From Ezekiel, we heard these words of the Lord: “The nations shall know that it is I, the Lord, who make Israel holy.” This gets us into a wonderful theme that comes up throughout Ezekiel: it’s that the Lord acts, not for the sake of Israel, but for the sake of his holy name.
For instance, a chapter earlier we have the famous promise of the New Covenant, where the Lord will sprinkle his People with water and will give them a new heart and a new spirit, that they might finally be faithful to God. Right before this promise, the Lord makes it clear: “It is not for your sake, O house of Israel, that I am about to act, but for the sake of my holy name, which you have profaned among the nations to which you came. And I will vindicate the holiness of my great name.”
This, I think, is a striking way to speak of the primacy of grace. The Lord acts for the sake of his holiness not ours.It is fitting to remember this as we are about to enter into Holy Week. For the events surrounding the Lord’s crucifixion and death serve as an icon for this truth: the Lord acts to save us for the sake of his holy name, despite our unfaithfulness and indeed our rebellion.
In his Passion, Jesus aims to save the very people that are inflicting him with blows, ridicule, and rejection. Jesus aims to give God’s abundant life to the very people who are giving him over to death. Christ’s loving endurance of all this accomplishes the very reconciliation with God that their actions oppose. The Lord acts, not for the sake of their worthiness, but for the sake of his holy name, his holy love.
In the traditional Reproaches of Good Friday, from the 9th century, we can hear an echo of God’s reproaches of Israel in the Prophets. Here however they converge on the Cross more explicitly:
“My people, what have I done to you? / or in what have I offended you? / Answer me. / What more should I have done, and did not do? /
I led you out of the land of Egypt, and you prepared a cross for me. / I opened the Red Sea before you, and you opened my side with a lance. / I gave you a royal scepter, and you have given me a crown of thorns. / With great power I lifted you up, and you have hung me upon a cross. /
My people, what have I done to you, or in what have I offended you? / Answer me.”
Yes, Lord. Save us for the sake of your name.