People don’t want to hear about it. And no, I am not referring to the American election. People don’t want to hear about, or talk about, religion; “Don’t force that down my throat!” Some will say that religion is a personal matter, or even further, a private matter. So it ought not be brought up. Some are overly optimistic and say that all religions are equally true and good. So why bother talking about it? Some are overly pessimistic and say that all religions are equally in error and bad. So why bother talking about it? Many will say that talking religion is so unCanadian, for someone might just get offended, so stick to the weather, hockey, and perhaps American politics thank you. Since the Church has a prophetic role in speaking a message on behalf of God to the world, namely the Gospel of Jesus Christ, how can we proceed when conversation seems stifled from the start?
Ezekiel may well have been facing a people that did not want to hear the message he was to bring. There would be the overly optimistic, “don’t bother us with a message of judgement, the Lord will rescue us any day now.” There would be the overly pessimistic, “Where was God when the Babylonians arrived? So much for him, I don’t want to hear anything more.” How is Ezekiel to proceed?
Ezekiel’s first message which we hear about in Ezekiel chapter 4 is not a spoken message. It is acted out. Ezekiel is called by God to grab people’s attention through art. Some have called it “street theatre.” Let’s look at what he was to do:
1 And you, O mortal, take a brick and set it before you. On it portray a city, Jerusalem; 2 and put siegeworks against it, and build a siege wall against it, and cast up a ramp against it; set camps also against it, and plant battering rams against it all around.
He was to make a map of Jerusalem, and, just as I loved to play with small plastic “army guys” and tanks and wot not as a child, Ezekiel was to “play” siege warfare. That would grab attention! Further,
3 Then take an iron plate and place it as an iron wall between you and the city; set your face toward it, and let it be in a state of siege, and press the siege against it.
Here Ezekiel is to role-play God in this “play battle,” only God is not portrayed as there to rescue, but to remain hidden as the siege rages on. That would grab attention. Further,
4 Then lie on your left side, and place the punishment of the house of Israel upon it. . . three hundred ninety days, . . . When you have completed these, you shall lie down a second time, but on your right side,. . .forty days.
Ezekiel is to lie down by his model of a siege every day for over a year, for 430 days to be precise! Most Biblical scholars think that this would have been part of a daily routine of street theatre and so we perhaps ought not to think of Ezekiel being stuck there for the duration. Nevertheless, Ezekiel’s play siege and lying down daily for days on end would grab attention. Further,
9 And you, take wheat and barley, beans and lentils, millet and spelt; put them into one vessel, and make bread for yourself. During the number of days that you lie on your side, three hundred ninety days, you shall eat it. . . .11 And you shall drink water by measure, one-sixth of a hin; at fixed times you shall drink.
This is not a health food diet, this is a no food diet. This is what the people of a city would cook up as a last resort for mere survival under siege. Ezekiel is to eat and drink very little for all those days. Some Biblical scholars think this “dramatic eating” in public would be supplemented by Ezekiel each day at home. Others think this would have been Ezekiel’s only food and water for the duration. You can imagine Ezekiel over time losing weight and looking starved. The diet would grab attention either way. Further . . .
12 You shall eat it as a barley-cake, baking it in their sight on human dung. 13 The Lord said, “Thus shall the people of Israel eat their bread, unclean, among the nations to which I will drive them.”
Ezekiel complains at this point and the Lord lets him use cow’s dung for fuel instead of human dung. Cow’s dung is still used as fuel for cooking to this day, but the use of human dung would be an offence to any good Jew like Ezekiel. I can imagine Ezekiel letting the onlookers to the street theatre know that he was supposed to cook over human dung. This too, would grab people’s attention.
What is the point of Ezekiel grabbing people’s attention? To deliver a message of judgement. There will be another siege against Jerusalem, it will last a long time, God will not intervene, food and water will be scarce, and, as symbolized by the human dung, the rest of the people of Jerusalem people will be joining Ezekiel and the other captives in an unclean land. This was a message to the overly optimistic; captivity is the future. This was a message for the overly pessimistic; God is not dead, He is keeping His covenant promises. This was a message delivered not so much through speech as through art, through street theatre. Ezekiel was called by God to deliver the message in a way that would grab people’s attention, that would make them do a rethink.
Are we as the Christian Church doing enough to grab people’s attention? Our message of reconciliation through Jesus is far more exciting than Ezekiel’s message of judgement through the Babylonians! Are we engaging people with it?
Are we grabbing people’s attention through the Arts? Through visual arts, dramatic arts, creative writing, music, in fact through every art form available? We can pray for Christian artists, encourage Christian artists, or even be Christian artists. Art can be a great way to grab attention and lead people to do a rethink.
Are we grabbing people’s attention through the Sciences? Through the study of history, medicine, philosophy, archaeology, sociology, psychology, anthropology, cosmology, and everyotherology? There are Christians devoted to the study of all these sciences, and many find themselves drawn closer to Christ through them. The sciences can be a great way to grab attention and lead people to do a rethink.
Are we grabbing people’s attention through the Christ-honouring life? Love grabs attention, as do the things done as an expression of love; forgiveness grabs attention, bearing a cross for the sake of others grabs attention. Peace grabs attention. Patience, kindness, generosity, and goodness grab attention. Faithfulness grabs attention. People are amazed when they hear of a long-lasting marriage. A Christian covenant marriage grabs attention. Gentleness and self control grab attention. Do these qualities sound familiar?
22 By contrast, the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against such things.(Galatians 5:22,23)
A Christ-honouring, Christ-following, Spirit-led, Spirit-filled life is a great way to grab attention and lead people to do a rethink.
People may have mocked Ezekiel for his street theatre. People may mock us for our involvement in the Arts and Sciences. They may mock us for living Christ-honouring lives. But the reaction to Ezekiel was not near as important as the response to the message. People’s reaction to us is not near as important as their response to Jesus. Being mocked is evidence that we have in fact grabbed someone’s attention.
People do not want to hear it, they do not want to talk about it. We have no need to ram religion down people’s throats, but we are called to get Jesus into their heads. We can be creative in that. Speech and preaching is important, vital even. But the Lord also uses the Arts, the Sciences, and Christ-honouring lives in enabling the Church to fulfill its prophetic role in the world. Ready to grab attention?
All scripture references are from the NRSV and unless stated otherwise are from Ezekiel, chapter 4.