Evangelisation is an awfully big word, but for us Christians it is an awfully important word, because it is all about how we Christians spread the Christian message, the Gospel, to others. Indeed, on Saturday 800 people are gathering with the English and Welsh Bishops to spend a day on working out how to do this better. How can we get the truths of the faith over to people (including our own family members) who are so influenced by the ways of the world, or by atheist propaganda, that they cannot grasp why we think our faith is so important, or why we want then to be practising Catholics too. Our Readings today remind us how hard this is, even for Jesus in his home town (Mark 6:1-6) but I want us to look mostly today at Ezekiel whom we heard of in our 1st Reading (Ez 2:2-5)
Ezekiel is one of a number of people called “prophets” who lived about 500 years before Jesus was born, and whose writings can be found in the Old Testament part of the Bible. These readings are important to us because they were important to Jesus. They were written at a time of great agony and disruption for the Jewish people. The golden days of King David and King Solomon had passed, and now the people of Israel lived as two nations divided from one another, but also ravaged by war and invasion from the great Empires of the Middle East. In all this turmoil it would have been easy to give up the faith, as many did ; but the prophets taught that God was bigger than the disasters they were facing, and that in some way, eventually, God’s glory would be revealed.
Perhaps the two most famous passages where Ezekiel says this are his visions : first of a renewed Jerusalem with its desolated Temple restored and the water of life flowing out from it : and second of a Valley of dry bones coming to life. Some of you might know the second story from the Song “Dem Bones, dem bones, dem dry bones https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cLi55MV04a8
What is important for us is that both of these visions are fantastical. So, although in the time of Jesus, as now, some people took then literally, Jesus taught people how to understand such stories spiritually. So the renewed Temple in Jerusalem is not a building of wood and stone in a physically rebuilt city, but God’s presence in us the new Jerusalem – the Christian Church. And the new life promised to the bones is not literally skeletons getting up and dancing, but eternal life with God taking us beyond our mere physical existence.
Most of the people at the time were not convinced by Ezekiel’s visions. They preferred to ignore madcap ideas of rebuilding the Temple which might divert them from what was, for them, the more important task of surviving and thriving. But by the time of Jesus, 500 years later, these writings had become accepted, not least because the Temple had been rebuilt. You will remember that Jesus was always in the Temple when he visited Jerusalem, and many around him thought that a rebuilt Temple was a sign that soon the Romans would be defeated and Israel would return to its ancient glory led by a Son of David, an anointed one, a Messiah, a Christ. But Jesus, saw it all very differently. He predicted that before long the Temple, along with the whole of Jerusalem, would be destroyed again, (Matt 24:1) and he was right, because about 40 years later that is what happened. But he also said (John 2:19-21) “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” – and it was this that they mocked him for as he hung dying on the cross.
That mockery, of all that Jesus stood for, all that he eventually died for, is what we have to face today. Mostly the mockery is gentle and polite, a strange bewilderment that we think it’s important to go to Mass every Sunday. They don’t mind us having our private and personal thoughts about God and about Jesus, as long as it doesn’t disrupt the family visit, or the football game, or the trip to the seaside, or the need to go shopping. Then, we are pressurised into silence, forced by them into giving the impression that God and Jesus doesn’t matter very much, and can be accommodated around other more important things.
That is surely why this Gospel passage (Mark 6:1-6) is so important for us. It is the people Jesus knows from his own village who are most resistant to his message, and he knows from Ezekiel and the other prophets, that this is to be expected. But it doesn’t make it easy, does it? We can cope with people we do not know attacking the faith, but when it is our own family or friends, however gentle that attack may be, then it really is hard.
What makes it worse is that people still cannot see that the new Temple that Jesus said he would raise up, despite their mockery, the new Jerusalem that Ezekiel spoke of from which the water of life would flow, is the Church, the Christian people. They see the Church simply as a human organisation with its priests and its Pope – impressive on occasions, useful for weddings and funerals – but only that – nothing more. Whereas for us the Church is the place where God is present in all his glory. The Church is a spiritual entity which is vital for the world and for the world’s future. We, the Church, are the yeast in the flour without which there can be no bread. We are the salt in the food without which there is no taste. We are the lamp in the room without which there is only darkness and death.
That is what we are called to be for the world, whether the world accepts it or not. Evangelisation, sharing this with others, especially those close to us, will always be hard; but we must try to find ways to do it, and that is why we must pray to God for help for such a difficult task.