Lent

Falling of Small Stones in the Mountains: A Trickle of Grace

Readings for Tuesday of the Fourth Week of Lent

 

Gandalf the Wizard said that the coming of Merry and Pippin into this massive, overwhelming quest was “like the falling of small stones that starts an avalanche in the mountains.” These two tiny little hobbits came and started an avalanche of adventure. They were the catalysts for major turning points in the plot.

I was reminded of Gandalf’s wise words when I read today’s reading from the book of Ezekiel, where the prophet has an incredible vision of a tiny trickle coming from the side of the Temple, which eventually became a mighty river.

To be blunt, we all tend to underestimate the power of God’s grace and mercy. It doesn’t look like much at first. We might wonder: Can I really entrust the full weight of my life to God’s mercy? It can seem like just a trickle at times… but that tiny trickle can quickly gain momentum and gush out into a mighty river that overwhelms and purifies… transforms and heals!

We see this most clearly on Calvary — at the site of Our Lord’s Death on the Cross. When the soldier pierced his side, a trickle of water and blood poured out from his side — from the side of the new Temple. When Jesus cleansed the temple, turning over the money tables and sending shockwaves throughout the entire Jewish world, he made it absolutely clear: He was himself the New Temple: “Destroy this Temple and in three days I will raise it up.” People thought he was crazy, but he was dead serious.

On the cross, Jesus’ words became reality — His Body, the new Temple was strung up, pierced and destroyed — and from its broken side, just as Ezekiel prophesied, “water flowed down from the right side of the temple.”

For those standing beneath the Cross, however, this trickle of water did not seem very powerful. It was a moment of profound sorrow and apparent defeat. How could this trickle give hope? How could this trickle be a victory?

The trickle was enough perhaps to wet a few bystanders. From the Gospel accounts it would seem that even those directly under the Cross who saw Jesus die had mixed reactions to the scene. They were not overpowered by the trickle. Their freedom was not drowned out — Sure, many went home beating their breasts, convinced he was an innocent man. But others went home feeling quite justified in their hatred and disbelief, muttering to themselves that if this Jesus truly was the Son of God, he would have come down from the Cross and proved his power!

But as Christians, we know that the true power of the Cross lay precisely in that tiny trickle of water and blood that flowed from the new Temple’s side. 

We believe that the weakness of God is strength itself, that the foolishness of God is wisdom itself.

We know now that the trickle from Jesus’ pierced heart would quickly gain momentum, and soon become ankle deep, then knee deep, then waist deep… until finally it would become a roaring river on its way to the vast sea. That pitiful death-gurgle on Good Friday eventually would gush forth into an ocean of mercy for the whole world that continues to flow in the Waters of Baptism, in the Eucharist, and in all the Sacraments of the Church. It’s what we meditate on during Lent — that somehow His death, the piercing of His hands and side, has brought us new life!

We trace our origin as Christians back to this trickle — from the broken heart of our dying Savior. St John Chrysostom says that “it was from his side that Christ fashioned the Church, as he had fashioned Eve from the side of Adam.”

And that’s what Ezekiel’s vision ultimately points us back to: that the water from the side of the Temple restores and even surpasses the Garden of Eden — the Temple’s living waters recreate the original Paradise that was lost. Listen again to Ezekiel’s description of what he saw: “Wherever the river flows, every sort of living creature that can multiply shall live, and there shall be abundant fish. Along both banks of the river, fruit trees of every kind shall grow; their leaves shall not fade, nor their fruit fail… they shall be watered by the flow from the sanctuary. Their fruit shall serve for food, and their leaves for medicine.” This is Genesis language. Christ’s self-sacrifice on the Cross and Resurrection renewed and restored the holiness of humanity. Our God is not the God of the Dead, but of the Living, of the flourishing. The waters restore and continue to water the New Garden of Eden, where we can walk with God and converse freely with Him.

All this from a tiny little trickle. All this from tiny stones falling in the mountain that started an avalanche of grace.

About Anthony Ferguson

Anthony Ferguson is a seminarian discerning the priesthood of Jesus Christ for the Catholic Diocese of Richmond. He is currently in Third Theology at Theological College in Washington DC.
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