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Monday, September 21, 2020
Today’s Scripture Reading | 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. (NRSV)
Don’t get hung up on the word die here. That a person would either die or live depending on either their wickedness or their righteousness is biblical shorthand for the life-giving or death-dealing consequences of virtue and sin, respectively. Images of God smiting evildoers in the street won’t help us here (or anywhere).
Ezekiel is a prophet during Israel’s exile in Babylon, so he is living through a national calamity—the humiliation and degradation of his people at the hands of an invading empire. He is convinced that he and his compatriots and their ancestors have brought this upon themselves by violating the terms of God’s covenants with them and worshiping other gods (not to mention serially committing any number of the offenses catalogued in the verses our reading skips over, verses 5–24).
Ezekiel is wrestling with a single question in chapter 18 relative to the contemporary and historical failures of God’s people: do the sins of our ancestors doom us to death? His answer is unequivocally no.
Put these Ezekiel 18 words of God in your pocket and reach for them often. “Know that all lives are mine. Have I any pleasure in the death of the wicked and not rather that they should turn from their ways and live? I have no pleasure in the death of anyone. Turn, then, and live.”
We are not helpless against any legacy of wrongdoing we have inherited, just as we are not personally credited for the acts of moral courage that came before us. God calls upon us today to decide how we will live, individually and collectively. Will we “turn” toward justice and mercy? The choice is ours to make, and the consequences ours to reap.
Just and merciful God, draw us always to you and your promise of life. Help us to hear your call to just and merciful living and spur us by your Spirit to walk in your way, both today and tomorrow. Through Christ the most just and most merciful. Amen.
Written by Rocky Supinger, Associate Pastor for Youth Ministry
Reflection and prayer © Fourth Presbyterian Church
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