“Because they lead my people astray, saying, ‘Peace,’ when there is no peace, and because, when a flimsy wall is built, they cover it with whitewash…” Ezekiel 13:10.
I come to this passage by way of Acts 23, where Paul retaliates verbally with dripping irony when the high priest orders people to strike him in the mouth, despite his innocence. When Paul is condemned for speaking negatively against the high priest, he remarkably replies he didn’t realize he was speaking to the high priest, which is obvious because he’s a Torah-observant Jew, so of course he wouldn’t speak against the high priest as the Torah forbids, so he must not have known Ananias was the high priest. Clever barbs, Paul.
I don’t think Paul’s clever for clever’s sake. Spiritual and moral leaders become unrecognizable when cloaked in the the sanctimonious falsehood of fear-driven peace. In Ezekiel, religious dishonesty drives false prophets to claim visions of peace that are cover-up for spiritually desiccated and unjust practices. In Acts, Paul the prophet confronts the religious leaders of his day for their pretenses of being God’s messengers, when they are in fact unwilling to imagine God breaking in through the person and way of Jesus. Whitewashed walls pasted over crumbling corruption.
I am stung to the heart. I usually wish to paper over conflicts with pastel board peace rather than bear through the painful work of carrying bricks or hewing stones. I’m not even all that comfortable when prophetic voices point out that we are trying to pass off plywood as reinforced concrete. “Stop harshing the temporary mellow,” I protest, only hesitantly if ever acknowledging the truth that truthtellers tell. I fidget in my chair, ambivalent about whether to side and then appear sectarian.
I am no prophet. But I recall that, in many ways, neither was Paul. Yes, of course he was–seized with a message, unafraid to bear witness, specific about Jesus, bold in confronting corruption–but also, he was a builder, a collaborator, a maker of temporary installations propped up for ad hoc communities and commercial travelers. He threw around his political weight, played the huckster, worked the angles, and did it deft and shrewd. Right in this very passage. But he is prophetic. Prophetically seeing, prophetically discontented, prophetically unpeaceful insofar as whitewashed walls go. Maybe Paul would suggest that not only does the Christian have the peace that surpasses understanding, but that the peace that falls within understanding’s boundaries is a “piecemeal peace…poor peace…” and maybe even fraudulent peace.
Disrupted, discontented, unsettled because prophetically, one cannot honestly grow comfortable with the whitewashing of culture, economy, politics, morality, spirituality.