REVIVING THE DRY BONES
SCRIPTURE READINGS: [ EZEKIEL 37:1-4; PSALM 106:2-9; MATTHEW 22:34-40 ]
Dry bones! What an appropriate symbol for those who are going through the valley of tears in life. Not just bones, but dry bones! To be just bones is to be stripped of everything in life. When a person does not eat sufficiently, we say to that person, “you are all bones!” We can therefore feel with the prophet when he saw his people in exile. They had lost their homeland, their security, their land and their kingdom and were without a leader, without any direction in life, without a future.
Many of us are also in the valley of dry bones. We have no more energy left. Things are not going well for us. Our health is failing. No one seems to care about us. We are not able to pay for our medical treatment. Our business is about to fold up. We are unemployed. We have many financial woes. Our children too are not doing well in their studies. They get involved with bad company. We are struggling with the infidelity of our spouse and in-laws that are hostile and demanding. When we are in that situation, we are certainly in the valley of dry bones. We are tempted to give up on life, on caring for our loved ones, on our jobs and even God and the Church. Without motivation and with a sense of hopelessness, we just do not feel like doing anything. We slip further and further down the slope of depression. Like them we say, “Our bones are dried up, our hope has gone; we are as good as dead.”
How, then, do we get out of this valley when we no longer have any strength to do so? Firstly, we need a good prophet, a preacher to help us to see life in a new perspective. For this reason, the Lord sent the prophet Ezekiel to the exiled. The Lord said, “’Son of man, can these bones live?’ I said, ‘You know, Lord.’ He said, ‘Prophesy over these bones.’” The Lord told Ezekiel to say to them, “The Lord says this to these bones: I am now going to make the breath enter you, and you will live. I shall put sinews on you, I shall make flesh grow on you. I shall cover you with skin and give you breath, and you will live; and you will learn that I am the Lord.”
Indeed, the Word of God is the beginning of conversion. The Word must be preached to those in exile so that they can once again hear the message of hope. Those in depression need to be enlightened and be given mercy and hope. The Word of God, the Good News, is meant precisely to enlighten, to inspire and to bring hope to the nations. This was the message from Ezekiel to the people, “The Lord says this: I am now going to open your graves; I mean to raise you from your graves, my people, and lead you back to the soil of Israel. And you will know that I am the Lord, when I open your graves and raise you from your graves, my people.” It is clearly good news. And this good news is also ours. We must have hope and believe that the Lord will open our graves of darkness and bring us forth to the new life.
Of course, the proclamation of the Word requires that the recipients are willing to hear the Word of God. Thus the prophet is to preface his teaching by saying, “Dry bones, hear the word of the Lord.” Only those who are willing to hear the Word of God can find new inspiration, new insight and new vision. We must therefore cooperate with the Word of God. We need humility to listen to His Word and believe in faith so that the Word of God can act in our lives. Without an act of faith and obedience to His Word, the Word of God remains ineffective and useless. The appropriate response to God’s Word is always obedience in faith. If we follow the example of Abraham, Mary, the apostles and all the saints, the Word of God will also be fulfilled in our lives; and then we will recover our sense of purpose, our confidence in the midst of our trials, knowing that He is with us and He will see us through.
But knowing what to do is not enough to get a man on his feet again. He needs the energy. This energy is what the Spirit supplies. After enlightening the exiles and giving them a new vision and hope, the prophet had to empower them by giving them the Spirit of God. “The Lord says this: Come from the four winds, breath; breathe on these dead; let them live!” ‘I prophesied as he had ordered me, and the breath entered them; they came to life again and stood up on their feet, a great, an immense army.” Christ came precisely to give us the Spirit of God so that we can share in the life of God. Without the Holy Spirit, there can be no inner transformation and no power for evangelization. The Word of God without the Spirit cannot give because the Word is Spirit and Life.
The Holy Spirit is given through prayer. We need to ask for the Holy Spirit. Only through prayer, can we receive the Holy Spirit. For this reason, it is not sufficient for a prophet or a preacher to preach. He must pray as much as he teaches. If we want the lives of others to be changed, it is not enough to speak to them but we must pray for them as well. Only the Holy Spirit can open their minds and hearts to receive His word. The trouble with most of us is that we think it is what we say or teach that changes the hearts of people. Only the Spirit can transform lives. Word and Spirit must always go together.
When we receive the Holy Spirit, we will then be able to do what the Lord asks of us. As we share in the life of Christ, we will then be able to find meaning and purpose. In the gospel, Jesus gives us the direction of life. Jesus said, “You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest and the first commandment. The second resembles it: you must love your neighbour as yourself. On these two commandments hang the whole Law, and the Prophets also.”
Why is the call to love God the first and most important commandment? Unless we put God as the ultimate and the focus of our lives, we cannot live our life in security and be free from anxiety. But we must remember that the command to love God presupposes that God has already loved us. We are called to respond to His love by loving the Lord in return. The command to love God with our entire being is rooted first and foremost in the prior love of God for us.
When we love God, we will then be able to love our neighbours. No longer do we see them just as an animal or another creature. Christian appreciation of our fellowmen is not based on humanism but on the dignity of each person who is created in the image and likeness of God. If our faith forbids us to abort babies, practice euthanasia, conduct research involving the destruction of embryos, and invites us to accept everyone, those who are physically and mentally challenged, refugees, etc, it is because we see everyone as sharing in the life of God. They do not have just a soul but they share in God’s life. Hence, all human beings must be treated with respect and with love.
Accordingly, if a Christian claims that he loves God then he too must love his neighbours. Regardless of language, race or religion, every human person deserves to be loved and be given a basic wage to live on. So on that basis of the dignity of the human person, we are to care for every man and woman. Our position therefore cannot be that of the world, where a human person is treated like another thing or animal to be disposed at will. If a person has a soul that is immortal, then we are no longer dealing with just a thing. Otherwise, there is no basis why human beings are treated differently from other animals. Whether we like it or not, a human person is given special treatment only because he or she is God’s image and likeness. Consequently, a person who loves God would also love his neighbor. If he does not love God, then he would not be able to love his neighbor and give him the respect and reverence he deserves. “Those who say, ‘I love God’, and hate their brothers or sisters, are liars; for those who do not love a brother or sister whom they have seen, cannot love God whom they have not seen. The commandment we have from him is this: those who love God must love their brothers and sisters also.” (1 Jn 4:20f)
Written by The Most Rev William Goh Roman Catholic Archbishop of Singapore © All Rights Reserved
Best Practices for Using the Daily Scripture Reflections
- Encounter God through the spirit of prayer and the scripture by reflecting and praying the Word of God daily. The purpose is to bring you to prayer and to a deeper union with the Lord on the level of the heart.
- Daily reflections when archived will lead many to accumulate all the reflections of the week and pray in one sitting. This will compromise your capacity to enter deeply into the Word of God, as the tendency is to read for knowledge rather than a prayerful reading of the Word for the purpose of developing a personal and affective relationship with the Lord.
- It is more important to pray deeply, not read widely. The current reflections of the day would be more than sufficient for anyone who wants to pray deeply and be led into an intimacy with the Lord.
Note: You may share this reflection with someone. However, please note that reflections are not archived online, nor will they be available via email requests.