The exile and the promise

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    [title] => And so paradise became a city
    [alias] => and-so-paradise-became-a-city
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The exile and the promise/28 – There is always a piece of sacred land that is not for sale, and hence priceless

by Luigino Bruni

published in Avvenire on 19/05/2019

«The price of life stems from things that are priceless. It is within the context of charitable acts, of giving away what he owns and what he is, that man reaches his highest level of dignity»

François Perroux, Le capitalisme

We have reached the end of the comments on the book of Ezekiel. His last words regard the city, reminding us that the meaning of prophecy is to talk to us about heaven in order to do things better on earth.

He who fears charity and giving does not seek, in general, to do away with them. No, instead he cunningly covers them with words of esteem and praise and then locks them away in a small and narrow room, so that, tied up and imprisoned, they cannot disturb the regular business of things going on outside. The name of these attempts at ideological confinement today are: no profit, volunteering, third sector, religion. There are false prophets who are willing to do everything to convince us that giving and fraternity can only be good and of use if the remain docile within the realms of a well-defined and limited territory, because they know that if these concepts should free themselves and get out, they would put their business in a profound crisis. Great innovations come about when, thanks to an honest prophet, charity exceeds its boundaries and breaks into the city, transforming and changing it forever.

«This is what the Sovereign Lord says: “You are to divide it equally among them. Because I swore with uplifted hand to give it to your ancestors, this land will become your inheritance» (Ezekiel 47,13-14). At the end of the book of Ezekiel we find the land again, which in the Bible is much more than a mere juridical or political issue. To the prophets the land is always sacred land, especially to the prophets of the exile, when land was no more and the promise seemed to have vanished forever. One of the great and principal tasks of the prophets, maybe the most precious one, is keeping the promise alive when everyone and everything insist that it’s finished – talking to us about the future during destruction, of beauty in the middle of ugliness, of health in sickness, of life while we are dying. One cannot overcome the great crises of the world without prophecy.

The Promised Land belongs to the profound spiritual DNA of biblical humanism. It is an essential part of the gift from its different God, true because of the truth of His promise. This is also why the Jewish people have been (and continue to be) tempted and tried on their possession and non-possession of land. But the view of the prophets differs from that of the Law regarding this matter as well. Ezekiel says that the portions of land of the twelve tribes must all be the equal, and hence that they should not be assigned according to the size of the population. Telling us that if there is justice in proportionality, there is also a different kind of justice that recognises equal rights to different realities. Being smaller or a smaller number of people does not always justify a smaller share, because sometimes size and force are not the first words to be mentioned in the social pact. They are many times, but not always. There are moral and social aspects that cannot be measured or weighed. Sometimes the criteria for fair treatment and equity precede those of equality, but there are times when the principle of equality must be absolute, especially in matters regarding human rights – dignity, respect, freedom, are not assigned on the basis of quantity and numbers. And to the prophets the Promised Land does not belong to the kingdom of quantity but to that of the spirit and hence of quality.

The Law had also repeatedly stated that foreigners were not like the Jews, that they did not have the same rights (Deuteronomy 23, 3-4).The prophet however changes, rectifies and overturns this: «So you shall divide this land among you according to the tribes of Israel. You shall allot it as an inheritance for yourselves and for the sojourners who reside among you and have had children among you. They shall be to you as native-born children of Israel» (Ezekiel 47, 21-22). The Torah Law relegates the different rules regarding the seventh day to the Shabbat alone, doing everything possible so that they may continue being only an exception, prophecy however tends to extend the jubilee law of the seventh day to every day of the week. Because the sabbatical exception to the Law is and must remain an exception (equality between citizens and foreigners, between man and nature, between free men and slaves…), while to the prophecy this is the rule of the Kingdom that is to come. Jesus’s controversy towards the Sabbath is a prophetic criticism of a system which jealously defended the Sabbath to stop it from eluding the boundaries of the seventh day – the prophecy of the Gospels is an eternal Sabbath, where cosmic fraternity is the golden rule of the new law.

Communities that do not have prophets or prophecies discriminate between native citizens and foreigners, between different categories of children. The Law makes distinctions, assigns priorities and excludes; in the name of a different law, the prophets unify, include, level and bring equality. It is from the dialogue, meeting and confrontation between the Law and Prophecy that the actual and changing rules of civil society and coexistence were born. But these will not be anything but inhuman and unjust if the different reasoning behind the prophets thinking is missing in the civil debate – or when it is silenced, killed, or converted.

Ezekiel then continues: «Alongside the territory of the priests, the Levites will have an allotment (…) They must not sell or exchange any of it. This is the best of the land and must not pass into other hands, because it is holy to the Lord» (Ezekiel 48,13-14). There is a portion of the Promised Land, the central part is assigned to the tribe of Levi, which is governed by yet another different statute: this strip of land cannot be made an object of trade. Here, the land does not follow the rules of supply and demand, and hence, thanks to this sliver of land the entire earth still remains promised even if it’s already been attained.

This land is not the land of a contract but of a pact it needs to remember. A strong and clear language to differentiate between pacts and contracts and set a limit to commercial exchange, stating that not everything in that relationship is for sale, that there in fact are things and values that are literally non-negotiable. In the Bible business is not, as in Latin languages, the negative of ozio = leisure, (nec-otium), but the negative of sacred: “because it is sacred to the Lord”. A pact is not a contract because it does not include a reserved price which once attained will turn the good in question into a commodity. Even if some lawyer wanted to call it that, a matrimony is not a business transaction for it is founded on a piece of sacred land that is not a commodity, but merely and only a good; because that strip of common land is our promised land, and hence does not have a price, and that lack of price makes its value infinite.

Ezekiel’s last vision ends with the New Jerusalem: «The gates of the city will be named after the tribes of Israel» (Ezekiel 48, 31). And then the book ends with this phrase: «And the name of the city from that time on will be: the Lord is there» (Ezekiel 48, 35).

The book of the prophet Ezekiel, the prophet who spoke to us about heaven the most, of visions, of angels, ends with the vision of a new city. In great novels, the first and last words are not like the rest. They have a different weight and a different meaning, and they should often be read together. «In my thirtieth year, in the fourth month on the fifth day, while I was among the exiles by the Kebar River, the heavens were opened and I saw visions of God». This is the first verse of the book of Ezekiel, with which we began this long journey, almost six months ago. The heavens opened, and there were divine visions, many of which are described in his book. And, in the end, his last word is a secular and humble word: “city”. These last couple of months, Ezekiel has given us a great number of words of beauty and hope, but maybe the most beautiful one is this one last word of his. A marvellous message to those who, like us, do not have the privilege to see the heavens opening, do not have visions, but wish to and should see the city, our city, its politics, its economy, its people, therein finding our paradise. Ezekiel’s visions and heavens have at the same time also become ours. The prophets tell us of their visions so that they may become our heritage and hope while we fight the same battles they fought, despite note being able to hear “so said the Lord”. Here, we have a strange but real legacy: continuing their fights without having their light, creates a real fraternity between us and the prophets.

And so the time to say goodbye is upon us once again. We must leave Ezekiel, with the same nostalgic feeling with which we leave a dear friend who has welcomed us as guests during a few months in his beautiful home. In his company, we have encountered both the lights and shadows of our time, its joys and its hopes. Many things remain engraved in our soul, but above all, a few immense and infinite pages. The story of his prophetic calling in exiled lands, a minister without a temple who inherits a temple as great as the whole world. The silence that accompanied his calling and made it even more real and human, because no one knows himself to own his own words like a prophet does, that each word is a gift that breaks the silence. And then the destruction of Jerusalem and of the temple, that he had prophesized from the very first day of his calling: a mysterious destiny for a prophet who received the task to announce the destruction of the holy city, “delight of his eyes”. Then, the new heart of flesh, and the great vision of the withered and resurrected bones, the Pentecost of the Old Testament. And then the new temple which becomes the fountain and a source of water that spreads from there to inundate the earth, to sanctify the profane and the whole world. And finally the city. His and our cities. But first, last and always: the exile and the promise. Ezekiel is an incredible prophet because he knew how to keep his faith in the promise constant during the Babylonian exile, the hardest time in the history of Israel. Teaching us that the promise can be kept alive even when the great dream is dying. That God is still real even if He has been beaten, that success is not a good indicator of truth. That even if a story has ended it does not mean that it is the end of the story. What would religion be without the prophets? Without life? Without us?

Thank you to those of you who have accompanied me during these months, in an assignment that keeps becoming increasingly choral. Thank you to Marco Tarquinio, director of this publication which is one of the great blessings of this season of my work and of my life. Following a Sunday break, we will continue our dialogue with the Bible on the 2nd of June, with a comment on the Books of Kings, hence on the story of Solomon and Elia. Once more, ready to allow ourselves to be surprised by the Bible and through it by life.

download pdf  article in pdf (311 KB)

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The exile and the promise/28 – There is always a piece of sacred land that is not for sale, and hence priceless

by Luigino Bruni

published in Avvenire on 19/05/2019

«The price of life stems from things that are priceless. It is within the context of charitable acts, of giving away what he owns and what he is, that man reaches his highest level of dignity»

François Perroux, Le capitalisme

We have reached the end of the comments on the book of Ezekiel. His last words regard the city, reminding us that the meaning of prophecy is to talk to us about heaven in order to do things better on earth.

He who fears charity and giving does not seek, in general, to do away with them. No, instead he cunningly covers them with words of esteem and praise and then locks them away in a small and narrow room, so that, tied up and imprisoned, they cannot disturb the regular business of things going on outside. The name of these attempts at ideological confinement today are: no profit, volunteering, third sector, religion. There are false prophets who are willing to do everything to convince us that giving and fraternity can only be good and of use if the remain docile within the realms of a well-defined and limited territory, because they know that if these concepts should free themselves and get out, they would put their business in a profound crisis. Great innovations come about when, thanks to an honest prophet, charity exceeds its boundaries and breaks into the city, transforming and changing it forever.

«This is what the Sovereign Lord says: “You are to divide it equally among them. Because I swore with uplifted hand to give it to your ancestors, this land will become your inheritance» (Ezekiel 47,13-14). At the end of the book of Ezekiel we find the land again, which in the Bible is much more than a mere juridical or political issue. To the prophets the land is always sacred land, especially to the prophets of the exile, when land was no more and the promise seemed to have vanished forever. One of the great and principal tasks of the prophets, maybe the most precious one, is keeping the promise alive when everyone and everything insist that it’s finished – talking to us about the future during destruction, of beauty in the middle of ugliness, of health in sickness, of life while we are dying. One cannot overcome the great crises of the world without prophecy.

The Promised Land belongs to the profound spiritual DNA of biblical humanism. It is an essential part of the gift from its different God, true because of the truth of His promise. This is also why the Jewish people have been (and continue to be) tempted and tried on their possession and non-possession of land. But the view of the prophets differs from that of the Law regarding this matter as well. Ezekiel says that the portions of land of the twelve tribes must all be the equal, and hence that they should not be assigned according to the size of the population. Telling us that if there is justice in proportionality, there is also a different kind of justice that recognises equal rights to different realities. Being smaller or a smaller number of people does not always justify a smaller share, because sometimes size and force are not the first words to be mentioned in the social pact. They are many times, but not always. There are moral and social aspects that cannot be measured or weighed. Sometimes the criteria for fair treatment and equity precede those of equality, but there are times when the principle of equality must be absolute, especially in matters regarding human rights – dignity, respect, freedom, are not assigned on the basis of quantity and numbers. And to the prophets the Promised Land does not belong to the kingdom of quantity but to that of the spirit and hence of quality.

The Law had also repeatedly stated that foreigners were not like the Jews, that they did not have the same rights (Deuteronomy 23, 3-4).The prophet however changes, rectifies and overturns this: «So you shall divide this land among you according to the tribes of Israel. You shall allot it as an inheritance for yourselves and for the sojourners who reside among you and have had children among you. They shall be to you as native-born children of Israel» (Ezekiel 47, 21-22). The Torah Law relegates the different rules regarding the seventh day to the Shabbat alone, doing everything possible so that they may continue being only an exception, prophecy however tends to extend the jubilee law of the seventh day to every day of the week. Because the sabbatical exception to the Law is and must remain an exception (equality between citizens and foreigners, between man and nature, between free men and slaves…), while to the prophecy this is the rule of the Kingdom that is to come. Jesus’s controversy towards the Sabbath is a prophetic criticism of a system which jealously defended the Sabbath to stop it from eluding the boundaries of the seventh day – the prophecy of the Gospels is an eternal Sabbath, where cosmic fraternity is the golden rule of the new law.

Communities that do not have prophets or prophecies discriminate between native citizens and foreigners, between different categories of children. The Law makes distinctions, assigns priorities and excludes; in the name of a different law, the prophets unify, include, level and bring equality. It is from the dialogue, meeting and confrontation between the Law and Prophecy that the actual and changing rules of civil society and coexistence were born. But these will not be anything but inhuman and unjust if the different reasoning behind the prophets thinking is missing in the civil debate – or when it is silenced, killed, or converted.

Ezekiel then continues: «Alongside the territory of the priests, the Levites will have an allotment (…) They must not sell or exchange any of it. This is the best of the land and must not pass into other hands, because it is holy to the Lord» (Ezekiel 48,13-14). There is a portion of the Promised Land, the central part is assigned to the tribe of Levi, which is governed by yet another different statute: this strip of land cannot be made an object of trade. Here, the land does not follow the rules of supply and demand, and hence, thanks to this sliver of land the entire earth still remains promised even if it’s already been attained.

This land is not the land of a contract but of a pact it needs to remember. A strong and clear language to differentiate between pacts and contracts and set a limit to commercial exchange, stating that not everything in that relationship is for sale, that there in fact are things and values that are literally non-negotiable. In the Bible business is not, as in Latin languages, the negative of ozio = leisure, (nec-otium), but the negative of sacred: “because it is sacred to the Lord”. A pact is not a contract because it does not include a reserved price which once attained will turn the good in question into a commodity. Even if some lawyer wanted to call it that, a matrimony is not a business transaction for it is founded on a piece of sacred land that is not a commodity, but merely and only a good; because that strip of common land is our promised land, and hence does not have a price, and that lack of price makes its value infinite.

Ezekiel’s last vision ends with the New Jerusalem: «The gates of the city will be named after the tribes of Israel» (Ezekiel 48, 31). And then the book ends with this phrase: «And the name of the city from that time on will be: the Lord is there» (Ezekiel 48, 35).

The book of the prophet Ezekiel, the prophet who spoke to us about heaven the most, of visions, of angels, ends with the vision of a new city. In great novels, the first and last words are not like the rest. They have a different weight and a different meaning, and they should often be read together. «In my thirtieth year, in the fourth month on the fifth day, while I was among the exiles by the Kebar River, the heavens were opened and I saw visions of God». This is the first verse of the book of Ezekiel, with which we began this long journey, almost six months ago. The heavens opened, and there were divine visions, many of which are described in his book. And, in the end, his last word is a secular and humble word: “city”. These last couple of months, Ezekiel has given us a great number of words of beauty and hope, but maybe the most beautiful one is this one last word of his. A marvellous message to those who, like us, do not have the privilege to see the heavens opening, do not have visions, but wish to and should see the city, our city, its politics, its economy, its people, therein finding our paradise. Ezekiel’s visions and heavens have at the same time also become ours. The prophets tell us of their visions so that they may become our heritage and hope while we fight the same battles they fought, despite note being able to hear “so said the Lord”. Here, we have a strange but real legacy: continuing their fights without having their light, creates a real fraternity between us and the prophets.

And so the time to say goodbye is upon us once again. We must leave Ezekiel, with the same nostalgic feeling with which we leave a dear friend who has welcomed us as guests during a few months in his beautiful home. In his company, we have encountered both the lights and shadows of our time, its joys and its hopes. Many things remain engraved in our soul, but above all, a few immense and infinite pages. The story of his prophetic calling in exiled lands, a minister without a temple who inherits a temple as great as the whole world. The silence that accompanied his calling and made it even more real and human, because no one knows himself to own his own words like a prophet does, that each word is a gift that breaks the silence. And then the destruction of Jerusalem and of the temple, that he had prophesized from the very first day of his calling: a mysterious destiny for a prophet who received the task to announce the destruction of the holy city, “delight of his eyes”. Then, the new heart of flesh, and the great vision of the withered and resurrected bones, the Pentecost of the Old Testament. And then the new temple which becomes the fountain and a source of water that spreads from there to inundate the earth, to sanctify the profane and the whole world. And finally the city. His and our cities. But first, last and always: the exile and the promise. Ezekiel is an incredible prophet because he knew how to keep his faith in the promise constant during the Babylonian exile, the hardest time in the history of Israel. Teaching us that the promise can be kept alive even when the great dream is dying. That God is still real even if He has been beaten, that success is not a good indicator of truth. That even if a story has ended it does not mean that it is the end of the story. What would religion be without the prophets? Without life? Without us?

Thank you to those of you who have accompanied me during these months, in an assignment that keeps becoming increasingly choral. Thank you to Marco Tarquinio, director of this publication which is one of the great blessings of this season of my work and of my life. Following a Sunday break, we will continue our dialogue with the Bible on the 2nd of June, with a comment on the Books of Kings, hence on the story of Solomon and Elia. Once more, ready to allow ourselves to be surprised by the Bible and through it by life.

download pdf  article in pdf (311 KB)

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And so paradise became a city

And so paradise became a city

The exile and the promise/28 – There is always a piece of sacred land that is not for sale, and hence priceless by Luigino Bruni published in Avvenire on 19/05/2019 «The price of life stems from things that are priceless. It is within the context of charitable acts, of giving away what he owns and w...
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    [title] => The great song of laity
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The exile and the promise/27 – The temple is too small to contain the Love and waters of wisdom

by Luigino Bruni

published in Avvenire on 12/05/2019

«Alyosha stood, gazed, and suddenly threw himself down on the earth. He did not know why he embraced it. He could not have told why he longed so irresistibly to kiss it, to kiss it all. But he kissed it weeping, sobbing, and watering it with his tears, and vowed passionately to love it, to love it for ever and ever... Within three days he left the monastery in accordance with the words of his elder, who had bidden him “sojourn in the world»

Fëdor Dostoevskij, The Brothers Karamazov - Cana of Galilee

The page with the passage recounting the sacred place surrounded by water that irrigates the earth is one of the greatest pages and passages by Ezekiel and in the Bible. It contains the image of an authentically lay faith where the temple of God becomes the entire earth itself.

Water is one of the great symbols in the Bible. It is the alpha and the omega. The Pishon, the Tigris, the Nile, the Jordan, the Jabbok, Noah, Abraham, Hagar, Rachel, Moses, Mara, the Baptist, the Samaritan woman, the Golgotha. Rivers, wells, women. Water and life, water is life. Always and everywhere, especially on those semi-arid regions of the Near East, or in the withered and desertified lands of the heirs of Adam and Cain.

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Sometimes in great literary works – and the Bible is one of them – you find a page which on its own says it all. These are different pages, summarizing the entire message of the book and all real and beautiful things that could be said on the subject. A page that, when reading it, gives you a fullness that satiates you completely. We can, we should read the entire book of Ezekiel, and then those of the other prophets, and all the Sapiential Books, all the way up to the Gospels and Paul, and maybe some texts of other spiritual traditions as well. But if at the end of this enterprise, we should want to say what we have understood about religion, about the spirit, about worship and the temple, we might never find anything better than the image offered by Ezekiel, of the new temple immersed in water, flowing from it to irrigate the earth: «The man brought me back to the entrance to the temple, and I saw water coming out from under the threshold of the temple toward the east... The water was coming down from under the south side of the temple, south of the altar. He then brought me out through the north gate and led me around the outside to the outer gate facing east, and the water was trickling from the south side» (Ezekiel 47,1-2).

The water grows right in front of Ezekiel while he, in the company of his surveyor guide-angel, watches it in wonder, a bit frightened: «As the man went eastward with a measuring line in his hand, he measured off a thousand cubits and then led me through water that was ankle-deep. He measured off another thousand cubits and led me through water that was knee-deep. He measured off another thousand and led me through water that was up to the waist. He measured off another thousand, but now it was a river that I could not cross» (Ez 47,3-5). After the highly meticulous descriptions of the temple, worship and offerings in the previous chapters, the prophet takes the floor first-hand and leaves us with a fresco of uncommon beauty. We are right there with him in the river stream, feeling the water grow from ankle-deep to waist-high and up. Ezekiel is in his causeway together with an angel. This time man and angel do not fight, there is no sciatic nerve injury. Only the blessing of an eternal message about the soul and spirit, about the temple and life, remains.

The vision continues: «When I arrived there, I saw a great number of trees on each side of the river. He said to me, “This water flows toward the eastern region and goes down into the Arabah, where it enters the Dead Sea. When it empties into the sea, the salty water there becomes fresh. Swarms of living creatures will live wherever the river flows. There will be large numbers of fish, because this water flows there and makes the salt water fresh; so where the river flows everything will live"» (Ez 47,6-9). The angel shows Ezekiel the landscape. Where there was only desert and aridity a great number of trees have now grown: «Their leaves will not wither, nor will their fruit fail. Every month they will bear fruit, because the water from the sanctuary flows to them. Their fruit will serve for food and their leaves for healing» (Ez 47,12). And the Dead Sea, a region which was considered cursed and sterile in ancient tradition, comes back to life, the salty waters are reborn fresh, and become populated with an infinity and variety of fish, like in the Mediterranean Sea («The Great Sea»: Ez 47,10). Water brings fertility and restoration, and above all it brings life. And so Ezekiel, after having offered us a few chapters with the mighty image of the wind and breath of the spirit resurrecting dried up bones, now has us relive the same experience with the water that gushes from the temple and floods the earth. Water and spirit, water is spirit.

The Bible is an immense and infinite ode to life. Everything in it only and ever speaks of life. It speaks of it in many ways and with many images, but in the culture and context of that passage the water sings of life in a new and very powerful way. Those people, heirs to the wandering Aramean, inhabitants of mobile tents, carry the search for water to live in their genetic code. They have seen it arrive for millennia to once again give life to what seemed dead and would actually be dead if it hadn’t arrived. They had seen the desert bloom in thousand colours after the spring rains, and it was in that resurrection that the most beautiful prayers were born, blossoming in the most poetic hymns. If we really wanted to discern something in this vision of the fountain-temple, we should read it while in the desert of Sur next to Hagar, or in the desert with Moses and the people barely whispering from thirst; feel the thirst in our own flesh and then experience the water arriving to save us. Water is the poor cousin of spirit: utile et humile et pretiosa et casta.

The great fresco of the waters and life culminates in man and his work: «Fishermen will stand along the shore; from En Gedi to En Eglaim there will be places for spreading nets» (Ez 47,10). Without men and women who work, the miracle of life is not complete. The vision of the temple began with the doors of the temple, then the altar, the offerings, the norms for the clergymen, the kitchens. Hence, water, life, fertility, the desert in bloom. But at the peak we find man, and then work. This is the essence of biblical humanism, this is Adam’s song, placing, however, workers and fishermen casting their nets, as the pinnacle of a cosmic manifestation of God. A few centuries later, other fishermen would bring the water of the spirit all over the world, recognizing in that voice the voice of life when it called out to them while working, because in their work they remained connected to the same source.

The fountain-temple, immersed in the waters creating a river flooding, fertilizing and enlivening the world, is one of the most beautiful pages in the Bible and among Ezekiel’s most prophetic ones. For it speaks of both past and future together: bereshit and eskaton. The water is found in the first chapter of the first book (Genesis), and in the last chapter of the last book (Revelation). In Ezekiel’s teachings this water contains one of the most powerful religious, theological and social messages in biblical humanism. The temple can be a gushing spring of life-giving water, provided that water does not remain locked up and jealously guarded within the temple. Only if it runs free from there to flood the world. The water of the temple is not destined for internal consumption within the temple. That water was not generated for the purification needs of religious worship. No: that water is born within, but runs on the outside. It is secular water, civil, centuries-old. Ezekiel minister of Jerusalem believes that the temple is the place for the presence of the glory of Yahweh on earth. But Ezekiel the prophet knows and proclaims that, that presence is not there to be consumed in the worship of its faithful, for it was generated to be donated to those who find themselves outside of the temple. "The source is not for me", the beautiful expression of Bernadette of Lourdes is a prophetic motto, universal in its relationship between the temple and the spirit. Water comes to fertilize the earth. It is not given freely from the Heavens to wash the gutters from the blood of the offerings by the foot of the temple altar. Religions and spiritual communities can continue to generate water of life and quench the thirst of the people if they overcome, with chastity, the constant temptation to drink the water that comes from it. Ezekiel, who has this vision after the temple is destroyed by Nebuchadnezzar, perceives that there will be a new temple once more, after the exile faith and temple could not stay the same as before – all mayor crises change the relationship between faith and worship. Having learnt, in their immense sorrow and pain that their God remained real despite defeat, that faith was possible even without a holy place because God’s place is the whole world, had forever changed religion and worship. The temple with the great waters is hence a great spiritual heritage of Ezekiel, a message originating from the land of exile of Babylon which spans the whole scripture. It is, for example, found in the book of Sirach, which returns to Ezekiel’s image of the fountain-temple and applies it to wisdom: «I also issued forth like a channel from a river and like a water trench into a garden, I said: "I will irrigate my plantation, and I will saturate my garden plot". And behold the channel became for me a river, and my river became a lake» (Book of Ben Sira 24,30-31). The temple is too small to contain the Love and waters of wisdom. And, in the end, Ezekiel comes back to the conclusion in Revelation, in another masterpiece image, as the pinnacle of more than half a millennium worth of prophecy that had opened the temple wide to make it coincide with the whole world: «And he showed me a pure river of water of life, bright as crystal, coming forth out of the throne of God and of the Lamb. In the midst of its street and of the river, from here and from there, was a tree of life producing twelve fruits, according to one month each yielding its fruit; and the leaves of the tree were for healing of the nations» (Rev 22,1-2).

Here the water does not gush from under the temple, but from the "throne of God and of the Lamb". In the final epiphany of the spirit the temple is gone. The temple has disappeared from the landscape of Jerusalem, as we read in a few verses before in another paradoxical and wondrous passage: «I did not see a temple in the city, because the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are its temple» (Rev, 21, 22). Like the Law, the temple too is a pedagogue, which one day will have to disappear to make way for the direct encounter with the water of life. In this new world the "tree of life" no longer finds itself in the Garden of Eden, but grows in the middle of the city in the middle of its street. A marvellous phrase. The street shall be the new name of the temple. This is the great song of biblical laity: sister street, brother office, sister factory, brother job. Sister water. When will we have all of this in full? «Yes, I am coming soon!» (Rev 22, 20).

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The exile and the promise/27 – The temple is too small to contain the Love and waters of wisdom

by Luigino Bruni

published in Avvenire on 12/05/2019

«Alyosha stood, gazed, and suddenly threw himself down on the earth. He did not know why he embraced it. He could not have told why he longed so irresistibly to kiss it, to kiss it all. But he kissed it weeping, sobbing, and watering it with his tears, and vowed passionately to love it, to love it for ever and ever... Within three days he left the monastery in accordance with the words of his elder, who had bidden him “sojourn in the world»

Fëdor Dostoevskij, The Brothers Karamazov - Cana of Galilee

The page with the passage recounting the sacred place surrounded by water that irrigates the earth is one of the greatest pages and passages by Ezekiel and in the Bible. It contains the image of an authentically lay faith where the temple of God becomes the entire earth itself.

Water is one of the great symbols in the Bible. It is the alpha and the omega. The Pishon, the Tigris, the Nile, the Jordan, the Jabbok, Noah, Abraham, Hagar, Rachel, Moses, Mara, the Baptist, the Samaritan woman, the Golgotha. Rivers, wells, women. Water and life, water is life. Always and everywhere, especially on those semi-arid regions of the Near East, or in the withered and desertified lands of the heirs of Adam and Cain.

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The great song of laity

The great song of laity

The exile and the promise/27 – The temple is too small to contain the Love and waters of wisdom by Luigino Bruni published in Avvenire on 12/05/2019 «Alyosha stood, gazed, and suddenly threw himself down on the earth. He did not know why he embraced it. He could not have told why he longed so irresi...
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    [title] => The prophecy and dignity of taxes
    [alias] => the-prophecy-and-dignity-of-taxes
    [introtext] => 

Exile and the promise/26 – Before being a merit richness is a gift. We are surrounded by gratuity

by Luigino Bruni

published in Avvenire on 05/05/2019

« You will not violate the foreigner’s or the orphan’s rights and you will not take the widows robes as collateral. Remember that you were a slave in Egypt and that you were saved by the Lord, your God. When you were harvesting your fields, you might have forgotten a sheave or two.They will go to the foreigner, to the orphan and to the widow »

Book of Deuteronomy, chapter 24

Ezekiel’s words, which also serve as taxation measures, provide us with a good opportunity to reflect on the reciprocal nature of taxes and on the respect with which they should be elaborated and above all applied by those in power. .

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I’ve been commenting and reflecting on the Bible for years and yet I still haven’t managed to get used to the impression of reading about weight measurements and coin names, next to descriptions of angels and God, or to the stupor of seeing the word becoming economic and commercial flesh, to the beauty of the prophets who while looking at the skies and speaking “face-to-face” with God in the same breath are capable of speaking of money and public finances. Reminding us that there are few words more spiritual than: budgets, taxes, ephah (22 litres, used for cereal), bat (22 litres, for liquids, homer (unit of donkey load), oil, sheep. For the prophets know that these humble words are those in which the dignity and contempt for the poor are written, and if faith wishes to speak with the words of life then God must also learn how to speak with the words of economy and finance. When experts on religious life and theology begin to think that the only things that are really important are “spiritual”, considering economic matters too earthly and basic, and hence begin to disinterest themselves leaving the “management of the canteens” entirely in the hands of lay people, religion begins to loose its contact with the real life of people and economy becomes both the mistress and tyrant of faith, the temple and its ministers.

The prophets, however, continued to mention these words because they knew to understand it as economy the sister: «Keep your budgets right, your ephah right, and your bat right... This is the offer for which you will extract: a sixth of ephah for each homer of wheat and a sixth of ephah for each homer of barley…Ten bat correspond to one homer. And from the herd, on the fertile meadows of Israel, one in two hundred sheep. This will be given for the meat offerings, for the burnt offerings, for communion» (Ezekiel 45,10-15). The Bible is also the story of the development of social and economic ethics. Many of the economic and fiscal principles that we find in the Bible are similar to those in nearby regions; others are different, and some are unique, caused by the many elements of diversity and uniqueness of the Jewish people, due above all to their special religion.

The first experience Israel had of its God-Yahweh was the liberation from slavery, so important and fundamental that it ended up determining its different vision on economy as well. The Shabbat, which we only see in Israel, is the translation of the liberation from Pharaoh into the liberation from the slavery of the temple, the slavery of work, and of the need for social hierarchy and status. The ban on interest loans, another biblical exemption, is the economic incarnation of a theology of liberation in which a poor man does not need to become enslaved to his creditor due to insolvency. And if, despite all the precautions, the poor continue to fall in disgrace and become slaves to the mighty, they turn free men again during the sabbatical year and the great jubilee: in biblical humanism no man must stay a slave forever, for liberty is the greatest gift on earth, which no fault can permanently erase. Hence, taxes should be read together with the Shabbat, the jubilee, the gleaning, Egypt and the open sea.

In fact, this liberation becomes a liberation from the harassment and abuse of the mighty as well. One of the main tasks of any prophecy has always been to defend the people and the poor from the abuse of civilian and religious leaders (this is also one of the reasons behind the prophetic diffidence towards the institution of monarchy). The prophets remind kings that they are not God, and during times when there are no prophets (or when they are killed) a major sign of this dearth is the tendency of leaders to feel like gods and act accordingly.

The Bible also tells us that princes have a tendency to not want to listen to the prophets. Not even the power of their words is sufficient to stop the delusions of omnipotence and grandeur of the mighty and their crimes against what is lawful and right. In conserving the different words of the prophets, the Bible, however, has enabled each generation to start afresh from its books and criticize those in power and say “enough”: «Thus says the Lord God: Enough, O princes of Israel! Put away violence and oppression, and execute justice and righteousness. Cease your evictions of my people» (Ezekiel 45,9). We can clearly see here, that these taxes are not particularly high (1.66% of each ephah of wheat and barley and 0.5% of the heard). The tithe itself, which was the main direct income taxt (not wealth) back then, was an important tax but it wasn’t unbearable. It was half of what Joseph established in Egypt, for instance: «Then Joseph said to the people: and it shall come to pass in the increase, that ye shall give the fifth part unto Pharaoh, and four parts shall be your own…And Joseph made it a law over the land of Egypt unto this day, that Pharaoh should have the fifth part» (Gen 47, 24-26). The great experience of the liberation of Egypt suggested the introduction of lower taxes than the ones that were being applied, for the Promised Land is also characterised by its fiscal and redistributive justice, which clearly is very different from the one found in the land of slavery. The new land is also one in which God only keeps one tenth of its richness to himself, and leaves nine tenths to his people: the God in the Bible does not wish misery upon his people, but shalom. He is also a different God because he doesn’t ask his faithful to set aside too much of their wealth for religious worship. He is not a consumer of his own people, nor a God who is jealous of the welfare of men, but a Father who enjoys the goods of his children.

From these chapters one deducts, furthermore, that these taxes were linked to the temple and destined for the supply of a number of public goods which were essential to the life of the people, for the management of the temple (offerings, the livelihood of the ministers and activities for sustaining the poor), and for great celebrations: «In the first month on the fourteenth day you are to observe the Passover, a festival lasting seven days… On that day the prince is to provide as a grain offering an ephah for each bull and an ephah for each ram» (Ezekiel 45,21-24). We will never cease to stress the importance of the celebration of feasts. Israel managed to survive during millennia, surrounded by destruction, Diasporas, unfaithfulness, deportation and persecution, partly because it took care of and preserved the great feasts of its people. In a time in which we are experiencing a form of capitalism which is erasing the tradition of celebrating feasts (deemed too subversive in their nature of unnecessary waste and gratuity) only too replace them with thousands of forms of mainly individualistic entertainment, we mustn’t forget the essential symbolic nature of our feasts. You cannot survive exiles and collective persecutions without the ability to celebrate a feast, without celebrating them together, because feasts are the root and pre-condition of each common public good. The first public places were places of worship and hence for celebration, if the celebration of feasts ends then the commons and public places will soon disappear too, to be occupied by business and its paid for “feasts”. The safeguarding of the commons and the common good today, needs to become the collective safeguarding and protection of the feasts and the celebration of popular feasts for all.

Taxes where therefore the main means for supplying public goods and property. They weren’t, hence, a wealth levy to fill the private coffins of princes (Ezekiel 46,18). The book of Ezekiel calls these taxes “votive offerings”. And this is of great importance. The religious nature of these taxes made a fundamental aspect, maybe the most significant one, immediately clear. In Israel, and in the ancient world in general, taxes were the primary way through which people gave back part of the wealth they had received to God and to the community. In the Bible «the whole world belongs to Yahweh», and so it was only natural to return part of the wealth generated form that world which they possessed without being its owners – not surprisingly only agricultural products were tithed and taxed for practically all taxes. All is grace, all is providence, what we are and have is first and foremost a gift. The taxes were hence an expression of the golden rule of reciprocity. And they continue to be so today, even if we have forgotten it. Taxes weren’t, taxes aren’t, a question of altruism or usurpation, but merely a reply, restitution, recognition, gratitude – altruistic acts by common citizens become necessary when the taxes exit the registry of reciprocity and turn into an instrument of usurpation by those in power.

The fiscal compact, the heart of any social pact, can be written only within the realms of this horizon of reciprocity and providence which precedes any question of merit and incentives. The Bible and the prophets still reminds us of this today that we, having lost the meaning of providence and gratitude, see taxes as mere usurpation, abuse and pure coercion, and try in any which way possible to avoid or evade them. Even if the meritocratic ideology tries to make us forget it, before being a merit, the wealth that we generate and possess is a gift. We are surrounded by gratuity. We were not born because it was due onto us, but because a generous and kind hand welcomed us on this earth. We weren’t welcomed on the first day of class because of our merits, but because those who preceded us wished to give us a heritage of culture, art, religion, beauty and art. Then we learnt a trade, often times by “stealing” it from someone who allowed it to be stolen from him, in that spirit of generosity and reciprocity which vitalizes and fertilizes the earth each day. And then one day we found ourselves in the position to earn an income, as the fruit and result of the cooperation of thousands of people, who enrichened us with their mere presence. Our achievement, our virtues and our commitment, were naturally also there in the midst of this game of reciprocity. But before and above all there was so much providence, a great gift, an infinite generosity.

These are humble secular truths of which the prophets remind us and gift us with. They remind us, that we have to go back to seeing our taxes and the taxes of others differently and with more esteem. And they remind our governments, that they must view our taxes with the same dignity and with the same respect with which the Bible viewed all the offerings that the people made to God in His temple.

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Exile and the promise/26 – Before being a merit richness is a gift. We are surrounded by gratuity

by Luigino Bruni

published in Avvenire on 05/05/2019

« You will not violate the foreigner’s or the orphan’s rights and you will not take the widows robes as collateral. Remember that you were a slave in Egypt and that you were saved by the Lord, your God. When you were harvesting your fields, you might have forgotten a sheave or two.They will go to the foreigner, to the orphan and to the widow »

Book of Deuteronomy, chapter 24

Ezekiel’s words, which also serve as taxation measures, provide us with a good opportunity to reflect on the reciprocal nature of taxes and on the respect with which they should be elaborated and above all applied by those in power. .

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The prophecy and dignity of taxes

The prophecy and dignity of taxes

Exile and the promise/26 – Before being a merit richness is a gift. We are surrounded by gratuity by Luigino Bruni published in Avvenire on 05/05/2019 « You will not violate the foreigner’s or the orphan’s rights and you will not take the widows robes as collateral. Remember that you were a slave in...
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The exile and the promise/25 – Resisting the temptation of the (ideological) normalisation of prophesy

by Luigino Bruni

published in Avvenire on 28/04/2019

Rabbi Joshua ben Levi said: «In the old days of the Temple, if a man sacrificed a burnt offering he was credited with the value of a burnt offering; if he offered an oblation, he was credited with offering an oblation. But Scripture credits all those who are humble in spirit, with the value of all possible sacrifices»

Babylonian Talmud

The description of the temple by Ezekiel gives us an excellent opportunity to identify some of the most distinctive traits of the view held by the prophets regarding religion and the world, one that clearly differs from that of clergymen. Especially in terms of matters regarding gratuitousness and sacrifices

The religion of the prophets differs from that of clergymen. In the Bible, both are on the side of the same people, part of the same covenant, they worship the same God, recite the same prayers and read the same sacred books… But their perspective, the form and the ways of the faith of the prophets is not that of the clergymen. The prophets proclaim, recall and cry that justice and the salvation of the people do not depend on the acquisition of merits through acts or sacrifices, but that we begin by being saved and then become pious, religious and maybe good and saintly. The prophets aim to empty the temples to enable themselves and us to see the real presence of the glory of Yahweh, because they know that there is little room in a temple full of sacred objects and religious artefacts for the glory of God. Law and spirit, merit and grace, James and Paul, identity and inclusion, purity and hybridization. The dynamic between prophetic and clerical, a constant in biblical and civilian life, cannot be interpreted lightly.

[fulltext] =>

Above all, it doesn’t just concern religion: prophecies are a universal common good, and the tendency to clericalize is not exclusive to the Church, but an anthropological constant in power management. There is plenty of atheist clericalization going on in politics and economy, we are all somewhat prophets in our youth and tend to clericalize as we grow old (in the sense that we are about to see). There also ministers who are much more prophetic than lay people (Ezekiel was also a minister).

Many communities are born prophetic and then end up becoming clerical with the passing of time, converging exclusively within and around the temple. This happens when the importance given to the altar within the church makes us forget the importance of the crosses standing outside, for only the cry of the crucified can tear the separating veils in all the temples of the earth; when the merits of “Sabbath for the sake of Sabbath” (which also holds an existential value) makes us forget the other (equally essential) kind of merit of “Sabbath for the sake of man”; or when the virtue of prudence takes the place of the imprudence of the Beatitudes, order prevails over the disorder of real life, the reasons behind liturgy overshadow those of the poor, the hours and schedule of service and prayer become more important than the non-schedule of the friend who knocks on our door when he can and wishes to. The Bible often tells us, the prophet is a sentinel. He is also a sentry posted on the threshold of the temple, placed there to remind us that if the true presence of God can be found within those walls it is only because there is an even truer presence to be found on the outside, and that the day we start believing that we can only or predominantly find Him in the temple, is the day we will only find a mere mundane idol when we enter, even if we continue calling Him Jesus or Yahweh. The prophet desecrates that which is sacred and sanctifies that which is profane, because he knows that “the Spirit of God fills the earth” and hence there is no place so profane that it cannot be touched by that breeze. And he sees this, senses it, and sings it to us.

Ezekiel’s chapters dedicated to the new temple provide us with an excellent exercise to learn how to recognize the typical signs of the religion of the prophets. Ezekiel has no wish to discipline the cult of the second temple that will one day be rebuilt in Jerusalem; he is not interested in the legislation of the temple, the discipline regarding the many forms of sacrifice, the clothing, the rules regarding matrimony or the norms regarding the purity of clergymen. His is a resurrected temple, mystical, the image of a new “celestial” Jerusalem: «Son of man, this is the place of my throne and the place for the soles of my feet. This is where I will live among the Israelites forever. The people of Israel will never again defile my holy name--neither they nor their kings--by their prostitution» (Ezekiel 43,7). Ezekiel sees and describes the temple with great attention to detail, but does not dwell on details regarding the interior furnishings, the work of the artisans or their artefacts, elements which instead are very important and accurately described in the descriptions of the Temple of Salomon and even earlier in those of the Arc of the Covenant . His vision of the temple is theological, it does not regard ethics, it is eschaton, and it does not regard history. It is a message regarding God and man, not religion or cult.

But then why are these chapters filled with religious laws and norms? When a school of scribes after the exile, amended and developed Ezekiel’s original manuscript, that prophetic vision was transformed in a sort of Magna Carta for the reconstitution of the cult of the new temple of Jerusalem. The original theophany became a highly authoritative legitimisation of the new religious norms: and hence prophecy became religion. The great name of Ezekiel, prophet and minister, offered a noble tradition on which to found the reform of religious and clerical practice. And so these chapters became a collection of norms for the reform of the ordinary and extraordinary running of the temple: «the Lord said unto me: "Son of man, mark well, and behold with thine eyes, and hear with thine ears all that I say unto thee concerning all the ordinances of the house of the Lord, and all the laws thereof"» (Ez 44,5). In the meantime, the people had returned from exile, and, despite the fact that Ezekiel had prophesized many years before that the end of exile would mark the end of unfaithfulness and idolatry, the sins and treason had started again and were in no way inferior to those of the past. Hence, Ezekiel’s successors and (maybe) disciples felt the need to amend the original prophecies, in order to transform them into norms that could be useful in managing the religion of a people that had gone back to being corrupt once again.

Let us look closer at two examples. Like the other great prophets, Ezekiel had written wonderful verses on universalism and the inclusion of foreigners. The second Isaiah, for example, a contemporary of Ezekiel and like him also an exiled prophet, had had the courage, while violating the Law of Moses, to write these splendid verses: «For thus said the Lord unto the eunuchs… unto them will I give in mine house and within my walls a place and a name better than of sons and of daughters. The sons of the stranger… I will make them joyful in my house of prayer» (Isaiah 56,4-7). When editing the end of the book of Ezekiel, these post-exile ministers, instead felt the “disciplinary” and institutional need to add words which were very distant from the spirit of the prophet Ezekiel: «Thus says the Lord God: “No foreigner, uncircumcised in heart or uncircumcised in flesh, shall enter My sanctuary, including any foreigner who is among the children of Israel» (Ez 44,9). The second group’s institutional prudence prevailed over the first one’s prophetical imprudence. The pragmatic needs concerning the temple lead the successors of Ezekiel’s teachings to rectify some of the fundamentals of his prophecy, and their (legitimate) “pastoral” doubts ended up creating, maybe in good faith, an ideological exegesis of the prophet.

We are dealing with a clear case of the normalisation process of a prophecy by its successors which, by the way, is often also found in the dynamics of the relationship between the charismatic founders of communities and the second and third generations who succeed them. A prophet-founder, who through his calling brings spiritual and/or social novelty, and who through his life and words innovates and changes the ruling religious and civilian thinking. In the generation that follows, organisational and pastoral needs (the running of the “temple”, that is the coming and going and the actual organization) provoke a progressive downsizing of the actual novelties of his charisma and the resulting reabsorption of these novelties into the mainstream. This is how prophecies exhaust or reduce their thrust for change, and what remains is usually a spiritual and ethical legacy devoid of its power for social and spiritual transformation (unless reformers with the calling to revive the prophet’s charisma appear: this, in fact, was in part possible in the Bible because for centuries new prophets arrived and continued the prophecies of those who had preceded them).

The second example, which can be seen as the implementation of the reabsorption process of the original prophecy, is the subject of sacrifices, which took up considerable space in the edited and modified chapters: «And thou shalt give to the priests the Levites that be of the seed of Zadok, which approach unto me, to minister unto me, said the Lord God, a young bullock for a sin offering… Seven days shalt thou prepare every day a goat for a sin offering: they shall also prepare a young bullock, and a ram out of the flock, without blemish…» (Ez 43,19-26). In those days, ministers weren’t able to not defend the offering of sacrifices, because their mission and role was entirely dependent upon them. Thanks to these sacrifices they lived and they lived well: «The best of all the firstfruits and of all your special gifts will belong to the priests» (Ez 44,30). The prophets, however, are not particularly fond of the custom of offering sacrifices. They know that they are part of the tradition of their people, that they are present in the Law of Moses which is also their law. But first and foremost and from a more radical point of view, the prophets know that these do not constitute the right language in which to communicate with God, because the sacrifices offered to Yahweh are very similar, too similar, to the sacrifices offered to the idols. The religion of sacrifices was the religion which the Jews encountered when arriving in Canaan, the religion practiced by the neighbouring people, which influenced them greatly. Which influenced everyone – everyone except the prophets. Because due to their personal calling they continued to speak of a different God, different also due to the fact that he did not use the language of sacrifices. Men like the habit of offering sacrifices because they think that it is a way to influence and maybe control God. The prophets - however - tell us that this is faulty thinking.

That’s why the prophets were and are the foremost critics of the industry of the temple, which before and after Jesus of Nazareth, contributed to killing the prophets in their role as proclaimers of an “oikonomy of grace” and of a freely bestowed mercy which radically upsets their “economy of salvation” based on the offering of sacrifices and their required price. The temple sacrifices are only valuable if they have a price; the mercy heralded by the prophets however, is of value precisely because it does not have a price, the prophets cancel the value of the price tags on the religious goods of sacrifice. The prophets liberate the doves of the temple altars. Enabling them to fly away, transforming them into icons of the liberated and free Spirit.

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The exile and the promise/25 – Resisting the temptation of the (ideological) normalisation of prophesy

by Luigino Bruni

published in Avvenire on 28/04/2019

Rabbi Joshua ben Levi said: «In the old days of the Temple, if a man sacrificed a burnt offering he was credited with the value of a burnt offering; if he offered an oblation, he was credited with offering an oblation. But Scripture credits all those who are humble in spirit, with the value of all possible sacrifices»

Babylonian Talmud

The description of the temple by Ezekiel gives us an excellent opportunity to identify some of the most distinctive traits of the view held by the prophets regarding religion and the world, one that clearly differs from that of clergymen. Especially in terms of matters regarding gratuitousness and sacrifices

The religion of the prophets differs from that of clergymen. In the Bible, both are on the side of the same people, part of the same covenant, they worship the same God, recite the same prayers and read the same sacred books… But their perspective, the form and the ways of the faith of the prophets is not that of the clergymen. The prophets proclaim, recall and cry that justice and the salvation of the people do not depend on the acquisition of merits through acts or sacrifices, but that we begin by being saved and then become pious, religious and maybe good and saintly. The prophets aim to empty the temples to enable themselves and us to see the real presence of the glory of Yahweh, because they know that there is little room in a temple full of sacred objects and religious artefacts for the glory of God. Law and spirit, merit and grace, James and Paul, identity and inclusion, purity and hybridization. The dynamic between prophetic and clerical, a constant in biblical and civilian life, cannot be interpreted lightly.

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The value and price of gratuity

The value and price of gratuity

The exile and the promise/25 – Resisting the temptation of the (ideological) normalisation of prophesy by Luigino Bruni published in Avvenire on 28/04/2019 Rabbi Joshua ben Levi said: «In the old days of the Temple, if a man sacrificed a burnt offering he was credited with the value of a burnt offer...
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The exile and the promise/24 – In the absence of physical spaces and confines we learn how to worship God “in spirit and in truth”

by Luigino Bruni

published in Avvenire on 21/04/2019

« To the religious person space isn’t homogenous. This non-homogeneity manifests itself in a veritable contraposition between the sacred space, the only thing that is truly real, that truly exists, and the vast formless expanse which surrounds it. »

Mircea Eliade, The sacred and the profane

The great trials in life often work as a purification of our spirituality and moral principles, because they teach us that the things that are really necessary in order to continue living and growing are actually very few and rather simple. In a positive evolution of our spiritual life, we start simple, become complex, and end up coming back to being simple, when the wisdom of the old person we’ve become encounters the purity of the youth we once were, and in the midst of it all that remains is an immense appreciation and gratitude. While crossing vast stretches of deserts you learn that, in addition to water and bread, only a handful of things are actually truly essential – it is on brief and comfortable trips that we tend to carry a load of heavy and to a large extent unnecessary luggage. Elijah the prophet had to find himself in the desert, with a desire to die in his heart, in order to discover the voice of God in a “faint breeze”, after having imagined and searched for Him in vain in earthquake and fire (1 Rev 19,12). Thirsty for life and paradise, we spend many a year searching for God in temples and sacred places, only to finally realize, that what we seek was, simply, just around the corner.

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One day in Jerusalem, on the Mount Zion, Ezekiel once again carried away in a vision: «In the twenty-fifth year of our exile, at the beginning of the year, on the tenth of the month, in the fourteenth year after the fall of the city—on that very day the hand of the Lord was on me and he took me there » (Ezekiel 40,1). After seeing the resurrection of the withered bones of his perished people in chapter 37, now the prophet sees the resurrection of the temple, having been destroyed fourteen years before. Ezekiel had envisioned and foretold the destruction of the temple years before it happened, and had built his entire prophetic life in exile around this “theological” destruction. And so one day, by now near the end of his life’s mission, he received the gift to see the new temple in the new Jerusalem, as a token of the coming end to the exile and the restoration of a new Israel of a «new heart».

To Ezekiel the temple of Yahweh, the true and different God, was something of extreme importance. Ezekiel is an old-world, Middle Eastern man, a clergyman. In his world, he would not have been able to profess a faith in which « the true worshipers will worship the Father in the Spirit and in truth» (John 4,23). The glorification of God needed its place of worship. But between Ezekiel and the prophets and clergymen who preceded him, a decisive historical event took place: the Babylonian exile.

Ezekiel carried out his entire mission along the rivers of Babylon, and therefore in the absence of the sacred place of a temple. Hence, he had to learn a very essential form of faith, where not even attending a temple or the holy sacrifices where fundamental any longer. Life taught him at huge expense to simplify religion; the enforced absence of the material requirements for worship induced him to a more spiritual and abstract faith. Being a minister without a temple forced him to rethink what the temple really constitutes in relation to faith – and the true nature of ministry (as in the case of those who find themselves relearning priesthood while being constricted to a hospital bed powerless for months and years without a congregation or the ability to practise).

And so, exiled in a land without a temple but not without God, servant of a defeated but still true God, Ezekiel receives the vision of a new temple. He has carried out his entire mission while recalling, with increasingly faint colours, within his soul, the temple of Salomon where he studied in his youth; and now, at the end of his life, he sees it with prophetic eyes, as a “reward” for having completed the race and kept the faith in a God stripped of his temple alive: «In visions of God He took me to the land of Israel and set me on a very high mountain, on whose southern slope was a structure that resembled a city. So He took me there, and I saw a man whose appearance was like bronze. He was standing in the gateway with a linen cord and a measuring rod in his hand» (Ez 40,2-3). Under the guidance of a celestial being, Ezekiel sees an immense construction, describing all its architectural and religious characteristics in three long and very detailed chapters, which among other things give us the possibility to immerse ourselves in our minds in the biblical man’s experience of the sacred.

In a desecrated and disenchanted world, where by now the only remaining traces of the sacred are those marked by the consumption and corporate rituals of capitalism, we have completely lost contact with the ancient world to be able to understand what the manifestation of the sacred meant in that world, the hierophany. The first and immediate experience ancient man had of the world was that of chaos, a blurred and irrational whole where the only possible, inaccessible and incomprehensible, “order” was that run by demons. The religions of the world have also been an attempt to bring order to the chaos, through the identification of a few diverging spaces, holy places, equipped with a certain rationality and predictability, within the ordinary disorder. The altars and the sanctuaries, and in the Bible the veil, the arc, and finally the temple of Jerusalem, constitute the way in which those spaces have been managed, through the fundamental distinction between the sacred and the profane. In fact, the conclusion of the architectural description of the temple by Ezekiel is indicative: «So he measured the area on all four sides. It had a wall around it, five hundred cubits long and five hundred cubits wide, to separate the holy from the common» (Ez 42,20).

Even in the Bible, which has its own special relationship with the sacred, the temple is needed to separate the sacred from the profane. The sacred was made of time and space. The threshold of the temple delineated the space, separating it from the entire surrounding area, which on the surface may have appeared similar but was substantially different; however by crossing that border of space one entered a different time zone, and a different timeline began, (cronos became kairos), following a different rhythm, while a different clock showed a different time. Hence, in the general chaos of nature and social relationships, both at the mercy of forces and irrationality, when ancient man stepped over the threshold of time and overcame that threshold of time, he tasted eternity, and in that time-temple he beat death, the fear of which is one of the main origins of religion. In that eternal place he communicated with time, the cloud of fire was still descending over Mount Sinai, and there, beyond ordinary time and space, Moses was still and truly speaking with Yahweh, the people could not hear the voice but believed and saw something extra-ordinary. The temple is the new Sinai, where the ascension towards the top of the sacred mountain has become the procession towards the centre of the temple (the "Holy of Holies", the secret heart of the temple accessible to the high-priest only once a year, is the mountain top of the Sinai).

Maybe, all of this could be found in the heart of every Jew who stepped over the threshold of Salomon’s Temple, as well as in Ezekiel’s heart. The uncertain and chaotic passing of time and harshness of everyday life was interrupted, and in the hours of the temple you returned to the slopes of Mount Sinai, saw Moses once again, the sea parted once more, and you no longer felt like a slave. A marvellous experience, which turned that different space into Eden, where God was still walking in the «breeze of the day». The Jews did not feel the need to believe in paradise beyond life, because the touched it every time they went to the temple. This is why they were so madly in love with that place, and why they still shed tears over it.

Therefore, when Ezekiel towards the end of his vision, sees «the glory» of Yahweh returning to the temple from which it had disappeared before it was destroyed due to the unfaithfulness of the people, he relives the same experience of his prophetic calling by the Chebar river: «And the visions were like the vision that I saw by the river Chebar; and I fell upon my face. And the glory of the Lord came into the house by the way of the gate whose prospect is toward the east» (Ez 43,3-4). The return of the Glory in the temple provokes the same theophany in Ezequiel which he felt during his first calling, it makes him relive the most divine moment of his entire existence. Because to him and to his people nothing was as divine as the temple.

But we still have one more aspect left to add. The historical development of biblical faith has also constituted a great education on the concept of the sacred and the real location of God. During the most archaic phase the sanctuaries in Israel in which one could find Yahweh were more than one. Later, the House of Yahweh was redefined and limited only to the temple of Jerusalem. With the destruction of the temple and the exile, the people of Israel understood, thanks to the prophets, that God continued to be present in Babylon as well, and that experiencing the presence of the glory of God was not limited to the sacred boundaries of the temple. And even if the temple of Jerusalem was rebuilt after the exile, the idea that the presence of God had been liberated from the perimeters of his house, had marked a point of no return in the collective soul of the people, which forever changed the nature of religious experience. Having been able to feel the same presence of God far from their land and outside of the temple represented a deep mutation in biblical faith, maybe the most important one in the entire story of the salvation.

The criticism towards the temple which we find in the words of Jesus of Nazareth, which turned out to be decisive in his death sentence, would not have been possible without the previous experience of the exile and the religious revolution regarding the “sacred place” which during that time developed in the minds of the prophets and hence of the people. A part of the soul of Israel was able to recognise “the son of God” in that “son of man” who was crucified on Golgotha, hence outside of the realms of the sacred city, because centuries before the prophets had experienced and then taught everyone about the presence of Yahweh in exiled lands, without having a temple and finding themselves “outside of the walls”. They couldn’t know it then, but in Babylon the Jews began to worship God “in spirit and in truth”.

The gospels do not tell us of any apparitions of the Risen Jesus within the temple. Instead they talk about a house, a garden, the banks of a river, of two discouraged travellers on their way from Jerusalem. We can continue searching for Him in sacred places, visiting, building and rebuilding temples, and maybe, every once in a while we will feel His presence there as well. But the places where we certainly will feel it are the homes, gardens, river banks, talking to the disheartened and discouraged people who walk on our streets. Happy Easter.

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The exile and the promise/24 – In the absence of physical spaces and confines we learn how to worship God “in spirit and in truth”

by Luigino Bruni

published in Avvenire on 21/04/2019

« To the religious person space isn’t homogenous. This non-homogeneity manifests itself in a veritable contraposition between the sacred space, the only thing that is truly real, that truly exists, and the vast formless expanse which surrounds it. »

Mircea Eliade, The sacred and the profane

The great trials in life often work as a purification of our spirituality and moral principles, because they teach us that the things that are really necessary in order to continue living and growing are actually very few and rather simple. In a positive evolution of our spiritual life, we start simple, become complex, and end up coming back to being simple, when the wisdom of the old person we’ve become encounters the purity of the youth we once were, and in the midst of it all that remains is an immense appreciation and gratitude. While crossing vast stretches of deserts you learn that, in addition to water and bread, only a handful of things are actually truly essential – it is on brief and comfortable trips that we tend to carry a load of heavy and to a large extent unnecessary luggage. Elijah the prophet had to find himself in the desert, with a desire to die in his heart, in order to discover the voice of God in a “faint breeze”, after having imagined and searched for Him in vain in earthquake and fire (1 Rev 19,12). Thirsty for life and paradise, we spend many a year searching for God in temples and sacred places, only to finally realize, that what we seek was, simply, just around the corner.

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The sanctity of daily life

The sanctity of daily life

The exile and the promise/24 – In the absence of physical spaces and confines we learn how to worship God “in spirit and in truth” by Luigino Bruni published in Avvenire on 21/04/2019 « To the religious person space isn’t homogenous. This non-homogeneity manifests itself in a veritable contrapositio...
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    [title] => Despite everything, life
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The exile and the promise/23 - The real (and biblical) alternative source of energy: keeping warm with burnt down weapons

By Luigino Bruni

Published in Avvenire 14/04/2019

« Here is what is difficult in this era: ideals, dreams and good expectations barely have time to be born before they are already being beaten down and completely devastated by the cruellest of realities. It is very strange that I have not abandoned all my dreams yet because they all seem absurd and impossible. Instead, despite everything, I hold them tight, because I still believe in the intimate goodness of man »

Anna Frank, Diary, July 1944

The others that attract and frighten us are a constant that marks all human civilizations since their inception. A radical and tenacious ambivalence, an expression of that "sociable unsociability" which according to Kant characterizes all human beings. Others fascinate us because they are different and bearers of an unknown world, but this very same diversity and lack of knowledge easily generates fear and distrust as well. There are plenty of moments in human history where it has won, completely overpowering the charm and beauty of encountering that which is different. The others have often been loved and fought against, but the fights have decisively been more frequent and longer than the loves. All great religious traditions can also be interpreted as ethical and social systems to manage this fundamental anthropological ambivalence. In the Bible as well, the others are both the enemy to protect yourself from as well as the strangers that the Torah commands us to welcome as sacred guests. In some biblical passages these foreign people are bearers of a blessing, in others they are the image of enemy gods and idols, who come to destroy the chosen people and their true God. The first two brothers, one mild and the other fratricidal, also contribute to display the two sides of biblical and western humanism. Christianity then added, "no one touches Abel" to the moral code based on "no one touches Cain". The sign of Cain, the merchant and the citizen, contributed to limiting the violence applied as mimetic revenge, and the sign of Abel, the good shepherd and the vulnerable man, helped to establish the ethics of meekness and love-agape as the foundation of a different civilization - which we still await and we never tire of waiting and wishing for. In spite of everything.

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Taking place over the course two long chapters, the myth of Gog and Magog in the Book of Ezekiel is one of the instances in which the others, who come from afar, become an icon of absolute evil: «The word of the Lord came to me: “Son of man, set your face against Gog, of the land of Magog, the chief prince of Meshek and Tubal; prophesy against him and say… I am against you, Gog, chief prince of Meshek and Tubal. I will turn you around, put hooks in your jaws and bring you out with your whole army - your horses, your horsemen fully armed, and a great horde with large and small shields, all of them brandishing their swords… the many nations with you» (Ezekiel 38,1-6). Once he returned after his long exile, Gog receives the order from YHWH to destroy Israel: «Therefore, son of man, prophesy and say to Gog: ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says: In that day, when my people Israel are living in safety, will you not take notice of it? You will come from your place in the far north, you and many nations with you, all of them riding on horses, a great horde, a mighty army. You will advance against my people Israel like a cloud that covers the land» (Ezekiel 38,14-15). However, eventually Gog is defeated: «Then I will strike your bow from your left hand and make your arrows drop from your right hand. On the mountains of Israel you will fall, you and all your troops and the nations with you. I will give you as food to all kinds of carrion birds and to the wild animals. You will fall in the open field» (Ezekiel 39,3-5).

Who were Gog and Magog? Gog, king of the land of Magog, appears in the book of Ezekiel with roots originating in very ancient Middle Eastern traditions, so remote as to make it impossible to identify the character or the locations in question. Over the centuries, commentators and scholars have indulged in proposing different possible historical and geographic hypotheses (an allegory of the Babylonians, Gyges king of Lydia, etc.). A decisive moment in the events of the myth of Gog/Magog, is the quote in the Book of Revelation, which brings up these mysterious chapters in the Book of Ezekiel, changing their meaning and context, placing them in an eschatological and gloomy environment that inspired a lot of literature and plenty of legends during the Middle Ages: «When the thousand years are over, Satan will be released from his prison and will go out to deceive the nations in the four corners of the earth - Gog and Magog - and to gather them for battle. In number they are like the sand on the seashore» (Book of Revelation 20,7-8).

The Jewish historian Giuseppe Flavio talks about it in his "Jewish Antiquities" (end of the 1st century AD), contributing decisively in the creation of the legend of Alexander the Great, who was said to have confined Gog and Magog behind a wall which he built in the Caucasian region. An ideal-physical barrier, marking the insurmountable borders of western civilization, because beyond them there were only the satanic people of evil. We find this same legend later in the Koran: «Until, when he reached a pass between two mountains, he found beside them a people who could hardly understand his speech. They said, "O Dhul-Qarnayn, indeed Gog and Magog are great corrupters in the land. So may we assign for you an expenditure that you might make between us and them a barrier?" He said, "That in which my Lord has established me is better than what you offer, but assist me with strength; I will make between you and them a dam» (Surah XVIII: 93-95).

In the first millennium of the Christian era, Augustine, Isidore of Seville, Ambrosius, Jerome, and then the Pseudo-Methodius and the Tiburtine Sibyl, helped create the myth of Gog and Magog as an image of great military and religious threat. It has been applied to many foreign people, including the Jews, and in the recent war in Iraq, when Gog and Magog were once again summoned by Bush and Chirac in that "holy war" against evil. The regions of Gog and Magog are also mentioned in Marco Polo's "The Million" (The Travels of Marco Polo, 73), while many maps and globes called some remote lands in Asia (next to Babylon, near the Caspian Sea, or in the region of the Tartars or Turks), Gog and Magog.

The myth of Gog and Magog is one of the most relevant cases of the creation of imaginary people that have produced very concrete political, religious and cultural consequences. Throughout the Middle Ages, every time a people came down from the North or East and appeared in Christian Europe (Goths, Huns, and then Arabs, Turks ...) it was interpreted as a fulfilment of the words of Ezekiel and the Book of Revelation on unleashing Gog and Magog and their evil empire. The legend of Gog and Magog is therefore an important step in the ideological construction of the concept of the "great enemy", which marked and continues to mark and influence Western culture to a considerable extent. Although the Bible and the Gospels have given us innumerable words of peace and fraternity, Western man has been decisively better at identifying the dark and threatening passages of the sacred texts and therein finding a justification for continuing to "practice the art of war". No peaceful and bright page in the Bible has come close to reaching the dark power of Gog-Magog or the Antichrist.

However, even in the midst of the darkness of the oracles about Gog and Magog, Ezekiel manages to find and offer us different words full of benevolence: «Then those who live in the towns of Israel will go out and use the weapons for fuel and burn them up - the small and large shields, the bows and arrows, the war clubs and spears. For seven years they will use them for fuel. They will not need to gather wood from the fields or cut it from the forests, because they will use the weapons for fuel» (Ezekiel 39,9-10). Because they will use the weapons for fuel: the true alternative energy that the world has never wanted to invent, despite the deep moral vein running through it that has always longed for it. If we transformed the companies that produce weapons into companies that warm us up without "cutting wood from the forests" today, if we oriented the technological energies invested in the art of war in the numerous forms of art of peace, we could keep warm and live well for "seventy times seven" years. But we do not; instead, we continue to see Gog and Magog in those who come from afar, to see monsters in the faces of the men and women who come to visit us, to write maps and globes marked with new names for Gog and Magog ("economic migrants", "clandestine", "illegal immigrants"...). And we continue to build walls to prevent these imaginary monsters from disturbing the peace within our forts.

Prophecy, however, cannot leave the last word to absolute evil. It knows about it, talks about it, telling us to be aware of its presence in the world; ending its oracles with words full of messianic hope: «When I have brought them back from the nations and have gathered them from the countries of their enemies, I will be proved holy through them in the sight of many nations… for though I sent them into exile among the nations, I will gather them to their own land, not leaving any behind.  I will no longer hide my face from them, for I will pour out my Spirit on the people of Israel» (Ezekiel 39,27-29).

Europe has imagined and made up many non-existent Gog and Magog; but on a few rare occasions Gog and Magog have really arrived. They destroyed, burned, hung children, they were very dark clouds covering the sky. We screamed, and we all died. But then, we were able to rise again, all together. Europe today is the result of these tremendous deaths and amazing resurrections. Its history has engraved one of the greatest truths of biblical and western humanism: good runs deeper than evil. Evil may win sometimes, but it cannot always win. Cain killed and continues to kill Abel, but he did not kill or manages to kill Adam, who remains that "very beautiful and very good" thing, the epilogue of creation.

In the book of Genesis (10,2) Magog is the son of Japheth, and therefore grandson of Noah, the righteous one, the builder of the Ark of salvation. No evil can turn into good, no weapon can turn into fuel, no civilian death can turn into resurrection, if we confine evil behind the "wall of Alexander". Evil does not come from afar, from the east, from the north, from the sea: evil is simply our nephew, our son. It lives among us. Cain is Adam's son too. In the Bible, the greatest evil is present within a much wider horizon of good. Its first initial root is not rotten; it is a good, healthy root. This is the immense gift that the Bible has been giving us for three millennia: to believe in life. In spite of everything.
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The exile and the promise/23 - The real (and biblical) alternative source of energy: keeping warm with burnt down weapons

By Luigino Bruni

Published in Avvenire 14/04/2019

« Here is what is difficult in this era: ideals, dreams and good expectations barely have time to be born before they are already being beaten down and completely devastated by the cruellest of realities. It is very strange that I have not abandoned all my dreams yet because they all seem absurd and impossible. Instead, despite everything, I hold them tight, because I still believe in the intimate goodness of man »

Anna Frank, Diary, July 1944

The others that attract and frighten us are a constant that marks all human civilizations since their inception. A radical and tenacious ambivalence, an expression of that "sociable unsociability" which according to Kant characterizes all human beings. Others fascinate us because they are different and bearers of an unknown world, but this very same diversity and lack of knowledge easily generates fear and distrust as well. There are plenty of moments in human history where it has won, completely overpowering the charm and beauty of encountering that which is different. The others have often been loved and fought against, but the fights have decisively been more frequent and longer than the loves. All great religious traditions can also be interpreted as ethical and social systems to manage this fundamental anthropological ambivalence. In the Bible as well, the others are both the enemy to protect yourself from as well as the strangers that the Torah commands us to welcome as sacred guests. In some biblical passages these foreign people are bearers of a blessing, in others they are the image of enemy gods and idols, who come to destroy the chosen people and their true God. The first two brothers, one mild and the other fratricidal, also contribute to display the two sides of biblical and western humanism. Christianity then added, "no one touches Abel" to the moral code based on "no one touches Cain". The sign of Cain, the merchant and the citizen, contributed to limiting the violence applied as mimetic revenge, and the sign of Abel, the good shepherd and the vulnerable man, helped to establish the ethics of meekness and love-agape as the foundation of a different civilization - which we still await and we never tire of waiting and wishing for. In spite of everything.

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Despite everything, life

Despite everything, life

The exile and the promise/23 - The real (and biblical) alternative source of energy: keeping warm with burnt down weapons By Luigino Bruni Published in Avvenire 14/04/2019 « Here is what is difficult in this era: ideals, dreams and good expectations barely have time to be born before they are alr...
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The exile and the promise/22 - Words for this time and age of destroyed temples and disappeared promised lands

by Luigino Bruni

Published in Avvenire 07/04/2019

«How can someone be born when they are old?” Nicodemus asked. “Surely they cannot enter a second time into their mother’s womb to be born!“.»

Gospel of John, Chapter 3

Prophets are experts and teachers of the spirit. They recognize it when it blows in the wind on earth, whether it blows outside or inside of them. Among the many types of wind, they know how to intercept it as a different kind of breeze. They have a vital need to respond to their calling. Without the spirit, the prophets would not be able to understand the words they hear and then refer to us. It is the exegete of the words that they receive. They wait for it, they pray to it, they implore it and they know how to stay silent when, despite receiving the words, they do not receive the spirit. In the Bible, the spirit is closely intertwined with the word. Both give life, both create, transform, fertilize, bathe, generate and regenerate. Elohim, Word, Ruah; Father, Logos, Pneuma. The unity and multiplicity of the biblical God were already present in the Bible and in the historical experience of that faith. The prophets are, furthermore, essential to be able to discern spirits, to distinguish the wind of vanity, havel, from the breeze of the spirit, ruah. The Bible knows them well, and the prophets know and recognize them both very well too.

[fulltext] =>

Even Qohelet's havel - havel havalim: vanity of vanities - is breath, is wind; it is the type of wind that we know as well, the kind that reveals the inconsistency of things, the ephemeral aspect of life, which reminds us that everything passes, and passes quickly. Havel is also the name of the brother killed by Cain, and the name of the idols (in the Book of Jeremiah), of that which is empty, void, nothing. The havel-wind resembles the ruah-wind, sometimes they are even on friendly terms. Because without the breath of the spirit, we would not be able to recognize the dimension of vanitas, though present in the very heart of things, we would just be deceived by wealth and goods, trapped forever in self-consolation and illusions. Because the ruah-spirit gives us that typical intelligence that knows how to see that which is ephemeral and, beyond it, how to celebrate life, which in order to be understood and truly lived, first needs to be grasped in all its fragile and fleeting dimension. However, if once you have experienced the vanity of everything (an essential stage of existence), you do not also discover that other breeze of the spirit, if ruah does not take the place of havel, only the nothingness of pessimism and depression will remain in adult life. There are lives that do not come to full bloom because they never reach the havel/vanity phase, and remain trapped inside illusions, including religious ones; and there are others that regress because once touched by the wind of havel they find themselves unable to fly with the new breeze of ruah. The prophets know by vocation how to tell us that "ruah will beat havel", that the life-giving and renewing breath is in fact more powerful and truer than the nihilistic one. Here, we have another reason to why prophets are needed.

Ezekiel is the prophet of the ruah-spirit, in part because he also came to know the havel-spirit well. The word ruah is mentioned in his book more than in any other text in the Old Testament. The heart can only change in spirit. Elohim's breath gave life to the first man, and a mysterious spiritual breath continues to generate and regenerate life in the universe. And so, after having announced the miracle of the new heart made of flesh, Ezekiel shocks us with one of the most original and wonderful scenes in the whole Bible: «The hand of the Lord was on me, and he brought me out by the Spirit of the Lord and set me in the middle of a valley; it was full of bones… and I saw a great many bones on the floor of the valley, bones that were very dry. He asked me, “Son of man, can these bones live?”» (Ezekiel 37,1-3). We find ourselves inside another one of Ezekiel’s visions. In a valley in Babylon, perhaps the same one where the young Ezekiel had been transported in a vision when his calling began (Ezekiel 3,22) - it is not uncommon for the tremendous callings in the adult life of a prophet to occur in the same enchanted places as their very first one. Ezekiel now sees the great valley all covered with bones, withered, dry, old, devoid of any flesh or nerves. God says to him: «Prophesy to these bones and say to them, "Dry bones, hear the word of the Lord! This is what the Sovereign Lord says to these bones: I will make breath enter you, and you will come to life. I will attach tendons to you and make flesh come upon you and cover you with skin; I will put breath in you, and you will come to life"» (Ezekiel 37,4-6). A scene of infinite narrative and lyrical power. Ezekiel executes the command, and prophesies: «As I was prophesying, there was a noise, a rattling sound, and the bones came together, bone to bone. I looked, and tendons and flesh appeared on them and skin covered them, but there was no breath in them» (Ezekiel 37,7-8).

Only he who witnessed the scene and had an active part in it could write about it and describe it to us like this. The Bible is not a work of fiction. And if we want to avoid turning it into a film, we have to believe in the words of Ezekiel; to believe that he "saw" those bones and then "heard" a noise – the biblical prophets are like trusted beggars who hardly ever receive anything from us readers, who instead continue to deride and mock them together with their contemporaries. We need stand next to him and see those bones move and regroup, hear their creaking; to then, at the same time as he does, realize that the essential spirit is missing: «Then he said to me, “Prophesy to the breath; prophesy, son of man, and say to it, ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says: Come, breath, from the four winds and breathe into these slain, that they may live". So I prophesied as he commanded me, and breath entered them; they came to life and stood up on their feet - a vast army» (Ezekiel 37,9-10).

The spirit is the great protagonist of this vision. Ancient man was able to see more things than we do. Alongside the wind that was blowing, he could also feel a different kind of breeze that made things alive. And he recognized it, and celebrated it. The Bible is also a vast and far-reaching pedagogy teaching us that the spirit of life is not only the spirit of the mountains and the forests, but that another name of the true and invisible God is found in its essence, true because it is spirit. And to assert the spiritual nature of God, the Bible engaged in a radical fight against idols that, while presenting themselves as the source of the divine breath on earth, took away the breath of man, who can only breathe in an infinite wind. It was this absolute custody of the mystery of the spirit that one day enabled Christians to be able to call him God.

These bones coming back to life are the Pentecost of the Old Testament. A frightened church that died on Golgotha coming back to life and collectively rising; a people destroyed and humiliated who still had hope in a new ancient promise. An epiphany of the spirit, alive and giver of life, in both.

The transformation of those bones into living humans takes place in two stages. First, the bones become skeletons on which flesh and tendons are recreated and recomposed. This first miracle, however, will only create corpses, if the spirit does not come as well.

This work of Ezekiel’s in two acts contains a precious message for the communities that are spiritually dead and hope for a new life.

Jerusalem had been destroyed. The people exiled and discouraged: «Son of man, these bones are the people of Israel». Faith faltered, hope was dying out. The people kept repeating in tears: «Our bones are dried up and our hope is gone; we are cut off» (Ezekiel 37,11). Within this immense tragedy, Ezekiel suggests a grammar for us, to enable us to rise again after a great crisis. And in this time and age of destroyed temples and disappeared promised lands, we need to learn how to listen to him.

Whenever a charismatic community realizes that its "bones have dried up ", that hope "is gone", and that it has been "cut off", there is still a possibility of being born again if a prophet manages to prophesy and invoke the spirit. There is, however, a pre-condition: the community in question must intone its funeral song, it must realize that its bones have withered - many dead communities are unable to rise again because they continue to operate under the false belief that they are still alive. We cannot exclude that the vision was a response to the prayer of lament of the exiled people. Acknowledging and observing mourning is the first necessary prayer for resurrection.

Then, we need a prophet, who survived the persecutions, and who has not been expelled or turned into a false prophet (in good or bad faith). Not all withered-bone communities have prophets; all too often, they end up dying during the destruction of their cities and temples. However, when at least one is saved - the prophetic "critical mass" is equal to 1 - the first part of his prophesying consists in reassembling the skeleton, and then reviving the flesh and tendons surrounding it. After dying and realizing that they have in fact really expired – whether for lack of vocation, or because they aged within liturgies and forms that eventually became older than them, or due to serious scandals, schisms, due to not being able to write a new charismatic narrative after the death of their founder, which is always a mystical death of the community itself, or due to having spent all their residual energy pursuing the wrong battles... – these communities start over again. New people arrive, economic resources, projects, structures, new spurs of energy, activities and work all come back again. The scattered bones recompose and create a proper skeleton with flesh and nerves forming around it. The community takes shape and gradually begins to resemble the one that became extinct.

Nevertheless, Ezekiel tells us that, however necessary, this phase is not sufficient to really enable the community to come back to life again. The spirit is missing. The people are there, but the vocation is missing; there are stories but not charismatic stories; there are words but not the verb that binds them; there are works but the vital breath is missing; there are plans but the big dreams are missing; there are prayers but they cannot speak. The resurrection of Christ was not merely the reanimation of a corpse. And if the resurrection of Lazarus is not interpreted as a sign and announcement of the different resurrection of Christ, it is nothing more than the exhumation of the body of a man who had the sad fate of dying twice. The rebirth of a community cannot happen (or if it did, it would only be like that of Lazarus) if the skeleton and the external signs of life are the only things that are restored. A true prophet, returning to the valley of that first calling now turned into a valley of bones, needs to be able to invoke the spirit while it, softly, arrives. We call some of these vocations or callings reforms.

Ezekiel tells us that these resurrections are possible. That cemeteries can turn into gardens of Eden. That we can go to sleep as old people and wake up as children again.
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The exile and the promise/22 - Words for this time and age of destroyed temples and disappeared promised lands

by Luigino Bruni

Published in Avvenire 07/04/2019

«How can someone be born when they are old?” Nicodemus asked. “Surely they cannot enter a second time into their mother’s womb to be born!“.»

Gospel of John, Chapter 3

Prophets are experts and teachers of the spirit. They recognize it when it blows in the wind on earth, whether it blows outside or inside of them. Among the many types of wind, they know how to intercept it as a different kind of breeze. They have a vital need to respond to their calling. Without the spirit, the prophets would not be able to understand the words they hear and then refer to us. It is the exegete of the words that they receive. They wait for it, they pray to it, they implore it and they know how to stay silent when, despite receiving the words, they do not receive the spirit. In the Bible, the spirit is closely intertwined with the word. Both give life, both create, transform, fertilize, bathe, generate and regenerate. Elohim, Word, Ruah; Father, Logos, Pneuma. The unity and multiplicity of the biblical God were already present in the Bible and in the historical experience of that faith. The prophets are, furthermore, essential to be able to discern spirits, to distinguish the wind of vanity, havel, from the breeze of the spirit, ruah. The Bible knows them well, and the prophets know and recognize them both very well too.

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The song of the risen bones

The song of the risen bones

The exile and the promise/22 - Words for this time and age of destroyed temples and disappeared promised lands by Luigino Bruni Published in Avvenire 07/04/2019 «How can someone be born when they are old?” Nicodemus asked. “Surely they cannot enter a second time into their mother’s womb to be bor...
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    [title] => The meaning of the word heart
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The exile and the promise / 21 - It is the extraordinary alchemy of the Spirit that turns stone into flesh

by Luigino Bruni

Published in Avvenire 31/03/2019

«And My soul became afflicted for the sons of men, because they are blind in their hearts and do not have sight; for empty they came into the world, and empty too they seek to leave the world»

The Gospel of Thomas

A child learning new words is one of the most beautiful spectacles on earth. Within a few weeks, their vocabulary explodes, and the few words of the first two years of life multiply, becoming hundreds and then thousands. Each day brings the gift of new words to learn, which the child learns all at once. Once you become an adult, however, you only re-learn new words one at a time, when an encounter, an illness, or a great crisis becomes the midwife of new words being born. Suddenly the sound of a word pronounced thousands of times becomes that word made flesh. Who knows what Abraham knew about the word altar until a child stretched out on it; or what Moses thought of the sea before seeing it part before his eyes. He grew up surrounded by the wood in his father's workshop, but perhaps Jesus only really understood the meaning of the word wood in Golgotha. The Bible is also a great map for finding your way around the universe and the mystery of the Word and of words. Many people, after decades of spiritual and moral mutism, all of a sudden one day find it and learn to speak again, and with the help of those donated words began to pray, without even realizing it.

[fulltext] =>

Some biblical words are so central and telling that they represent ideal books within the Book. We could narrate the Bible by looking at its story through bread, children, water, pain, and mothers. Or by pursuing the various declensions and meanings of the word heart.

Leb (or Lebab) appears about a thousand times in the Bible, more than eight hundred times in the Old Testament. A word that, like all great words from beginning to end, brings a radical ambivalence with it. A poised heart never gives in to sentimentalism, and even when it works as an image of feelings, the word remains serious and sober as the very life it symbolizes the most. And so, the first time we encounter it, it is within a very tragic context, nestled between Cain and Noah, at the center of humanity's first dark night, which will then culminate in the flood: «The Lord saw… that every inclination of the thoughts of the human heart was only evil all the time» (Genesis 6,5). And makes its last appearance in the book of Revelation, still within a dark and threatening context, in the angel's dialogues with the woman and the beast (Revelation 17,3-17).

But in Exodus the heart is also the place where God infuses inspiration, where the creativity of art is born: «And in the hearts of all that are wise hearted I have put wisdom, that they may make all that I have commanded thee» (Exodus 31,6). The whole Law of Moses is then a matter of the heart: «Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength» (Deuteronomy 6,5). The harshness of the heart of the Israelites is a great prophetic theme, but an even greater one is constituted by the invocation in Jeremiah’s heart, in its most terrible vocational crisis: «But if I say, “I will not mention his word or speak anymore in his name,” his word is in my heart like a fire» (Jeremiah 20,9). No place is deeper or more profound than the place that harbors the voice that calls by name, and there is no better word than leb-heart to indicate this profound depth. Then there is the fact that there is also a special relationship between women and the heart. In order to explain where the exultation of the spirit lies, Anna evokes the heart in her Magnificat: «My heart rejoices in the Lord» (1 Samuel 2,1). And the heart continues to occupy the center in the New Testament as well: it burns within the disciples of Emmaus, it is at the center of a beautiful bliss, and it is the house that Mary guards.

Among the many stupendous passages in which the Bible has explained the semantics of the word heart to us, however, Ezekiel's song stands out above them all. We find ourselves in exile; Jerusalem has been destroyed along with its temple. The people of Israel find themselves immersed in total desolation and failure, which Ezekiel interprets as the culmination of a long history of perversion and infidelity that began when the people were still enslaved in Egypt and then continued for over five centuries in the promised land (Ezekiel 36,17). Hence, this chapter by Ezekiel on the "new heart" comes after a thousand idolatries, after repeated worshipping in the wrong sanctuaries, after all the burnt offerings of children and all the numerous orgies with the sacred prostitutes of the Canaanite heights. Not to mention, all the illusions of the false prophets and the derision and the mockery that the prophet had been subjected to in the early years of his preaching, only for having publicly denounced the corruption of his community. Ezekiel’s song resonates in this lost paradise, within the broken alliance and the betrayed Covenant, in this long eclipse of the Promise, and acquires color, meaning and strength from this varied landscape.

If we wish to understand anything of this song, we must try to put ourselves in the same moral and theological desert, sit down next to Ezekiel and listen to his words from his lookout post, intercepting them in the midst of the deafening noise of the Egyptian, Canaanite and Babylonian gods. We should then try to listen to his psalm as if we had never heard it before, as if it was being announced to us for the first time; as if we were just born today, entirely ignorant of the Bible and of words. Listening to him sitting on the rubble of the infinite idolatries of our time, on the silence of our defeated God, in the midst of the deafening noise of the religious chatter of our low-end spiritualities. It is only by listening within this anthropological and theological need, that Ezekiel's chanting words can still retain today an echo of the force with which his first words came to the exiles, hearing them for the first time along the rivers of Babylon. Any reading of the Bible will not leave us unscathed if we only recreate the same miracle of the first listening: «For I will take you out of the nations; I will gather you from all the countries and bring you back into your own land.  I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean; I will cleanse you from all your impurities and from all your idols» (Ezekiel 36,24-25). Return to the homeland and purification from all idols and contaminations. To so much literature and theology, these two verses would be enough to indicate the great light that awaits the people still immersed in darkness. However, not to Ezekiel. He wishes to tell us something extremely important to enable us to understand the logic of returning.

He wants us to know that in order to end an exile going home is not enough. Even on that great day of returning home - and that anonymous prophet and poet, we know as the "third Isaiah", will repeat it to us later with extraordinary force - the people returned home will continue their infidelity, unless something much more important happens than a mere material return. You always return worse off than you left after an exile, if the return does not become a new exodus towards a new promised land.

This is why purification rites are not enough to start over after a deportation. After a long illness, it is not enough to go back to the hairdresser, to buy a nice new dress, or maybe go to confession, invite all friends for dinner and become new "on the outside". All this is important and in many cases, it is also necessary; but in order to really to start over, we need something different and deeper: we need another promised land, a new calling, a new great dream. And to tell us all this, Ezekiel does not find a more suitable image than that of the "new heart", with which he composes one of the most beautiful and sublime verses in the Bible and in all the sacred literature of all times. Here it is: « I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh» (Ezekiel 36,26).

Words that take your breath away, which immediately become prayer because they make us exclaim: "Oh, what desire and longing for this new heart: so be it, amen, amen. For us, for me, for our children, for all those we love". The good news is that these intimate and secret conversions (the heart is invisible from the outside) sometimes really happen. They are very rare, but they happen. We should not leave this earth without having experienced it at least once - within ourselves, or, of equal importance, having observed it in a child of ours or in a friend. They happen after repeatedly trying to change our lives in vain, after making a hundred promises to others and ourselves and failing all of them. Then, comes a different day and the "heart" really changes. It is an altogether unexpected, unscheduled day, a perfectly normal and ordinary day in general. It does not come as a result of our commitment and our virtues, but when we are weak enough not to oppose resistance to the normal flow of life. We did not expect him, yet he arrived. We did not recognize him as he arrived; only at the end of the nighttime struggle did he reveal his name to us, while changing ours forever. Because the truly decisive events in our existence do not come as a reward for our commitment, we do not build them, they are merely and simply a gift. Too often, we fail to notice how much grace fills our lives because we are too busy deserving our achievements - and so there is no room for Providence to enter and reach our heart on our wall of merits. That is why Ezekiel tells us that this alchemy of the dead and hard stone turning into living and soft flesh is a work of the Spirit, and we will see this further in the great chapter on the dried up bones.

The last part of this great chapter is also very suggestive and revealing: «I will call for the grain and make it plentiful and will not bring famine upon you. I will increase the fruit of the trees and the crops of the field, so that you will no longer suffer disgrace among the nations because of famine» (Ezekiel 36,29-30). Hunger is a source of shame. A phrase that we should post at the entrance of every institution and organization working with human development.

The language of economics and prosperity makes a reappearance to express blessings and a new life. By now, we know it: the prophets only have the words of life to their disposal to speak of God, because they are much more secular than we are. Hence, work also returns: «The desolate land will be cultivated instead of lying desolate in the sight of all who pass through it. They will say, “This land that was laid waste has become like the garden of Eden”» (Ezekiel 36,34-35). It is not uncommon for us to realize that we have received a new heart when we start working again. We go back to work as usual, and once we are there, we feel that something profound has changed, but we did not know it before going back to the office or the factory. Work is also all of this.

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The exile and the promise / 21 - It is the extraordinary alchemy of the Spirit that turns stone into flesh

by Luigino Bruni

Published in Avvenire 31/03/2019

«And My soul became afflicted for the sons of men, because they are blind in their hearts and do not have sight; for empty they came into the world, and empty too they seek to leave the world»

The Gospel of Thomas

A child learning new words is one of the most beautiful spectacles on earth. Within a few weeks, their vocabulary explodes, and the few words of the first two years of life multiply, becoming hundreds and then thousands. Each day brings the gift of new words to learn, which the child learns all at once. Once you become an adult, however, you only re-learn new words one at a time, when an encounter, an illness, or a great crisis becomes the midwife of new words being born. Suddenly the sound of a word pronounced thousands of times becomes that word made flesh. Who knows what Abraham knew about the word altar until a child stretched out on it; or what Moses thought of the sea before seeing it part before his eyes. He grew up surrounded by the wood in his father's workshop, but perhaps Jesus only really understood the meaning of the word wood in Golgotha. The Bible is also a great map for finding your way around the universe and the mystery of the Word and of words. Many people, after decades of spiritual and moral mutism, all of a sudden one day find it and learn to speak again, and with the help of those donated words began to pray, without even realizing it.

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The meaning of the word heart

The meaning of the word heart

The exile and the promise / 21 - It is the extraordinary alchemy of the Spirit that turns stone into flesh by Luigino Bruni Published in Avvenire 31/03/2019 «And My soul became afflicted for the sons of men, because they are blind in their hearts and do not have sight; for empty they came into the w...
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    [title] => The rule of the weak link
    [alias] => the-rule-of-the-weak-link
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The exile and the promise/ 20 - Salvation (even of the political and economic kind) cannot fail to come

by Luigino Bruni

Published in Avvenire 24/03/2019

«After praying at home, I was sitting on the sofa when a man of magnificent appearance, dressed as a shepherd, came in. He greeted me and I greeted him. He immediately sat down next to me and said: 'I was sent by the most venerable of angels to live with you the remaining days of my life’»

The Shepherd of Hermas, Revelation V

«Woe to you shepherds of Israel who only take care of yourselves! Should not shepherds take care of the flock? You eat the curds, clothe yourselves with the wool and slaughter the choice animals, but you do not take care of the flock» (Ezekiel 34,2-3).

Jerusalem had fallen. In his desolate land of exile Ezekiel, the sentinel-prophet, sees a flock dispersed by the neglect of his shepherds: «You have not strengthened the weak or healed the sick or bound up the injured. You have not brought back the strays or searched for the lost. You have ruled them harshly and brutally. So they were scattered because there was no shepherd, and when they were scattered they became food for all the wild animals» (Ezekiel 34,4-5). They are not shepherds but "mercenaries" (John 10:12), because they exploit the fattest sheep to gain profit for themselves.

[fulltext] =>

The profession of being a shepherd is a complex art, and very much loved by the Bible, the prophets and many ancient civilizations. It centers on a relationship of reciprocity with the flock, a composite and varied entity. Next to the fat and healthy sheep, there are five categories of fragile animals, categorized through an equal number of adjectives: weak, infirm, wounded, scattered and lost. The greater part of the flock is hence made up of sheep in need of special and specific care by the shepherd. There are those that are weak, perhaps because they are still lambs, those that are permanently infirm due to impairments and accidents, or wounds from the attack of wolves or wild boars, some that are lost after a bad storm or an assault, and some sheep that have no longer been able to find their way after a difficult nighttime crossing. A good shepherd is a shepherd who has developed an ability to watch the whole flock, who has widened his gaze to include them all, starting with the last ones. In 1971, the philosopher John Rawls defined the maxi-min criterion, in which when faced with a series of possible social alternatives, the one where the last ones fair the best is the one that should be preferred above all, as the cornerstone of a democratic, fair and fraternal society. Long before this happened, the shepherds had already known for millennia that the quality and goodness of their work depended on the ability to take care of their most disadvantaged animals. The first indicator of the goodness of a shepherd is not in fact the milk or the wool he obtains from the sheep, but the balance and harmony of the flock as a whole, and hence how he treats the most vulnerable sheep. How many wounds he has healed, how many scattered sheep he has been able to find again, and how many of the weak animals he has managed to strengthen.

The kind of leadership waged by a shepherd is unique and different, when compared with that of a general in battle, the captain of a ship during a storm or, today, with corporate leadership. Its goal is not to maximize individual interest or economic profit, because if this were the case, it would not make sense to devote energy and special care particularly to the most fragile and sick animals, to the 'rejects'. The management culture of a shepherd is a culture of the common good, that is, the good of each and every one - of the whole flock and of each individual sheep. A leadership based on the maximization of economic interests however centers on efficiency, and therefore to the neglect and discarding of the less productive elements in order to focus on the best and most deserving ones instead. The care that comes with the common good cannot exclude anyone, because each individual is linked to all the others, and the loss of a single sheep would be seen as a general failure. Hence, the care of the flock follows the rule of the weak link: the strength of a chain depends on the strength of its most fragile link, and neglecting it, in order to focus on the strongest links instead, makes the whole process extremely vulnerable. The good shepherd takes care of the weak links in his flock, because he knows that the quality and the good performance of all his work depends on them, including the quality of the performance of the strongest elements. The kind of leadership waged by the good shepherd is therefore capable of wasting time on long night searches, of slowing down the march of the whole flock if only one is suffering; it knows how to set the rhythm of everyone's journey based on the pace of the slowest. It is anti-meritocratic, because the logic that guides the shepherd's action is not one of merit but one of need, dictating his orders, priorities and the hierarchy of his interventions. A fat and robust sheep does not have more merits or value than a scattered and wounded one, and even if it had more value, it would still not be preferred due to its merits; the weak sheep attracts more care merely because it has greater and more needs than the stronger one.

The image of the shepherd as a paradigm of good governance and management of communities has deeply inspired western humanism, which over the centuries has given rise to a political culture centered on the priority and objective of not losing its most fragile components - welfare is nothing more than a mature translation of the humanism of the good shepherd. The 21st century, however, is writing a different story, also in Europe. The corporate culture of leadership, heavily focused on the aspects of efficiency and meritocracy, is steadily becoming a universal paradigm, slowly leaving the mere economic sphere of society, and entering the civil and political spheres of the world as well, (and soon perhaps also that of religions). It is convincing everyone that the care for the weak and fragile should be subordinated to the more important aspects and constraints of efficiency, hence becoming meritocratic - we will throw away the last residues of social welfare the day a hospital begins to wonder if a patient who arrives at the emergency room really deserves treatment.

The prophet's judgment and condemnation are not limited to religious and political leaders. He also includes the economic elites, who have used their strength and power to crush and oppress the weakest: «Is it not enough for you to feed on the good pasture? Must you also trample the rest of your pasture with your feet? Is it not enough for you to drink clear water? Must you also muddy the rest with your feet? Must my flock feed on what you have trampled and drink what you have muddied with your feet?» (Ezekiel 34,18-19). The more robust members of society have abused their dominant position to increase their advantages, making the lives of those below them even harder and poorer.

Here, we must take note of an aspect of extreme importance. In order to describe the moral and spiritual decadence of his people and the breaking of the Covenant with their different God, which is the cause of their tragedy of defeat, Ezekiel does not resort to religious or worship related arguments. He does not invoke theology or idolatry. Instead, he speaks of good governance, politics and economics, the betrayal of the vocation of the shepherd, and the denial of the law and economic justice. This is the great secularism of prophecy and of the Bible: in the most terrible de profundis of Israel's religious identity, he finds no other topics more 'religious' than politics and economics; he does not find words of greater impact than the very humble ones of the shepherd's profession. Just as another Good Shepherd did, who while taking up these words by Ezekiel revealed (Matthew 25) his criteria and his spiritual indicators to us, all enclosed in a few secular words: hunger, thirst, bareness, prisons, diseases, and strangers. It always affects and moves me when I reread it, that in the most 'heavenly' and eschatological text in the Gospel there is no reference to the practices of religious worship but only to practices of human fraternity, where the bare facts matter more than the intentions: 'you did it for me'.

Suddenly, however, a ray of sunshine penetrates into this desolate landscape, and everything brightens up: «For this is what the Sovereign Lord says: I myself will search for my sheep and look after them…  I myself will tend my sheep and have them lie down. I will search for the lost and bring back the strays. I will bind up the injured and strengthen the weak, but the sleek and the strong I will destroy. I will shepherd the flock with justice» (Ezekiel 34,11-16).

Great words. In those dark and terrible days, with the temple destroyed, their God defeated, the people deported to Babylon, in a foreign and idolatrous land the prophet sings of hope and prophesies that the "bars of their yoke" will be broken (Ezekiel 34,27), intoning the salvation that is coming because it cannot fail to come. This is what the real and great prophets are like. In a time of illusions, they announce the harsh and bitter truth of the imminent defeat; but when the day of devastation comes, they become the voice of a possible good future, singing of life in the midst of the rubble of death, rekindling tomorrow in the extinction of today. And while they sing of the future they pray to it, asking for it to their God, hoping that the words of those songs become true while saying them.

But his new song does not end here: « I will place over them one shepherd, my servant David, and he will tend them; he will tend them and be their shepherd… I will make a covenant of peace with them and rid the land of savage beasts so that they may live in the wilderness and sleep in the forests in safety… I will send down showers in season; there will be showers of blessing. The trees will yield their fruit and the ground will yield its crops; the people will be secure in their land» (Ezekiel 34,23-27).
And so, David, the little shepherd, the king according to the wishes of the heart of God, returns. And with him the messianic expectation of a new David who, finally, will be a good shepherd as well. Isaiah, the Immanuel, the prophecy of eternal and universal peace, the end of suffering and fear, returns. It is a promise of a new covenant of peace - berit shalom - a pact of prosperity, which will include animals, trees, the entire creation. When the prophets have to announce a great salvation in the midst of the darkest of tragedies, they tend to feel that the human sphere alone is insufficient. After the flood and the ark of salvation, the animals, all creatures, the rainbow and the entire cosmos must also find a place in the Covenant. In the days of great resurrections, the words of human beings are too poor. We remember the faces and words of those magnificent times, but we also remember the sounds and flowers, and we remember the light.

What if we were capable of a new covenant of prosperity today, celebrated with new policies, new economies and new management cultures. However, the trees, the animals, the air, the sky, the light would also be part of it. And if we should prove ourselves capable of fraternity with them as well, 'you did it for me' will become the song of both heaven and earth.

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The exile and the promise/ 20 - Salvation (even of the political and economic kind) cannot fail to come

by Luigino Bruni

Published in Avvenire 24/03/2019

«After praying at home, I was sitting on the sofa when a man of magnificent appearance, dressed as a shepherd, came in. He greeted me and I greeted him. He immediately sat down next to me and said: 'I was sent by the most venerable of angels to live with you the remaining days of my life’»

The Shepherd of Hermas, Revelation V

«Woe to you shepherds of Israel who only take care of yourselves! Should not shepherds take care of the flock? You eat the curds, clothe yourselves with the wool and slaughter the choice animals, but you do not take care of the flock» (Ezekiel 34,2-3).

Jerusalem had fallen. In his desolate land of exile Ezekiel, the sentinel-prophet, sees a flock dispersed by the neglect of his shepherds: «You have not strengthened the weak or healed the sick or bound up the injured. You have not brought back the strays or searched for the lost. You have ruled them harshly and brutally. So they were scattered because there was no shepherd, and when they were scattered they became food for all the wild animals» (Ezekiel 34,4-5). They are not shepherds but "mercenaries" (John 10:12), because they exploit the fattest sheep to gain profit for themselves.

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The rule of the weak link

The rule of the weak link

The exile and the promise/ 20 - Salvation (even of the political and economic kind) cannot fail to come by Luigino Bruni Published in Avvenire 24/03/2019 «After praying at home, I was sitting on the sofa when a man of magnificent appearance, dressed as a shepherd, came in. He greeted me and I greete...
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The exile and the promise/ 19 - Solidarity with one's community is special, and wholly fulfilled before God

By Luigino Bruni

Published in Avvenire 17/03/2019

«We have lost the ability to sing. Man in his anguish is a messenger who has forgotten the message. The Bible is not a book about God: it is a book about man. From the perspective of the Bible: Who is man? A being placed in labour, but who has the dreams and plans of God»

Abraham Heschel, Who is man?

There is a great similarity between the task of the prophet and that of a sentry. Prophets love this image that was part of the daily and secular life of their cities, and they often come back to it - the night-time song of the sentry of Isaiah (Chapter 21) is among the most intense and profound passages in the whole Bible. The prophets share the task of the sentinel, with their absolute loyalty to their guard post, masters of both sight and hearing, knowing how to stand on the borderline between being inside and outside, guardians of the threshold that separates one kingdom from another. The sentry has a very clear mission: he must blow the horn, warn and alert. This is all he has to do, but if he doesn’t do it, the consequences could very serious indeed. And here we find ourselves in the middle of Ezekiel's vocational drama, while Jerusalem falls, the sentry returns: «Son of man, I have made you a watchman for the people of Israel; so hear the word I speak and give them warning from me...  If you do not speak out to dissuade the wicked from their ways, that wicked person will die for their sin, and I will hold you accountable for their blood» (Ezekiel 33,7-9). 

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The task of a prophet is not merely to transmit messages addressed to the people. His warnings are also personalized, especially in times of crisis. He must speak both to the righteous and to the wicked, with differentiated messages. But here we read that the sentinel speaks above all to the wicked, it is for them that he carries out the main part of his ministry of salvation. The prophet is therefore a great resource for those who are in a state of error and sin, as well as a great friend. He conveys what is often revealed to be the ultimate warning. The wicked may not listen, but the prophet cannot save himself if he does not carry out his task as admonishing messenger.

Here we find a decisive aspect in all prophecy: the solidarity between the prophet and his community. A solidarity that in order to be fully understood must be understood in its legal meaning. If the prophet does not carry out his task, he becomes jointly and severally liable with the wicked who have not been converted. It is as if by answering yes to his calling, the prophet signed a surety, becoming an actual guarantor raising his hand to answer for his people and save them (Job 17). It also due to this objective civil, criminal and spiritual responsibility, that vocations and how we respond to them are tremendously serious matters of great weight and importance. And they also invite us to reflect on the relationship between guilt and responsibility. A prophet who does not carry out his mission well becomes guilty of another man's sin. But prophecy does not only include vicarious suffering; Ezekiel also tells us that a prophet performs a function of vicarious responsibility as well: «I will hold you accountable for their blood» God holds the prophet accountable for the fault of another, and the prophet answers for him (responsibility, that is, to respond). We do not know exactly what this responsibility consists of, what the content of the question addressed to the noncomplying prophet is. It could be something similar to the responsibility and questions asked of us for the errors and sins of our children, spouses, friends that we have not warned and cherished enough; or could it be the same terrible question aimed at Cain: where is your brother? The same unique question, to which every prophet and every man must answer, first of all to his or her own conscience, which the prophetic calling amplifies and radicalises to be a sign and message for all.

The calling of a prophet is terrible. He cannot stop speaking of and reporting what he hears and sees. If Ezekiel in the first six years of his mission had stopped admonishing his people he would have betrayed his vocation and shared the same fate as those who remained or became wicked by omission. This also helps us to understand something essential in the dynamics of prophetic-charismatic communities. When we see someone lose their way, lose themselves and eventually fall, we have no way of knowing if perhaps a prophet was hidden somewhere in the back, behind that non-salvation, a prophet who did not have the courage or strength to speak to the person in question to the very end. Nor do we know if he or she lost his or her way because all prophets died, or fled, or were cast out, or because they became false prophets by not being able to resist in their guard post bare during the coldest of winters.

«In the twelfth year of our exile, in the tenth month on the fifth day, a man who had escaped from Jerusalem came to me and said, “The city has fallen!” Now the evening before the man arrived, the hand of the Lord was on me, and he opened my mouth before the man came to me in the morning. So my mouth was opened and I was no longer silent». (Ezekiel 33,21-22).

The city has fallen. There was nothing else to be added. Ezekiel probably remained silent during the siege of Jerusalem. Now a new phase of his life and that of his people begins. And so the word returns, even if that word will no longer be the word before the siege and death of his wife, the «delight of my eyes». The words of life do not return, they can only rise again after they have been able to die first. Ezekiel will speak again, and will say new words generated by the death of the bride, the holy city and its temple. His mutism is interrupted thanks to the arrival of a refugee, a fugitive, a person who escaped a massacre, someone who had fled a war, who had fled destruction. Even today, those of us who find ourselves to be mute can find new words following the visit from a refugee, who with his or her silence full of pain teaches us to speak once again.

Ezekiel gives us some of these new and different words immediately: «”Son of man, the people living in those ruins in the land of Israel are saying, ‘Abraham was only one man, yet he possessed the land. But we are many; surely the land has been given to us as our possession!"» (Ezekiel 33,23-25). ). The first message of the word that was found was for the survivors of Jerusalem, those who had survived the fall of the city, who had not been deported by Nebuchadnezzar and had remained in the ruins of the city and the temple. A new ideology was slowly starting to grow among them (ideologies, like weed, are the first things to be reborn among ruins). Those who escaped thought themselves to be the new Abraham, to whom YHWH had given the Promised Land. And so they felt the masters of those ruins, the true continuers of the Covenant; consequently, they considered the exiles to be cursed and repudiated by God (and hence that they were entitled to seize their lands as well). The survivors had given themselves the status of the "remnant of Israel", misappropriating a stupendous prophetic category. Ezekiel continues his profession as sentinel and harshly challenges their illusion. Their life and idolatrous practices clearly say that they are not the "remnant" but mere "survivors": «“Say this to them: ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says:... I will make the land a desolate waste, and her proud strength will come to an end"» (Ezekiel 33,27-28).

It is not uncommon for a group of survivors to identify with the "prophetic remnant" in a new promised land after a great community crisis. It starts from the concrete fact of actually having survived and turns it into a spiritual and messianic event. We have escaped death and are therefore the legitimate custodians of the authentic charism. Ezekiel tells us how dangerous these ideological operations can really be and that the legitimization of a group of survivors can only come from an external source, outside of the group itself: there is a need for a true prophet to smear ointment on our heads (much of the effort of the community lies in knowing how to identify this true prophet, because the market is full of false healers smearing ointment on heads that are already bowing).

While Ezekiel criticizes and refutes the false claims of the survivors of Jerusalem, he has equally true and severe words for his companions deported to Babylon as well. After the fall, a radical change had taken place in the attitude of the exiles towards the prophet, generated by the fulfilment of his prophecy. The mistrust, ridicule and sarcasm of the early years were replaced by an unprecedented success, which translated into a coming and going of people who came to him to attend his performances. And so a word from YHWH arrives to whisper the key in which to correctly interpret this new moment of ‘spring’ in his ear: «As for you, son of man, your people are talking together about you by the walls and at the doors of the houses, saying to each other, ‘Come and hear the message that has come from the Lord.’ My people come to you, as they usually do, and sit before you to hear your words, but they do not put them into practice. Their mouths speak of love, but their hearts are greedy for unjust gain» (Ezekiel 33,30-31). Their mouths speak of love, but their hearts are greedy for unjust gain: they are only consumers of prophetic words as if they were goods of comfort. Once again, we have economic practice as a test of the truth of the heart: the dignity that prophets attribute to economics is always surprising!

The voice continues to speak to him: «Indeed, to them you are nothing more than one who sings love songs with a beautiful voice and plays an instrument well, for they hear your words but do not put them into practice» (Ezekiel 33,32). What a beautiful image: listening to the songs of the prophet is no different from listening to any singer. Furthermore, this historical clue suggests that the prophets sang their verses, a fact that embellishes the already stupendous prophetic vocation depicted in the Bible. Ezekiel understands that this newfound success of his depends on mere superficial, artificial and banal aspects. Prophets must be very careful in interpreting the reasons for their (brief and rare) moments of success, because they are almost always similar to those that Ezekiel mentions. A prophet will eventually lose his way if he misinterprets the success he sometimes may experience, a very common mistake when it’s someone like Ezekiel, with a brilliant personality and many talents. And so he could go on for a long time happy and deluded by his own beautiful voice and seductive rhetoric.

It was the voice that revealed the deception to Ezekiel. He listened, understood and then wrote for us as we continue to sing and console ourselves with the wrong hosannas.

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The exile and the promise/ 19 - Solidarity with one's community is special, and wholly fulfilled before God

By Luigino Bruni

Published in Avvenire 17/03/2019

«We have lost the ability to sing. Man in his anguish is a messenger who has forgotten the message. The Bible is not a book about God: it is a book about man. From the perspective of the Bible: Who is man? A being placed in labour, but who has the dreams and plans of God»

Abraham Heschel, Who is man?

There is a great similarity between the task of the prophet and that of a sentry. Prophets love this image that was part of the daily and secular life of their cities, and they often come back to it - the night-time song of the sentry of Isaiah (Chapter 21) is among the most intense and profound passages in the whole Bible. The prophets share the task of the sentinel, with their absolute loyalty to their guard post, masters of both sight and hearing, knowing how to stand on the borderline between being inside and outside, guardians of the threshold that separates one kingdom from another. The sentry has a very clear mission: he must blow the horn, warn and alert. This is all he has to do, but if he doesn’t do it, the consequences could very serious indeed. And here we find ourselves in the middle of Ezekiel's vocational drama, while Jerusalem falls, the sentry returns: «Son of man, I have made you a watchman for the people of Israel; so hear the word I speak and give them warning from me...  If you do not speak out to dissuade the wicked from their ways, that wicked person will die for their sin, and I will hold you accountable for their blood» (Ezekiel 33,7-9). 

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The prophets answer for everyone

The prophets answer for everyone

The exile and the promise/ 19 - Solidarity with one's community is special, and wholly fulfilled before God By Luigino Bruni Published in Avvenire 17/03/2019 «We have lost the ability to sing. Man in his anguish is a messenger who has forgotten the message. The Bible is not a book about God: it is a...
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The exile and the promise/ 18 - The honest words we must say sometimes and the hope we harbor

By Luigino Bruni

Published in Avvenire10/03/2019

«ln the middle of the town square and on both sides of the river there is a tree of life that bears twelve fruits every month; the leaves of the tree serve to heal the nations»

The Book of Revelation

In any form of self-legitimation of power, the gifts received are considered to be the fruits of one's own personal merits, and the power in question to come from an external source (God or the people). Hence, the gratuitous nature of any talent received is effectively canceled, and the logic of the crocodile or monster returns, and sooner or later we end up repeating: "The Nile is mine, I made it for myself ".

[fulltext] =>

«I am against you, Pharaoh king of Egypt, you great monster lying among your streams. You say, “The Nile belongs to me; I made it for myself"» (Ezekiel 29,3). Egypt in the Bible is the expression of many things. Its first images are of slavery, forced labor, plagues, and then liberation and Easter. The Egyptian pharaohs were also a symbol of the most radical form of idolatry, due to their status of divinity. The root of the sin of Egypt lies in fact in the religious attitude of its pharaoh, who claimed to be the master of the Nile. The crocodile-Leviathan of the Nile feels like God himself, and therefore the creator and master of the world.

The oracles against Egypt were pronounced by Ezekiel a few months before and after the siege by the Babylonian troops of Nebuchadnezzar II, which lasted for about a year and a half. During these months, there was a great hope among the leaders of the people of Jerusalem that they would be saved by a military intervention from Egypt, in particular by its young pharaoh Hophra (Apries), who had just come to power. Just like Jeremiah, however, Ezekiel is convinced that the long-awaited help from Egypt is only an illusion, a vain consolation that prevented the people from accepting the only possible outcome: the fall of Jerusalem, the destruction of the temple and the exile of the people Judah. Instead, the leaders of the people, inspired and supported by the constant preaching of false prophets, continued to wait for the arrival of the Egyptians and thus ended up exhausting themselves in a long, unnecessary and wearing siege.

In order to understand, or at least capture some aspect of these oracles against Egypt, we must try to imagine and see Ezekiel proclaiming them in the streets of this land of exile. A land in which families were busy rationing the last remaining cereal and very little water they had left, and cooking their loaves of bread while feeding the ovens with dung (as Ezekiel himself prophesied at the beginning of his book, Chapter 4). From that land of exile, Ezekiel announced to an exhausted people that Nebuchadnezzar's hand was led by YHWH, that nothing good would come from Egypt, and that the only right choice was to surrender. It is not impossible then to imagine the profound and radical dissonance between the words of Ezekiel and the feelings of his people. He would have been criticized, silenced and hated by the very people, to whom his calling had sent him.

But Ezekiel does not stay silent, he cannot keep quiet; it does not change his prophecy, which he had been repeating for at least five years, when he first began his activity as a prophet in exile. It cannot change it. True prophets do not adapt their prophecies to the needs of the "consumers", they do not have a commodity to sell, but only a voice to listen to and obey. They have no choice, and there is no escape. A prophetic calling is one of the most terrible vocations under the sun – as true back then, as it is today. It always operates ‘counteractively’. People were seeking comfort and consolation and Ezekiel revealed their illusions and false hopes: «Then all who live in Egypt will know that I am the Lord. You have been a staff of reed for the people of Israel. When they grasped you with their hands, you splintered and you tore open their shoulders; when they leaned on you, you broke and their backs were wrenched» (Ezekiel 29,6-7). For the faltering people of Judah, Egypt is a crutch, which breaks under the weight of its body, injuring it. Nothing more or different from this. Ruthless and harsh words indeed.

Among these prophecies against Egypt, we also find an oracle dated many years later (571), which appears to be the last of Ezekiel's public activity, which in total lasted around twenty-two years. An original and controversial prophecy, but particularly important because it speaks of a failed prophecy, of a prediction that has not come true: «Son of man, Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon drove his army in a hard campaign against Tyre; … yet the king and his army got no reward from the campaign he led against Tyre» (Ezekiel 29,18). Many years earlier (Chapters 26-28), Ezekiel had prophesied the fall of Tyre and its destruction at the hands of Nebuchadnezzar. He now notes that the Babylonian king had recently completed his long siege, but Tyre had not been destroyed or pillaged.

The power and truth of a prophecy lies in its source. Unlike false prophets, a true prophet bases his legitimacy on the true voice that speaks to him and that he / she in turn refers to the people. The oracles are not theological speculations nor ethical treatises, but quotes from YHWH. The predictive aspect of any prophecy was important, because it was one of the tests used to distinguish it from false prophecies. Hence, both prophets and people held it in high esteem. However, it was not and still is not its most essential aspect. In his oracles against Tyre, Ezekiel finds himself having to announce a destruction, suggested to him by God, years later he has to admit that that destruction has not occurred. Here, Ezekiel shares a fate similar to that of Jonah, who was sent to prophesy the destruction of Nineveh, which did not end up happening; or to that of Christ, who announced the Kingdom of the Beatitudes to us, which we are still waiting for, together with His return. We know that the biblical God is a God capable of changing his mind. He is not afraid of showing himself a repentant God, who threatens punishment which he then withdraws, who asks to offer a son on an altar and then sends the ram. We know this. We also know, however, that something else extremely important could also be hiding behind these wrong predictions by the prophets.

A prophet is not the master of the words that he proclaims. If he actually believed this, he would be too similar to the crocodile-Leviathan-pharaoh. It is precisely this non-possessive aspect, which makes it right and, at the same time, radically fragile and vulnerable. He announces a word that knows how to be true, as true as his calling; but he has no way of knowing if that voice will say different things tomorrow than the equally real and true ones today, if it will change its mind. Because the words he announces, are the words of a voice that is an eternal present, and therefore the present of tomorrow could change both the present of today and that of yesterday. For this reason, no honest prophet relies on the future to base the truth of his present, and when he does (true prophets do this too: it is one of their most common mistakes) he will face sensational denials. Knowing how to live with this lack or need of tomorrow is part of the profession of being a good prophet, which is not true because it makes prophecies come true, but because it listens to and transmits a voice.

Somewhere in his soul, perhaps Ezekiel also feared that even his great prophecy about the fall of Jerusalem might end up being disproved by the facts one day, that YHWH could change his mind and save her from destruction. Perhaps he desired and hoped for it, as an exiled priest perhaps he prayed that his words would be denied by a repenting act by his God. Perhaps, until the day before the end of the siege, while still prophesying the end of the holy city, at night he prayed to YHWH secret that his words would not come true. Only those who do not really know life or the Bible can think that true prophets truly like their prophecies of doom. They are only the announcers of words of which they have no control, words which they sometimes do not love and sometimes in their depths hope and pray will eventually be denied. Just like us, when we sometimes have to say words of misfortune to those who ask us for our opinion, (about a disease, about the end of a relationship, about a possible call…). We pray in our depths that life will deny those honest words that we must say, but that we cannot not say if we want to remain true. Any faithfulness to the word requires a love greater than our happiness, even when that word takes the name of a friend, a wife, a son, or even when it takes our own name. Like yesterday, when we heard a clear word that called us by name and entrusted us with a task, and today when we hear another equally clear voice telling us the opposite. Even in these cases, either we can force that voice into the frame of our needs for consistency, or we can love the truth of those words more than ourselves and continue to walk on new roads, with a newfound freedom.

The oracles about Egypt end with a funeral song (Chapter 32), where we find one of the few references in the Old Testament to life after death. Unlike Egyptian culture, biblical humanism is not interested in paradise because it is too fond of life and the God of the living. Once again, Ezekiel shows his literary talent and his great culture and knowledge on the traditions of his neighboring people. The mythical image of the cosmic tree is particularly beautiful and evocative, Ezekiel uses it to describe the beauty and power of Egypt, which like an immense cedar tree rises in the center of Eden: «I made it beautiful with abundant branches, the envy of all the trees of Eden in the garden of God» (Ezekiel 31,9). An immense and beautiful tree, so tall its top branches reached into the clouds, and for this very same reason ends up suffering the same end as the Tower of Babel: «Because the great cedar towered over the thick foliage, and because it was proud of its height, I gave it into the hands of the ruler of the nations, for him to deal with according to its wickedness. I cast it aside» (Ezekiel 31,10-11). The myth of the cosmic tree is found in many cultures, from China to Babylon. We also find it in the Christian Middle Ages, when a Franciscan tradition (The Lignum vitae of San Bonaventura and Ubertino of Casale) wanted to make the tree of the cross coincide with the tree of life of Eden. And while we continue to follow our crucifixes on our own cavalries, no one can take away the hope of one day seeing those wooden arms in bloom, and in that moment realize that, without knowing it, while we were crying out in abandonment, we were actually leaning on the tree of life.

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The exile and the promise/ 18 - The honest words we must say sometimes and the hope we harbor

By Luigino Bruni

Published in Avvenire10/03/2019

«ln the middle of the town square and on both sides of the river there is a tree of life that bears twelve fruits every month; the leaves of the tree serve to heal the nations»

The Book of Revelation

In any form of self-legitimation of power, the gifts received are considered to be the fruits of one's own personal merits, and the power in question to come from an external source (God or the people). Hence, the gratuitous nature of any talent received is effectively canceled, and the logic of the crocodile or monster returns, and sooner or later we end up repeating: "The Nile is mine, I made it for myself ".

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Leaning on the tree of life

Leaning on the tree of life

The exile and the promise/ 18 - The honest words we must say sometimes and the hope we harbor By Luigino Bruni Published in Avvenire10/03/2019 «ln the middle of the town square and on both sides of the river there is a tree of life that bears twelve fruits every month; the leaves of the tree serve ...
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    [title] => Let us reopen the door to heaven
    [alias] => let-us-reopen-the-door-to-heaven
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The exile and the promise/ 17 - The angel's name is not "economy", but the right way does go through here

By Luigino Bruni

Published in Avvenire 03/03/2019

«Business is a great source of war. It is jealous, and jealousy provides men with weapons. The wars of the Carthaginians, of the Romans, of the Venetians, of the Genoese, of the Pisans, of the Portuguese, of the Dutch, of the French, and of the English all testify to this. If two nations trade together for mutual needs, it is these needs that oppose war, not the spirit of trade itself»

Antonio Genovesi, Commentary on The Spirit of the Laws of Montesquieu, 1769

There is no single ethical assessment regarding the economy in the Bible. In the various biblical books we find different and in some cases opposed ideas and judgments on the nature of goods, wealth and business. Because, simply put, wealth is deeply ambivalent. Thus we encounter passages where having many goods is a blessing and a sign of having been elected, and shortly after others where the search for profits and wealth is pure vanitas. We read of the poor considered cursed, and of the poor who are called blessed. Up to the terrible words said to the angel of the city of Laodicea in the book of Revelation: «You say, ‘I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.’ But you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked» (Revelation 3,17). This sentence contains the key to understanding many prophetic and evangelical criticisms of wealth: 'I do not need a thing'. The great deception, the tremendous illusion of wealth lies in its seductive offer of self-sufficiency, of independence, in the illusion that through it we will no longer need anyone, and therefore, in the end, not even God. It (almost) promises us the same land promised by God to Abraham, which, not surprisingly, is defined on the basis of goods or assets: 'milk and honey'.

[fulltext] =>

Prophets often use the economic sphere and its language to compose their poems. Also because, being the experts in humanity that they are, they know that few things (if any) have a greater ability to immediately enter the daily and decisive reality in the life of both people and communities than economics. Since childhood we know and recognize coins, we understand their value and use. Our grandparents perfectly understood the language and value ​​of wealth, goods and money, they knew how to 'count' even without knowing math. And even today, if we want to say and write words capable of entering into daily life and perhaps changing it a little as well, we must also learn to talk about things such as work, goods, value, wealth, poverty. If we don't, our words risk flying too high to meet the eyes of regular men and women, our images remain too aerial to intercept Adam, the earthling. We can make many lofty speeches, use a series of perfect words in our daily dialogues with the people we love, but when we return to our parents' house, the simple language of a repaired shelf, the silent word of a screwdriver that fixes a chair, of a pruned and watered plant is infinitely stronger and more real. The beautiful secularism of life.

Set in the heart of the oracles about the cities (Chapters 25-32), we also encounter Ezekiel’s songs dedicated to the Phoenician city of Tire, which contain a magnificent anthropological, theological and sapiential reflection on the economy and wealth: «In the eleventh month of the twelfth year, on the first day of the month, the word of the Lord came to me: “Son of man, because Tyre has said of Jerusalem, ‘Aha! The gate to the nations is broken, and its doors have swung open to me; now that she lies in ruins I will prosper… They will plunder your wealth and loot your merchandise’”» (Ezekiel 26,1-2,12). Tire's guilt and condemnation have to do with its wealth and extraordinary businesses, known all over the world at the time. Tire probably was a city similar to New York, Singapore or London today, known above all as a major hub of international trade and affairs, the protagonist of the proto-globalization that was the Mediterranean economy. Ezekiel proves to be an authentic master when he describes the admirable intertwining of exchanges and flows, with great competence and effectiveness (the vastness of Ezekiel's culture does not cease to impress me): «Tarshish did business with you… Greece, Tubal and Meshek did business with you; they traded human beings and articles of bronze for your wares. Men of Beth Togarmah exchanged chariot horses, cavalry horses and mules for your merchandise… Arabia and all the princes of Kedar were your customers; they did business with you in lambs, rams and goats. The merchants of Sheba and Raamah traded with you; for your merchandise they exchanged the finest of all kinds of spices and precious stones, and gold. Harran, Kanneh and Eden and merchants of Sheba… so you became prosperous, filled with heavy cargo as you sail the sea» (Ezekiel 27,12-25). Tire dominated trade from the Iberian Peninsula (Tarshish) to Greece (Javan), from Asia Minor (Togarmah) to the Arabian Peninsula (Sheba). An authentic mercantile, economic and financial superpower, ruler of sea and land.

Resorting to the beautiful metaphor of the ship, Ezekiel thus describes the sad fate of a civilization founded on the religion of wealth: «Your oarsmen take you out to the high seas. But the east wind will break you to pieces far out at sea. Your wealth, merchandise and wares… will sink into the heart of the sea… Who was ever silenced like Tyre, surrounded by the sea?» (Ezekiel 27,26-32). The ancient and eternal thesis on the ephemeral nature of wealth, very common in the sapiential literature of ancient civilizations, returns. Placing one's trust of salvation in gold and silver and in their fake omnipotence is simply foolishness, because the happiness of wealth also is radically vulnerable and unstable. A storm triggered by a bad wind is enough for the promises of happiness from goods to end up destroyed at the bottom of the sea, and us along with them. The accumulation of wealth protects against small daily misfortunes, but makes us dramatically exposed to greater tragedies. Like the inhabitants of the Lotofagi Island (lotus eaters) in the Odyssey, wealth makes us live in a constant present, making us forget the thousand realities of life that wealth cannot cure and does not satisfy, and so when those realities arrive they invariably find us most unprepared and fragile. There is no promise of happiness more false than that of wealth, which, however, still remains the sea in which we most like to shipwreck. With a difference compared to past civilizations: they deceived themselves knowing full what they were doing, while we simply deceive ourselves, because we’ve lost the ethical concepts and categories to understand the fraud.

In Ezekiel, however, we also find the deep biblical root of the economic sin of Tire: «In the pride of your heart you say, “I am a god; I sit on the throne of a god in the heart of the seas.” But you are a mere mortal and not a god, though you think you are as wise as a god» (Ezekiel 28,2). This is the idolatrous nature of wealth, the folly of saying to yourself: 'my heart and wisdom is like that of God', the will to violate the name of the angel (Michael: who is like God?).

Not having a language more powerful than that of economy to fully express the Covenant and its promises, the Bible inevitably had to attribute a special ethical and spiritual status to wealth, which contributed greatly to confuse the ideas of Western man. Hence the paradox that has accompanied us for three thousand years, nestled deep in the heart of the Bible - a humanism that on the one hand criticizes wealth because it presents itself to men as the alternative to God, and on the other hand uses the words and symbols of wealth to describe the blessing and promise of God.

Ezekiel, however, also tells us something else that is extremely important in these chapters. His song goes further, and gives us a meditation on businesses and the economy of extraordinary innovation and depth, among the most daring in the entire Bible: «You were the seal of perfection, full of wisdom and perfect in beauty. You were in Eden, the garden of God; every precious stone adorned you» (Ezekiel 28,12-13). In this oracle to the Prince of Tire, Ezekiel offers us an admirable version of the myth of Eden, of Adam and of his fall, different from that which we find in the first chapters of Genesis (testifying that in those centuries the narratives on the beginning were plural in nature). This Adam, in the beginning, was a model of perfection and conduct, «till wickedness was found in you. Through your widespread trade you were filled with violence, and you sinned. So I drove you in disgrace from the mount of God… By your many sins and dishonest trade you have desecrated your sanctuaries» (Ezekiel 28,15-18).

Here the sin and the consequent expulsion of Adam from Eden ('the mount of God') was the consequence of economic sin. A shocking and very interesting thesis. Economy raised to theology. Not disobedience, not having eaten the fruit of the forbidden tree, not having listened to the snake's logos. No, none of this: to Ezekiel, man was expelled from heaven for a wrongful relationship with commerce and the economy, it was the wrongful trade that 'profaned the sanctuaries'. A statement that makes you quiver.

Let us leave the garden of delights, at sunset Adam interrupts the dialogue with Elohim and breaks the good dialogue that he has with the woman, with others and with creation, whenever he makes a mistake in his relationship with money and wealth. Looking at the first men from the observation point of his exile in Babylon, another great economic and financial superpower, Ezekiel saw with extreme clarity that sin was not so much born from the seduction of the snake but from that of money, that Cain killed his brother not due to envy of his status but out of economic envy, that disobedience to God did not consist in eating the fruit of the forbidden tree but in the insatiability of avarice. Ezekiel did not then find a language more powerful than that of economics to describe man's refusal of the project of harmony and love thought for him by YHWH. Making a mistake in our relationship with the economy then means making a mistake in the relationship with ourselves, with others, with creation, with God. Hence, its enormous dignity, its enormous value also from a theological point of view, and our infinite responsibility in matters involving making economic choices.

We were thrown out of Eden, we lost paradise, we didn't take care of the earth, we didn't keep our relationships, we killed our brothers. We know this, we see it. But here, Ezekiel also sends us another message in backlight: every time we set our economic life according to justice and communion we are returning to the gardens of Eden, we are still 'full of wisdom' and 'perfect in beauty', walking and talking with the angels at sunset. Maybe we don't know this, we never noticed, they never told us; but the right way of the economy is the door to heaven.

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The exile and the promise/ 17 - The angel's name is not "economy", but the right way does go through here

By Luigino Bruni

Published in Avvenire 03/03/2019

«Business is a great source of war. It is jealous, and jealousy provides men with weapons. The wars of the Carthaginians, of the Romans, of the Venetians, of the Genoese, of the Pisans, of the Portuguese, of the Dutch, of the French, and of the English all testify to this. If two nations trade together for mutual needs, it is these needs that oppose war, not the spirit of trade itself»

Antonio Genovesi, Commentary on The Spirit of the Laws of Montesquieu, 1769

There is no single ethical assessment regarding the economy in the Bible. In the various biblical books we find different and in some cases opposed ideas and judgments on the nature of goods, wealth and business. Because, simply put, wealth is deeply ambivalent. Thus we encounter passages where having many goods is a blessing and a sign of having been elected, and shortly after others where the search for profits and wealth is pure vanitas. We read of the poor considered cursed, and of the poor who are called blessed. Up to the terrible words said to the angel of the city of Laodicea in the book of Revelation: «You say, ‘I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.’ But you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked» (Revelation 3,17). This sentence contains the key to understanding many prophetic and evangelical criticisms of wealth: 'I do not need a thing'. The great deception, the tremendous illusion of wealth lies in its seductive offer of self-sufficiency, of independence, in the illusion that through it we will no longer need anyone, and therefore, in the end, not even God. It (almost) promises us the same land promised by God to Abraham, which, not surprisingly, is defined on the basis of goods or assets: 'milk and honey'.

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Let us reopen the door to heaven

Let us reopen the door to heaven

The exile and the promise/ 17 - The angel's name is not "economy", but the right way does go through here By Luigino Bruni Published in Avvenire 03/03/2019 «Business is a great source of war. It is jealous, and jealousy provides men with weapons. The wars of the Carthaginians, of the Romans, of the ...
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The exile and the promise/ 16 – Love can save us from almost any evil, but it is not the tree of life

By Luigino Bruni

Published in Avvenire 24/02/2019

«Where is that life that I could have had but did not live...
Where is the anchor and the sea,
where is the oblivion of being who I am?...
Furthermore, I think of my partner
Who was waiting for me
and maybe is still awaiting me »

Jorge Luis Borges, That which is lost (Ciò che è perduto)

When the veils of illusion fall away and we finally see the bare truth, ours and of life, a time of veritable providence begins, almost always hidden under an initial layer of pain. An intimate and immediate one-on-one with your own soul and its inhabitants (including its skeletons and demons) begins. All ambivalences, ambiguities, large and small compromises and sins of the past impose themselves with their own and invincible strength. They speak to us and, with a hitherto unknown authority, ask and demand the truth of us. We suddenly wake up from the deep sleep in which we had fallen without knowing or wanting it, and a new, often better, phase of life opens up to us. Because in order to touch upon true salvation one must reach beyond the illusions and consolations that usually shield the ordinary conditions of life. In some existences these moments come only once, and it is a decisive moment, because it is the last one and only call. In it we are called by our first name; we turn around and answer again, knowing however that it will be the last time, because that first name is dying in order to be able to rise again.

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«In the ninth year, in the tenth month on the tenth day, the word of the Lord came to me: “Son of man, record this date, this very date, because the king of Babylon has laid siege to Jerusalem this very day"» (Ezekiel 24,1-2). The days are not all the same. Some look alike, but there will never be two identical days. Then there are very few days that mark and break the arc of our life - our birth, wedding, the calling, our last day and the last day of the ones we loved so dearly. The day of the Babylonian siege of Jerusalem is perhaps the most important day in the history of Israel. It marks the end of an era, the wonderful one that began with David and Solomon five centuries earlier, and inaugurates a new phase of humiliation and defeat, but also of blessing and maturity of the people and a new way of conceiving and living faith, life, God-YHWH. Ezekiel (together with Jeremiah) had been heralding the arrival of this terrible day for years. This is why they scorned him, calling him a prophet of doom, a clown, a circus acrobat, a bizarre seer, never considering him someone to be taken seriously; in part because he spoke in the name and on behalf of YHWH who, while in exile and at home, had been joined, challenged and beaten by the more spectacularly performing and striking Babylonian gods.

And so, in a Jerusalem that could already see Nebuchadnezzar arriving with his troops on the horizon, the Jews celebrated while feasting on rich meals, deluded as they were by false prophets that their holy temple and the city of David could never be desecrated or defeated: «Put on the cooking pot; put it on and pour water into it. Put into it the pieces of meat, all the choice pieces - the leg and the shoulder. Fill it with the best of these bones; take the pick of the flock» (Ezekiel 24,3-5).

On the eve of a tragedy there is always someone who does the opposite of what he should be doing, who confuses the quail of the desert with the frogs of Egypt, the manna with the locusts, the banquet for the return of the prodigal son with that of the rich glutton. False prophets are regular attenders of wrongful banquets. They do it many times, they very frequently do it; but they won't always be able to do it, because sooner or later the day and moment of truth will come. Everything changes, and the banquets reveal their real and different nature: those who are good and fraternal will be evident in the light of the sun and will pass judgement on the wrong and bad ones.

On this different and terrible day Ezekiel calls his Jerusalem a "bloody city". Its inhabitants shed blood and did not cover it. They left it in full sight on the ground, and Ezekiel, while saying it and writing it, left it uncovered forever: «For the blood she shed is in her midst: She poured it on the bare rock; she did not pour it on the ground, where the dust would cover it» (Ezekiel 24,7). In general, the earth ends up covering the blood that we shed due to our wrongful doings, because if it didn't, our pain would be unsustainable. But, in a few terrible episodes, rather than being hidden, the blood in the Bible remains exposed on the ground. The message it contains is too important, and its power overcomes the intensity of the pain involved. The earth did not cover the bloodshed in Jerusalem, just as it did not cover that of the mild Abel before that (Genesis 4,10), or Job’s innocent blood: «Earth, do not cover my blood» (Job 16,18). The lands and earth in the Bible left these bloody places uncovered, for us to see and learn about the smell of innocent blood, so that we can recognize it when we find it elsewhere in the Bible (where it is often recurrent) and in life (where it is often, much too often recurrent).

While the text now brings us into the heart of the very serious political and religious events in Jerusalem, there is a twist, one of the most unexpected and powerful ones in the whole book. That terrible date marked not only the history of Jerusalem but also the personal biography of Ezekiel, imparting the deepest of wounds onto his life: «The word of the Lord came to me: “Son of man, with one blow I am about to take away from you the delight of your eyes"» (Ezekiel 24,15-16). Since the day of his calling, Ezekiel has been a sacrament, an incarnate symbol, a sign and total message: every true prophet is. He always spoke with his whole body and with his flesh. Now, having reached the heart of his book, Ezekiel also speaks to us through the flesh of his primary relationship: the spousal one. Our relationships are flesh, they are substance, and they are people (as Christianity will tell us). So I am body. Here, for the first time, Ezekiel prophesies with another kind of flesh: that of a relationship. He speaks to us using a body which is larger than his own - as Hosea and Jeremiah did: one marrying a prostitute, the other remaining a celibate to become a message of exile.

Ezekiel had said in so many ways that Jerusalem, «the delight of your eyes» (Ezekiel 24,25), would be destroyed and the people deported and exiled in Babylon without even having time to mourn (Ezekiel 24,22). Now, on that terrible day, he has one last resort left, and God allows him to use it. This is what prophecy is, in the Bible and in life. It's tremendous, it's beautiful, and it’s dramatic: «So I spoke to the people in the morning, and in the evening my wife died» (Ezekiel 24,18). A terrible sentence. Even that spousal blood becomes exposed blood and is left uncovered in the Bible, because, even here, we will learn to recognize the smell.

An episode, which is probably historical, and hence should not be read as a sacrifice that God asks of his prophet as a way to prove some form of faithfulness. The God of the prophets does not ask for these things. Ezekiel is not like Abraham, whom no ram reaches in time to save, saving a loved one. The story of Ezekiel only tells us, with the absolute power and certitude of prophetic language, where the real essence of a true calling can be found. When we reply in the affirmative to a true voice calling us and then set out, we know that we will no longer be the masters in control of any of the most important things in our lives, including our most intimate relationships. We lose control of our assets, because they all turn into the task, the destiny and the message. Our primary relational goods can also be found among these assets. This is also one of the deeper reasons behind the choice of celibacy that some prophets make. On the day of their calling, they come to realize that the gift of their entire body cannot involve a future wife, husband or children; and so they do not marry for a higher and unique form of responsibility. Others, like Ezekiel, get married (or were already married at the time of their calling), and their loved ones mysteriously enter their vocation as well, even when not actively choosing it (there are very few important things that we actually choose).

But this tragic event in Ezekiel's life also tells us something more. Widowhood, especially when young (Ezekiel was about 35 years old in 598 BC), is always to find yourself in exile, the destruction of a beautiful temple, the end of a great dream and a wonderful kingdom. It is therefore a great message about the human condition. Even though spousal love is the clearest symbol of heaven on earth, the food that most tastes of eternity, and yet not even this love can set us free from the ephemeral nature of life. Love can save us from almost any evil, but it is not the tree of life; and while it makes us wonderful, it still leaves us mortal. Outside of Eden, human love can and has at times touched eternity, but it has not truly equalled it.

Along with his wife Ezekiel also loses his voice, he becomes silent. The episode that the final editor of the book decided to place at the beginning of Ezekiel's calling, «I will make your tongue stick to the roof of your mouth so that you will be silent» (Ezekiel 3,26), it is probable that the prophet's biography dates back to the moment of the death of his bride - even if the choice to put that mutism in the first days of his calling makes sense in the economy of Ezekiel's prophecy, because it tells us that the loss of his spouse was a decisive event in the entire mission and "word" of the prophet. Ezekiel remained for many months with his tongue attached to the palate, perhaps for the entire duration of the exile of Jerusalem (a year and a half): «And you, son of man, on the day I take away their stronghold… on that day a fugitive will come to tell you the news. At that time your mouth will be opened; you will speak with him and will no longer be silent. So you will be a sign to them, and they will know that I am the Lord» (Ezekiel 24, 25-27).

Son of man... The phrase with which Ezekiel describes his wife ("delight of my eyes") would be enough to say that his being is truly and thoroughly "son of man". Only those who know the heart of the human condition can call a wife with these wonderful words. Ezekiel is all voice of God, but he is also all voice and flesh of man, like us. And therefore, just like it would happen to us, that day his voice died in his mouth as well, and he was unable to say anything. From being a true master of the word he found himself silent, with his words consumed by a strangled mourning «Groan quietly; do not mourn for the dead» (Ezekiel 24,17). During days like that you can only sigh, as long as you have a little bit of breath left; all words, even those of God, seize to speak. We have seen this, we still see it, and we will see it again. By continuing to brush against eternity, hoping to be able to touch it in the end, reaching a bit higher.

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The exile and the promise/ 16 – Love can save us from almost any evil, but it is not the tree of life

By Luigino Bruni

Published in Avvenire 24/02/2019

«Where is that life that I could have had but did not live...
Where is the anchor and the sea,
where is the oblivion of being who I am?...
Furthermore, I think of my partner
Who was waiting for me
and maybe is still awaiting me »

Jorge Luis Borges, That which is lost (Ciò che è perduto)

When the veils of illusion fall away and we finally see the bare truth, ours and of life, a time of veritable providence begins, almost always hidden under an initial layer of pain. An intimate and immediate one-on-one with your own soul and its inhabitants (including its skeletons and demons) begins. All ambivalences, ambiguities, large and small compromises and sins of the past impose themselves with their own and invincible strength. They speak to us and, with a hitherto unknown authority, ask and demand the truth of us. We suddenly wake up from the deep sleep in which we had fallen without knowing or wanting it, and a new, often better, phase of life opens up to us. Because in order to touch upon true salvation one must reach beyond the illusions and consolations that usually shield the ordinary conditions of life. In some existences these moments come only once, and it is a decisive moment, because it is the last one and only call. In it we are called by our first name; we turn around and answer again, knowing however that it will be the last time, because that first name is dying in order to be able to rise again.

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Brushing against and touching eternity

Brushing against and touching eternity

The exile and the promise/ 16 – Love can save us from almost any evil, but it is not the tree of life By Luigino Bruni Published in Avvenire 24/02/2019 «Where is that life that I could have had but did not live... Where is the anchor and the sea, where is the oblivion of being who I am?... Furthe...
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The exile and the promise/ 15 - Words can enable us to see God and, even before that, woman and man

by Luigino Bruni

Published in Avvenire 17/02/2019

God is in charge of everything, the Lord of the Heavens. Everyone knows this. Then we have Prince Torlonia, lord of the land. Then come the Prince's guards. Then come the dogs of the Prince's guards. Then, nothing. Then, still nothing. Then, still nothing. Then we have the peasants and boors. And then you could say that’s it.

Ignazio Silone, Fontamara

Fatherhood, son ship and marriage are images present in many religions to express the relationship between people and their divinities. The Bible knows them well too, but uses them very sparingly. Because the urgency to mark a clear difference between YHWH and idol worship generated a strong diffidence towards using human images in order to speak of God. Christianity then generated perhaps the greatest religious innovation of all when it showed us a man-God who called YHWH by the family name of Abbà: father. But we would end up making the same error of the Canaanites and the Chaldeans if we thought that the fatherhood of God shown to us by Jesus Christ is a copy of human fatherhood. It only resembles it, as we resemble God of whom we are "the image and likeness"; a formula which expresses both proximity and distance, both of them maxims. Many religious diseases developed from a distance so great that it cancelled out all closeness, and others from an excessive closeness that ended up making God so similar to us as to render Him even trivial or useless.

[fulltext] =>

Ezekiel has accustomed us to a language that is not afraid to cross even the dangerous territory of sexual metaphors to tell us about God: «The word of the Lord came to me: “Son of man, there were two women, daughters of the same mother. They became prostitutes in Egypt, engaging in prostitution from their youth. In that land their breasts were fondled and their virgin bosoms caressed. The older was named Oholah, and her sister was Oholibah. They were mine and gave birth to sons and daughters. Oholah is Samaria, and Oholibah is Jerusalem» (Ezekiel 23,1-4).

Hosea and Jeremiah had already introduced spousal metaphors before. Ezekiel himself (chapter 16) told us the story of the people's infidelity towards his God by resorting to the image of the girl, seen and chosen when she was young and poor, and later perverted into becoming a prostitute. Here, however, Ezekiel dares almost the unthinkable: this is no longer about a woman chosen as a young girl and subsequently ruined, but two women chosen when they were already prostitutes. We do not only read that YHWH marries two women ("they were mine"), therefore resorting to the image of a polygamous marriage which was forbidden to Jews (Leviticus 18,18); but YHWH marries two prostitute sisters in a polygamous contract, a huge and surprising fact, absolutely unique in all of biblical literature. Beyond any interpretation of the reasons for the radical nature of this chapter of Ezekiel’s, the parable of the marriage between YHWH and two prostitutes tells us a great deal, it must tell us a great deal.

First of all, it reminds us once more, that Israel has never had any fear in rebuilding and passing on an inglorious and at times even shameful history. In particular, the prophets, and among them especially those who lived and prophesied in the period of the exile (Jeremiah, the second Isaiah and Ezekiel), had the spiritual strength to tell the story of their people without the need of dressing it up in any kind of triumphalist and nationalist ideology. They were quite ruthless, and did not amend a single dark or scandalous pages of their past (or present). And hence they ended up saving it, and they continue saving us who read their pages in the midst of our own exiles and tragedies. "The truth shall set you free", is a pillar of all biblical humanism, especially that of the prophets.

When someone with a prophetic mission in a community, finds him or herself in exile or on the eve of a great collective tragedy, they have a real opportunity to save their people if they only resist the temptation to cancel and rewrite the less edifying passages of the past in order to better ideologically interpret the present. In order to sell better present and future scenarios, false prophets have an absolute need to amend and betray the past, because they are unable to discern and see traces of paradise in hell, sunrise in the dusk, the sunset during noon. Non-false prophets, on the other hand, do exactly the opposite. While they are saying "this story may be over", they also know how to say "however ... the story is not over". And while they repeat: "we have done terrible, scandalous and crazy things", they also manage to add: "but ... a remnant will be saved and will still do good and faithful things". While they remind us: "we are stubborn and inconvertible", they also tell us: "but YHWH is faithful and remains faithful".

And we must not make the mistake of thinking that the prophets are dominated by some kind of anthropological pessimism because they always remember the sins of the people. This would be a highly superficial and wrongful interpretation. They sing the beauty of man just as they see and denounce all of his misery. The infinite positivity and trust that the prophets have towards God immediately becomes their positivity and trust towards man. By speaking well of God they speak well of us, even when they speak only of infidelity and betrayal. This is the extraordinary strength of the biblical Covenant and the true covenants and pacts between us. As long as someone holds one end of the rope tightly, while being well rooted on his rock (who could be more rooted than YHWH?), if we too are well tied to the rope we will not fall into the void. The Bible shows us this millennial via ferrata, made of our own slipups continually saved by someone who never gave up, and who will still not give up. The strength of the biblical message lies in this tenacity; the prophets do not love us because they hide our (and their own) slipups, but because they assure us that up there, on the highest peak of the rock, well placed among its ledges, there is someone who is holding the rope for us as well. Someone of whom we are "the image and likeness", and hence we too will be able to hold, sometimes throughout our lives, a rope to save someone else, to save at least one. That phrase, stupendous and reckless, written in the first chapter of Genesis - "And Elohim created man in his image and likeness" - is the thread that holds theology and anthropology together, which allows us to extend the wonderful things that the Law and the prophets say of God to all women and men. A lace between heaven and earth that will forever prevent eternally cursing man as long as someone continues to praise God, which will continue to reverberate every psalm addressed to God on all men.

Finally, this chapter should cause us to spare a thought for all the women and victims we find in the Bible. The Bible was (perhaps) written only by males, and even if a woman's hand might have given it its touch here and there, hers were not the predominant hands. These men, however, were able to write wonderful pages about women and their genius (we met some of them in the commentary on the book of Samuel). But now, after reading this parable of the two prostitute sisters, chosen as the image and symbol of the perversion of Israel and Judah, it is difficult not to think of the many bad words about women that we find in the Bible, words that question us and cause turmoil.

In every age, including that of Ezekiel, prostitutes, both the profane and the sacred ones of the Canaanite and Babylonian temples, were really the victims of a world of men and of the rich and powerful who created them in order to satisfy their needs and vices. It would have been much more faithful to the historical period in question, if Ezekiel had used the image of unfaithful males betraying their wives with other women who were forced to prostitute themselves by life, poverty and men. Instead, the prophet describes the life, clothing, trade and punishment of the Babylonian prostitutes, whom he would have seen every day in the streets. And a later editor, less prophetic but more moralistic than Ezekiel, diverges slightly from the metaphor to even throw a warning to the women among his people: «So I will put an end to lewdness in the land, that all women may take warning and not imitate you» (Ezekiel 23,48). We should not be too surprised; the Bible has always been the subject of manipulative operations, this is a great inevitable vulnerability of any great text - even today there are commentators who use the parable of Matthew's talents, certainly not meant told to talk about economics and finance, for the sacralisation of meritocracy and the spirit of capitalism.

How, then, can and must we read these passages where victims are presented as icons of sin and perversion? We certainly cannot ask too much of the Bible on a social and anthropological level, forgetting the cultural context in which those texts were said and written. But we must not ask too little either, and risk going through these chapters without hardly seeing or "touching" the victims we meet at all. Ezekiel could do it and remain innocent. But we can't: we have to decide which side we want to be on while reading the stories of the Bible, if we want it to be able to remain among the living things of the earth and of our hearts.

So as we read the punishment that YHWH will inflict on the prostitutes for their infidelities – «They will cut off your noses and your ears, and those of you who are left will fall by the sword. They will take away your sons and daughters, and those of you who are left will be consumed by fire» (Ezekiel 23,25) – we can and must think of those mutilations and scarring of the face that the Babylonian males performed on these women's bodies and that many men still continue to perform around the world. Then repeat: "never again", and then work to ensure that the exercise of biblical reading immediately becomes an exercise in civility and ethics as well. Who knows how many redeemers of raped women and men went out into the streets after reading a biblical page with their flesh; and there, in the true encounter with the victims, ended up finding only innocence and infinite pain? The power of words lies in this ability to change our outlook, to make us see God differently and, even before, to make us see women and men differently. It is an education of the eyes of the soul, which enables us to repeat in our various encounters within and outside the Bible: "And look at him, he loved him".

In these years of commenting the Bible, I am learning to really see and observe its victims. When I meet them, I slow down, I gather my thoughts, I stop in my tracks. To really look at them, to be with them, to be touched and enriched, and then to wish to free them from their hell.

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Ezechiele usa l’immagine di due prostitute per parlarci di infedeltà. 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The exile and the promise/ 15 - Words can enable us to see God and, even before that, woman and man

by Luigino Bruni

Published in Avvenire 17/02/2019

God is in charge of everything, the Lord of the Heavens. Everyone knows this. Then we have Prince Torlonia, lord of the land. Then come the Prince's guards. Then come the dogs of the Prince's guards. Then, nothing. Then, still nothing. Then, still nothing. Then we have the peasants and boors. And then you could say that’s it.

Ignazio Silone, Fontamara

Fatherhood, son ship and marriage are images present in many religions to express the relationship between people and their divinities. The Bible knows them well too, but uses them very sparingly. Because the urgency to mark a clear difference between YHWH and idol worship generated a strong diffidence towards using human images in order to speak of God. Christianity then generated perhaps the greatest religious innovation of all when it showed us a man-God who called YHWH by the family name of Abbà: father. But we would end up making the same error of the Canaanites and the Chaldeans if we thought that the fatherhood of God shown to us by Jesus Christ is a copy of human fatherhood. It only resembles it, as we resemble God of whom we are "the image and likeness"; a formula which expresses both proximity and distance, both of them maxims. Many religious diseases developed from a distance so great that it cancelled out all closeness, and others from an excessive closeness that ended up making God so similar to us as to render Him even trivial or useless.

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Learning how to stop and see

Learning how to stop and see

The exile and the promise/ 15 - Words can enable us to see God and, even before that, woman and man by Luigino Bruni Published in Avvenire 17/02/2019 God is in charge of everything, the Lord of the Heavens. Everyone knows this. Then we have Prince Torlonia, lord of the land. Then come the Prince's ...