Parables and Poetry: Ezekiel and Mark

Ezekiel’s Vision

The hand of the LORD came upon me, and he brought me out by the spirit of the LORD and set me down in the middle of a valley; it was full of bones. Dry-bones1He led me all around them; there were very many lying in the valley, and they were very dry. He said to me, “Mortal (son of man), can these bones live?” I answered, “O Lord GOD, you know.” Then he said to me, “Prophesy to these bones, and say to them: O dry bones, hear the word of the LORD. Thus says the Lord GOD to these bones: I will cause breath to enter you, and you shall live. I will lay sinews on you, and will cause flesh to come upon you, and cover you with skin, and put breath in you, and you shall live; and you shall know that I am the LORD.”

So I prophesied as I had been commanded; and as I prophesied, suddenly there was a noise, a rattling, and the bones came together, bone to its bone. I looked, and there were sinews on them, and flesh had come upon them, and skin had covered them; but there was no breath in them. Then he said to me, “Prophesy to the breath, prophesy, mortal, and say to the breath: Thus says the Lord GOD: Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe upon these slain, that they may live.” I prophesied as he commanded me, and the breath came into them, and they lived, and stood on their feet, a vast multitude.

Then he said to me, “Mortal, these bones are the whole house of Israel. They say, ‘Our bones are dried up, and our hope is lost; we are cut off completely.’ Therefore prophesy, and say to them, Thus says the Lord GOD … I will bring you back to the land of Israel. And you shall know that I am the LORD, when I … bring you up … O my people. I will put my spirit within you, and you shall live, and I will place you on your own soil; then you shall know that I, the LORD, have spoken and will act,” says the LORD.

 

As American slaves tilled the sandy soil of East Texas, they often sang spirituals taken from images of Scripture.

Dem bones, dem bones gonna rise again,

Dem bones, dem bones gonna rise again,

Dem bones, dem bones gonna rise again,

Now hear the word of the Lord!

Can you imagine how dry the bones of these weary people must have felt? How hopeless their lives must have been? But the vision of Ezekiel gave them hope: “these bones gonna rise again.” Maybe not here, maybe not now but someday.

It’s a similar kind of hope Ezekiel’s own nation of Israel held on to as they were lost in captivity in Babylon. “Can these bones live?” the Lord asked Ezekiel. I’m thinking they edited out Ezekiel’s original response: “I don’t know!” Rather, the Scripture says politely: “Lord, you know.” And – Lord knows – Israel did return to their homeland and rebuilt their holy city and the people came to life again.

Mark’s Christians were enduring the assault of Rome upon their holy land. Jesus had promised to come again; (now would be a good time, they must have been thinking.) But – no – hard times dragged on and on. Hearing again the stories of Jesus, remembering his teachings that things come to fullness in their time; hoping again in the God whose ways may be hidden but who is ever at work in the most ordinary events of our lives: would they have the ears to hear and the eyes to see this grace. Would they, too, hold on to hope?

The stories of Scripture tell us truth – about who we are as humans; who we are as a people formed by God. They point us beyond what we see with our eyes in the here and now and they project alternate realities, different possibilities, other visions of what is and what may be. storytellerThe storytellers and poets and visionaries among us play a crucial role; they help us make meaning; they help us to see.

Plato had his philosophies. Einstein had his formulas. But it is storytelling and poetry that is the way of Scripture. Adam and Eve, Noah and the ark, Jonah and the whale – all these stories help us grasp a truth that is larger than facts; that is much more than history. The stories of Scripture not only tell us something about who we are, where we’ve come from and where we’re going, but they also give us glimpses of truth about the God who is the Author and Goal of The Story – the one overarching Story of which all our little stories are a part.

Throughout Mark’s gospel, the parables show Jesus the Teacher proclaiming the kingdom of God. And yet Mark repeatedly says: the hearers did not understand. So if Jesus was such a great teacher, why didn’t people understand what he taught?

Because (Mark believes) grasping the kingdom of God is not a matter of formulas or philosophies or scientific proofs. The kingdom of God is not appropriated by our feeble human efforts. No, the kingdom of God is mystery. It is gift. It is miracle. It comes to us out of our control. It is God’s work and movement in the world.

Mark’s parables and Ezekiel’s visions are not meant to be dissected; they are intended to be discovered and experienced by our deeper ways of knowing. They spark our imagination and cultivate our curiosity and bring us to wonder.

The stories of Scripture seep into our bones, find connection in our joints, wrap themselves around us like skin, breathe in and out of our lives until something new is birthed within us. The storytellers and poets and visionaries of Scripture help us see the possibilities of our lives. They help us hear the whispers of heaven and the cry of our neighbor. They help us name what is real. Storytellers and poets are the ones who help us make meaning.

As a preacher and a writer, my gift and burden and joy is to share in this process with you. I yearn to give language to mystery like a Word become flesh. I want to craft and release words believing they can be breathed into life within someone else’s life by the mysterious power of Spirit. I want to trust that – by God’s grace – willing listeners and obedient disciples may shift in their perspectives and understanding, maybe even in their behavior so that when they move back into their world they are different, wiser, stronger, better.

“The hope and the wager for the Christian preacher” (my preaching professor has said) “is that this language that comes to us in the Bible mediates a word that is God’s true word for us and for God’s church. It is the bold hope that, against all odds, we have been given something more to say than our own best human thoughts.”

Richard Lischer writes: “The preacher makes words, approximately fifteen-hundred of them, on a Sunday morning, three-million in a career, and over the long haul of ministry, she speaks into existence an alternative world.”

How is it the preacher can “speak into existence an alternative world?”

It is mystery.

How does meaning develop and grow in the ‘space’ of our lives that is womb and soil and potter’s wheel?

It is mystery.

How can words spoken in a particular time and place and people spark an encounter with the Absolute?

It is mystery.

How does the presence of God take root in what – for all the world – looks like barren soil?

It is mystery.

How does the love of God soften a heart hardened by a life of pain and cynicism and allow it to blossom into a harvest of joy?

It is mystery.

How does the breath of God blow over the dry valleys of our lives and resurrect hope and meaning and a future?

It is mystery.

The parables, poems and visions of Scripture invite us into another world, another reality, into the infinite world of the God beyond history who has acted and continues to act within history. The world of the text invites us to see all our smaller human realities within the cosmic reality of the Eternal One. boy_reading_bible-1

We are configured and reconfigured according to this reality to which the text bears witness. And we are invited to invite others to share in this ever-new journey with us. It is journey to life and love and abundance. It is journey in mystery, hope and joy.

 

Lance Pape, The Scandal of Having Something to Say (Baylor University Press, 2013).

Richard Lischer, The End of Words: The Language of Reconciliation in a Culture of Violence (Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing, 2005).

 

 

Published by

Charlotte Vaughan Coyle

Charlotte Vaughan Coyle

Charlotte lives and blogs in Paris TX. She is ordained within the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) and a graduate of Brite Divinity School in Ft. Worth.

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