20 August 2010 Saint Bernard, abbot and doctor
Ezekiel 37, 1-14; Psalm 107; Matthew 22, 34-40
The first reading is one of the most known visions of the prophet Ezekiel. It is the vision of the dry bones in the valley or the ‘plain’ which is the same location of his call. The occasion is the time when the exiles have lost all hope in the future. The people who are proud of their history and the greatness of Jerusalem are now without hope in the horizon. They cry out, “Our bones are dried up, our hope is lost, and we are cut off.”
In a place of a countless deaths, God puts this question to Ezekiel, “Can these bones come to life?” Ezekiel replies that the decision about life or death is in God’s hands: “You alone know that” (v. 3). God then asks Ezekiel to prophesy and the dry bones acquire flesh and spirit, and thus a horde of people have come to life.
What is the importance of this reading to us? It can have two levels of understanding.
First, we can look at the reading in a personal way. We can reflect on situations of individual or even professional despair. For example: When all things have failed; when our relationships are about to end; when we know that the thing we dread has finally become real; or when the things or people we hold on to did not deliver.
There are times when we just do not know what to do in situations beyond our control. For example, our financial obligations have siphoned all of our resources and we find ourselves working to pay off our debts. The breadwinner of the family suddenly meets an accident which debilitated him or her. Recently, a woman whose husband died in the Benguet bus accident bemoans her lost. Her husband is the only one who supports the family of four.
Second, we can interpret the reading in a communal way, which is properly its message. The numerous dry bones illustrate the situation of the entire people of Israel who lost hope. The vision emphasizes God’s promise to restore the people to a new political existence. God will grant them a new understanding of their relationship and their life in the land. And thus, the vision is not of an “individual” resurrection from the “dead” but a description of a corporate political beginning for Israel.
Thus the readings provide hope to many countries in political crisis. We know about the political crisis of Kenya and Thailand. It is predicted that the world will face a food crisis this year 2010. The war in Palestine and the Middle East continues. Pakistan barely survives the flood that killed thousands, submerged cities and destroyed properties.
Locally, the reading is very relevant especially for the Philippines. Our corrupt system has become a culture and a characteristic of our government. It has led so many Filipinos to finally give up hope, and succumb to it. We do not have to enumerate our national disappointments. (If you want, it’s here.) But suffice it to say, we are indeed at the brink of hopelessness. This is the reason why, many of us have pinned our hopes on an honest president.
But then how would God revive us all to life? The Gospel summarizes and simplifies all of the commandments. Jesus said that the greatest commandment is to love God with all our hearts, with all our souls, with all our mind. It is indeed the first and greatest commandment. From it flows the second: We shall love our neighbor as ourselves. If we follow these commands, our ‘dried’ spirits will regain life.
However, we should notice the relationship of these two commandments. The foundation of all our loves, including that of ourselves and our neighbors, is our relationship with God. We should love God first. Whatever relationship or the manner we do things, we pattern them according to this first love. When our love is rooted in God’s, it will naturally flow to our relationship with ourselves, others and our environment. People who love God will find prayer, worship, spiritual activities like retreats and recollections important.
If we love God first and sincerely, graft and corruption will not have a place in our system. If God’s way of loving us is the pattern of our relationships, whether personal, corporate, communal, or cultural, no one will be hopeless.
I believe we have to raise our children to be always hopeful. But to have hope means to have faith. Those who have faith will never say, “Die” because God is the God of the Living. Those who have faith will always see that death and despair is not the last say in our lives.
Practically, if we always hope amidst a valley of dry bones, we will always find alternatives. Like the river that enriches a valley, water will always find a way to flow even if it has to carve boulders. And water is always formidable.