[The] prophets have smeared whitewash on their behalf, seeing false visions and divining lies for them, saying, “Thus says the Lord God,” when the Lord has not spoken.
Whitewash always makes me think of Tom Sawyer tricking the neighbor kids into whitewashing his fence. But this is not so innocent: the preachers and teachers of Ezekiel’s day are being accused of whitewashing over the sins of the people.
“The alien residing within you suffers extortion; the orphan and the widow are wronged in you,” (7) God declares. The leaders of the nation transgress sexual boundaries; they take bribes against the innocent. Its rulers “are like a roaring lion tearing the prey” (25). Its priests “have done violence to my teaching” (26). And over all this the prophets who eat from the king’s table offer reassuring words of a great and glorious future, proclaiming a message of divine blessing and favor that God has not spoken.
We dare not attach God’s name to our wishes and desires. We dare not use it bless our greeds or cover our darker deeds. Saying a prayer over injustice doesn’t make it holy. Invoking the name of God doesn’t make greed righteous. Religion can make a comfortable cloak, but the price is costly. The prophet declares that God will purge the nation “with the fire of my wrath…as silver is melted in a smelter” (21-22).
When we pray for God’s name to be holy, we are asking God to silence those who bless the injustices of our time in the name of God, who grant license to human conduct, who abrogate God’s warning about wealth and ignore God’s commands to justice and mercy. The God of the scriptures is not a defender of the status quo, but the bringer of a new order: a reign of compassion and mercy, of grace and life, of truth and redemption. The doing of these treats God’s name as holy.