The Old Testament reading set for Morning Prayer today is Ezekiel chapter 11, from verse 14 to the end of the chapter.
These verses are not concerned with twenty-first century England and her global family. They concern a different people, at a different moment in history, some 2,500 years ago. And yet, for the communities for whom these words are held as scripture, they speak to us, also, of our humanity and lack of humanity, and of God’s judgement and mercy.
These verses address a people exiled from their own land, the consequence of their collective arrogance and false ease. Back ‘home,’ Jerusalem is a shadow of her former self. Even so, those who remain determine that this land is theirs alone now, and they will not share it. Yet God speaks, through the priest Ezekiel, to the exiles, saying, I shall bring you home, to this land. Land meant more than national geography, but symbolises hope and a future—a hope that was always meant to embrace those from other origins, and now, not for the first time, would embrace children and grandchildren who were yet to step foot in the land.
The vision God holds out is of dealing with hard-heartedness, of replacing hearts of stone set one against another with soft hearts, able to recognise one another. And for those who persisted in hard-heartedness, they would experience the consequence of their choice. That which they hoped for towards others, for ill, would rebound upon them.
As already noted, this is not a commentary on contemporary England (or anywhere else). Yet it holds up a mirror to us. Are we closed and defensive, possessive, narrow in our definition of peoplehood, nationhood, and sharing a land—a future, together—with those whose background is different to our own? Are we hard-hearted, or soft-hearted? Are we able to say, in keeping with God to the exiles, we have been a sanctuary to those living in exile from their own homeland, in our land? Is there any detestable thing within us, of which we need rid?
These are questions not only for those who claim this ancient text, who identify as Jew or Christian, but for anyone humble enough to want to learn from history. These are questions for today.