we are cut off completely.’Therefore prophesy, and say to them, Thus says the Lord God: I am going to open your graves, and bring you up from your graves, O my people; and I will bring you back to the land of Israel.And you shall know that I am the Lord, when I open your graves, and bring you up from your graves, O my people.I will put my spirit within you, and you shall live, and I will place you on your own soil; then you shall know that I, the Lord, have spoken and will act,” says the Lord.

Gospel: Matthew 22:34-40

The greatest commandment is love

When the Pharisees heard that he had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together, and one of them, a lawyer, asked him a question to test him. “Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?” He said to him, “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbour as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.”


Life and love will triumph

In Ezekiel, the hope for humanity is proclaimed as the dead come back to life; and according to Jesus, this is linked to the supreme law of love. Ezekiel compares the exiled Israelites to bones scattered over the plain, desiccated and bleached by long exposure to wind and sunlight. The scene that follows convulses with excitement, “Prophesy over these dead bones: I heard a noise, rattling of bones, bone joining bone; sinews and flesh covering them; prophecy: O Spirit, breathe into these slain.” The resurrection was not completed when God stretched sinew, flesh and skin over the knitted bones but only when the spirit breathed new life into them.

As a genuine prophet, Ezekiel does not stop with the external shape of things, no matter how hopeless they may seem. The spirit must stir an inner life of fresh, faithful interaction with neighbour and friend. He was not explicitly announcing the resurrection of every human person from the dead, since his prophecy focussed on the Israelites, alive but exiled, seemingly without hope of ever resuming a happy, normal life in their promised land. Those who died in exile could not share in Ezekiel’s vision for they would remain buried in a foreign land. Still, Ezekiel’s image of dry bones for the nation of Israel, the starkest possible symbol for their hopeless situation as exiles, implicitly contains the hope of individual resurrection.

At times God must cut down hopes which were true and helpful for a limited time, in order to lead those same hopes to fulfillment beyond our dreams. We should never try to limit God even by our hopes and prophecies. All such limitations are removed by Jesus’ reply to the lawyer’s question. First the lawyer intended to trip him up, but Jesus transcended the context of envy, intrigue and argumentation. In simple, moving words he declared the greatest and first commandment of the law, “You shall love the Lord your God with your whole heart… soul… mind.” And the second is like it, “You shall love your neighbour as yourself.”

These two commandments, planted in the deepest core of our humanity, explain the development first in the Book of Ruth where the neighbour is already the foreign Moabite woman, second in the prophecy of Ezekiel where the wonder of reviving the nation of Israel points to the still greater wonder of personal resurrection. These two commandments already existed in the Torah of Moses: Deut 6:5 and Lev 19:18. Jesus brings them to new and heroic proportions.

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