Just a few words on today’s first reading from Ezekiel. It was written during what has been call the Babylonian Captivity. About 580 years before the birth of Christ the Jewish people revolted against the Babylonians who occupied their homeland. In punishment for this revolt there were three deportations of the Jews to Babylon. This captivity lasted for 70 years. During that time the Babylonians were defeated by the Persians. The Persian king Cyrus sent the Jewish people back home to rebuild Jerusalem and its temple.
Ezekiel was the prophet at that time as was Isaiah. Ezekiel kept encouraging the people during their captivity. He kept promising that things would change, things would get better, and God would not abandon God’s people. In today’s reading Ezekiel uses the image of a tree, and a small sprig from that tree that would be planted on a mountain height in Israel and become a noble cedar. In the shade of its branches winged creatures of every kind would nest and find safety. Using imagery Ezekiel promises the Jewish people a brighter future in their own land. The cedar in Ezekiel’s allegory stands for the restoration of the Davidic monarchy after the exile. The beasts and birds represent the nations of the earth. This indicates that the prophecy expects the kingdom restored after the return from exile would be more than just the mere restoration of the way things were before the exile. It would be an inclusive kingdom open to all who sought the living God. In fact, the prophecy looks to the realization of the messianic kingdom. As Christians we read Ezekiel’s prophecy through the prism of the Passion, Death and Resurrection of Christ and say his prophecy finds its ultimate fulfillment in the kingdom of Christ, of which the church on earth is a foretaste. Some scholars say Ezekiel’s allegory is the source of the imagery of the mustard seed in today’s gospel.
From the beginning trees have played an important role in scripture. In the creation story in Genesis the tree of life, of the knowledge of good and evil was in the very center of the Garden of Eden. For Christians the tree of the cross is central to our faith. Let’s think for a moment on trees and how important they are to us.Trees are an important component of our natural landscape. They help build up watersheds and prevent erosion. They provide a weather shelter ecosystem in and under their foliage. Trees are the lungs of the earth as they play an important role in producing oxygen and reducing carbon dioxide.
What comes to your mind when you see a young healthy person smoking? I ask, “how dumb can you be?” Knowing what we know about smoking and cancer, how dumb can you be? Knowing the importance of trees to the wellbeing of the earth how dumb can we be to be insensitive to the deforestation of the rain forests of earth for cattle raising? How dumb can we be as we allow strip mining of mountain sides to mine coal? How dumb can we be to deny the reality of climate change and the impact it will have on future generations?
Remember I’ve said many times, the earth does not belong to us; we belong to the earth and what we do to the earth we do to ourselves. We did not weave the web of life; we are a strand in the web and what we do to the web we do to ourselves. What goes around comes around. There is a saying among the aboriginal people of the Philippines – no trees, no water; no water, no land; no land, no food; no food, no children; no children, no future.
Toronto has been called the city of trees. We are lucky. Here we are far removed from the harsh reality of the devastation wreaked on the planet. But we have to remember we are a strand in the web of life and what we do to the web we do to ourselves.
These issues seem overwhelming, certainly depressing. I’m just little old me, what can I do?
The priest-scientist Pierre Teilhard de Chardin once wrote that for him, at the end of the day, there is only one worthwhile joy: the feeling you get from cooperating rightfully within the big picture of things, from taking your place within the great cosmic jigsaw puzzle. Joy and meaning come from being one tiny piece within the overall progress of the universe, nothing more and nothing less. Each one of us is an important piece in the great cosmic jigsaw puzzle.
We can all ask ourselves, “what am I doing to fill in that little piece of the big picture, that one wee atom that is uniquely me? How can I enhance this beautiful earth, what am I doing to heal our wounded earth? What change can I make in my life style, my habit of consuming? How I can I live simply that others may simply live?” The answer to these questions will be found in the ordinary living of our ordinary lives.
And all this started from a sprig of a lofty cedar.