Ezekiel 47:1-9, 12 (NRSVCE)
There’s a lot of imagery going on here in Ezekiel’s vision, and it’s hard to even know where to begin. The easiest place to start is probably the flowing water. Ezekiel is led by the angel to this small stream which was flowing out of the temple. Ezekiel wades in it easily, as it’s only ankle deep. He took him a bit further, and Ezekiel is now in it up to his knees. A bit further, and now it’s up to his waist. A bit further, and now Ezekiel needs to swim, as his feed no longer touch the bottom. The stream has become a mighty river. That’s when Ezekiel sees that this river is feeding all kinds of life on its shores and in its waters. This isn’t just some sewage runoff, this is a source of abundance.
The immediately striking thing is the steady growth of the running waters. This can be taken to be symbolism for many things. It could be taken to mean grace, as God’s graces are superabundant, and as we grow in our faith our capacity to love God grows ever more, and God keeps our cup overflowing all long the way. It is God’s grace which perfects us, and this process of sanctification is a gradual welling up in our souls, as we see the waters begin as a small stream but eventually blossom into a mighty river full of life.
On the other hand, it could be symbolic of knowledge—that is, knowledge of God and of God’s ways. God doesn’t reveal Himself all at once to man, He does it gradually. He comes to Abraham and promises a great family, and shows He is not like the gods of other nations when He stops Abraham from sacrificing Isaac. He shows great wonders to Moses and the Israelites, through the Exodus and bringing them to the Promised Land. He even gives them the Law, so that they might know how they are to please Him. This progressive revelation of God builds and builds throughout Scripture, finally culminating in the Gospels—in Jesus Christ, God among us. In Christ we see the Law fulfilled, we see the plan of salvation, we see more than we ever had before how much God loves us. And in Christ we find life.
Or perhaps we ought to turn our attention to evangelization, to preaching the Gospel. Jesus set His followers to the task of preaching the good news, which like this stream began at the site of the Temple, in Jerusalem. At first, Christ’s Church was a small band of believers reaching out from Jerusalem. But as they pressed on in doing God’s work, they grew. And perhaps a river is even the most fitting of the images here, as the Church grew how? By converting more believers and baptizing them into the one Church. As the apostles and their followers continued to flow out from Jerusalem, they continued to grow. And Christ’s Church brings life to the world, through the preaching of the Gospel, through spreading the good news and leading people to Christ. Like in Ezekiel’s vision, there is a stagnant sea. But the Gospel is like the fresh waters of the river, bringing abundance and life to the world.
There are many other ways to see the imagery at work here in this passage (and indeed in all of Ezekiel). I would be curious to hear any of your thoughts on it, as I find myself overwhelmed by the beauty and depth of it.