Thus says the Lord: You say, "The Lord's way is not fair!" Hear now, house of Israel: Is it my way that is unfair, or rather, are not your ways unfair? When someone virtuous turns away from virtue to commit iniquity, and dies, it is because of the iniquity he committed that he must die. But if he turns from the wickedness he has committed, and does what is right and just, he shall preserve his life; since he has turned away from all the sins that he shall preserve his life; since he has turned away from all the sins that he has committed, he shall surely live, he shall not die.(P) The word of the Lord.
Your ways, O Lord, make known to me; teach me your paths, guide me in your truth and teach me, for you are God my savior. (R)
Remember that your compassion, O Lord, and your love are from of old. The sins of my youth and my frailties remember not; in your kindness remember me, because of your goodness, O Lord. (R)
Good and upright is the Lord; thus He shows sinners the way. He guides the humble to justice, and teaches the humble His way. (R)
Brothers and sisters: If there is any encouragement in Christ, any solace in love, any participation in the Spirit, any compassion and mercy, complete my joy by being of the same mind, with the same love, united in the heart, thinking one thing. Do nothing out of selfishness or out of vainglory; rather, humbly regard others as more important than yourselves, each looking out not for his own interests, but also for those of others.
Have in you the same attitude that is also in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God something to be grasped. Rather, he emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, coming in human likeness; and found human in appearance, he humbled himself, becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Because of this, God greatly exalted him and bestowed on him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, of those in heaven and on Earth and under the Earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.(P) The word of the Lord.
Jesus said to the chief priests and elders of the people: "What is your opinion? A man had two sons. He came to the first and said, "Son, go out and work in the vineyard today." He said in reply, "I will not", but afterwards he changed his mind and went. The man came to the other son and gave the same order. He said in reply, "Yes, sir", but did not go. Which of the two did his father's will?" They answered, "The first." Jesus said to them, "Amen, I say to you, tax collectors and prostitutes are entering the kingdom of God before you. When John came to you in the way of righteousness, you did not believe him; but tax collectors and prostitutes did. Yet even when you saw that, you did not later change your minds and believe him."(P) The Gospel of the Lord.
You may remember, last week we reflected on the call of Isaiah, eight hundred years before Christ, to the people of Israel to seek the Lord for mercy, forgiveness, reconciliation as well as peace and happiness without delay, for he said that their ways were not God's ways and neither were their thoughts divine thoughts. Then about two hundred years later, the prophet Ezekiel reproached the people for indicting or accusing God of being unfair. To counter the accusation that Yahweh is unfair and unjust, the prophet contrasted God's readiness to forgive and grant life to a sinner with a righteous man who became wicked. Friends, what was the issue behind this? Why did the Israelites in the first place accuse God of unfairness? We need to read the introductory part of the eighteenth chapter of the book in order to understand the problem.
The prophet wanted to challenge the Israelites of three things: An old belief common among the Israelites; their attitude toward sinners and God's action in response to our actions. The old belief was a part of the Ten Commandments found in the Book of Exodus (20:5), "I, Yahweh your God, am a jealous God and I punish a parent's fault in the children, the grandchildren, and the great-grandchildren among those who hate me." That is to say, the Lord Yahweh would punish children for the fault of their parents, to the third and fourth generations. But now Ezekiel was asked to proclaim a new message from God. He began announcing that God wanted the people to do away with the saying, "Parents have eaten unripe grapes, and their children's teeth are set on edge", (18:1). It implies that children suffer the consequences of the sins of their parents.
Friends, if we eat sour or unripe grapes, naturally the effect upon our teeth is immediate. Our teeth are set on edge or become blunt. However, according to the proverb, the effect is first felt by the children. It so happened that soon after the fall of Jerusalem, when the righteous were carried into exile and inflicted suffering together with the wicked, they began to complain that they were being punished for the sins of their forefathers. But the prophet refuted the notion by citing an example. He described God's response to three generations of a family. There is a certain man who is good and righteous. He neither worships idols, nor commits adultery, nor oppresses anyone, nor cheats others for money but shares his own food and clothing with the poor. Because he is upright in God's eyes, he wins God's favor and will live. Now this man has a son who is prone to violence and bloodshed. He chooses to do everything wrong. He is not upright, and by God's judgment, shall not live. And then his son, "in spite of seeing all the sins that his father has committed, does not imitate him", (18:14), but abstains from evil. He acts righteously like his grandfather. So he too finds favor with God and therefore he will live and not die. Here dying is probably not a reference to physical death but a symbol of separation from God or a loss of divine favor, who is the source of life. In like manner the sinner, who turns away from wickedness and chooses the path of righteousness and justice, will live united with God, the source of life.
Besides the change of the belief, the prophet wanted to change their attitude toward the sinners and God. Because the people remembered the sins of others and condemned them over and over again. A sinner was regarded as a sinner always. So the prophet compared two kinds of people which we read in today's text. He reminded them that as it is possible for a virtuous person to turn away from virtue and lose the favor of God and neighbor, it is also possible for a wicked person to renounce his sins and follow God's commandments and win God's grace and mercy. Both persons showed a change in behavior. The righteous person sinned but the sinner repented. God seems to punish the righteous who turned sinner by withholding His grace and reward the sinner for his repentance. Is this injustice on God's part? Is God expected to forgo deserved punishment to the first man because of the good deeds performed earlier by him who is now a sinner? Is God only to remember the past sinfulness of the second man and not reward a significant change in his life? Through these illustrations the prophet reminded the people that the justice of God is not dispensed according to the merits or good works that have accumulated throughout one's past history but rather it corresponds to the character of the person's present life, to the kind of person one has become. Friends, what is the message for us?
God Bless You!