Ezekiel 18:1-4, 25-32
The word of the Lord came to me: What do you mean by repeating this proverb concerning the land of Israel, 'The parents have eaten sour grapes, and the children's teeth are set on edge'? As I live, says the Lord God, this proverb shall no more be used by you in Israel. Know that all lives are mine; the life of the parent as well as the life of the child is mine: it is only the person who sins that shall die.
Yet you say, 'The way of the Lord is unfair.' Hear now, O house of Israel: Is my way unfair? Is it not your ways that are unfair? When the righteous turn away from their righteousness and commit iniquity, they shall die for it; for the iniquity that they have committed they shall die. Again, when the wicked turn away from the wickedness they have committed and do what is lawful and right, they shall save their life. Because they considered and turned away from all the transgressions that they had committed, they shall surely live; they shall not die. Yet the house of Israel says, 'The way of the Lord is unfair.' O house of Israel, are my ways unfair? Is it not your ways that are unfair?
Therefore I will judge you, O house of Israel, all of you according to your ways, says the Lord God. Repent and turn from all your transgressions; otherwise iniquity will be your ruin. Cast away from you all the transgressions that you have committed against me, and get yourselves a new heart and a new spirit! Why will you die, O house of Israel? For I have no pleasure in the death of anyone, says the Lord God. Turn, then, and live.
'What do you think? A man had two sons; he went to the first and said, "Son, go and work in the vineyard today." He answered, "I will not"; but later he changed his mind and went. The father went to the second and said the same; and he answered, "I go, sir"; but he did not go. Which of the two did the will of his father?' They said, 'The first.' Jesus said to them, 'Truly I tell you, the tax-collectors and the prostitutes are going into the kingdom of God ahead of you. For John came to you in the way of righteousness and you did not believe him, but the tax-collectors and the prostitutes believed him; and even after you saw it, you did not change your minds and believe him.
I don't know if this is your experience, but on occasion I have asked one of my children to pick up their room or close up the garage and received the quick reply: "No, I'm not going to." My response varies according to the amount of sleep I've had the night before, but sometimes I'm so flabbergasted I have to walk away. Awhile later I'll be about my business and notice the room is tidy or the garage door closed. I can't help but wonder what took place in the heads of those precious people that enabled them to change their mind and do what I asked.
The texts from Ezekiel suggested by the lectionary for this Sunday bespeaks of profound changes taking place in the biblical community. No longer will one generation be judged by the previous generation's behavior. Now, each generation will be responsible for the way it cares for those within the community and without. And when we do stray from God's way we are invited to "turn away" and live. What the NRSV translates "turn away" the King James Version says, "Repent."
Matthew speaks of a dramatic shift in the biblical community's thinking as well. Yes, Jesus is just a guy, but they are coming to realize that the full power and authority of the God of Israel rests upon his heart. Maybe he's more than just a mensch. We need to sit up and listen. He tells the story a man who has two boys: one who does the will of their dad and the other who doesn't. I'm always intrigued by the boy who at first says, "No, I'm not going to!" but ends up doing what his dad asked him. Where the NRSV says the boy changed his mind, the King James says he "repented."
Turning our lives around, thinking differently about God and ourselves, doing the faithful thing - sounds good, hard to do. In fact I don't believe it's something we can do ourselves. This is why God gives us the most precious of gifts: forgiveness. I used to believe we must repent in order to be forgiven. But if this is the case, forgiveness becomes something we earn; but it's a gift! Instead, God in Christ Jesus forgives us long before we've slipped away so that we might be free; free to allow God to help us turn around, think differently, be restored to loving relationships and take joy in what Jesus has done, is doing and will do for us and for all creation. Sounds a little backwards, but I believe God forgives us so we might repent.
Yes, out of my children's "NO!" occasionally springs a tidy room, a closed garage, a helping hand. It's nothing short of a miracle. Sometimes I'd like to think I have something to do with it, but I know better, it's all God's doing. Thank heaven!
Most gracious and forgiving God, help us to think differently about you and our relationship with us. Help us to turn away from lives of brokenness and death and step into the light of your love that will never let us go. This we pray in the name of Jesus whose reign of love and justice is coming soon. Amen.
Retired from parish ministry having served churches in Hartford, Waterbury, New Haven, Milford, Shelton and Woodbridge, CT