Ezekiel 18:1-10, 13b, 30-32
Psalm 51:12-13, 14-15, 18-19
In today’s first reading, God questions Ezekiel about a common proverb in Israel: Parents have eaten green and sour grapes, thus their children’s teeth are set on edge and are irritated. The proverb means that children suffer for the sins of their parents. God tells Ezekiel that this proverb is not to be repeated in Israel: for the righteous and virtuous will live; those who sin will be punished and die. The Lord delights not in the death, but in the life of his people, and the way to life consists in fidelity to God’s commandments (Ezekiel 18:5-9).
Ezekiel teaches the people that the sinner is responsible for his own fate: “A child shall not suffer for the iniquity of a parent, nor a parent suffer for the iniquity of a child; the righteousness of the righteous shall be his own, and the wickedness of the wicked shall be his own” (Ezekiel 18:20). As God’s prophet, Ezekiel calls sinners to repentance, fulfills his prophetic mission and makes each person responsible for their actions.
Understanding the relation between personal responsibility, sin and punishment also corrects the mistaken view of the people of Israel who think that they suffer in exile only because they are victims of history, because their parent, forefathers and ancestors sinned while they are guiltless. “They believed they were not responsible but rather were victims. Ezekiel challenges this erroneous mindset and argues that each person bears responsibility for his or her own conduct” (T. Leclerc, Introduction to the Prophets, Paulist Press, 295). Each generation can break with the past and begin a new life in conformity with God’s law. This opens to Israel the way to hope.
Another reason for hope is the possibility of repentance. “Repentance brings freedom because puts an end to the influence of the past and opens one’s life to the future that God will form. In repentance, one takes on a new heart and a new spirit (18:30-32)” (M. Duggan, The Consuming Fire, Ignatius Press, 312). Those who turn from evil to good will escape judgment for their past deeds; the righteous who turn from good to evil, however, will be punished. “A person’s fate depends not on past actions but on present choices and conduct. This means that repentance is always possible, but so, too, is backsliding” (T. Leclerc, Introduction to the Prophets, Paulist Press, 295).
In the Gospel, Jesus continues to teach the way of humility that leads to life. Earlier, he said to the people: “Unless you turn and become like children, you shall not enter the Kingdom of Heaven. Whoever humbles himself like this child, he is the greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven” (Matthew 18:3-4). The Kingdom belongs to the poor in spirit, to those who mourn, to the meek, to those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, to the merciful, to the pure in heart, to the peacemakers, to those who are persecuted for the sake of justice. The humble are able to shoulder their cross with Christ. The simple are able to love without reserve. The child-like allow themselves to be loved and guided by God.
Readers may contact Father Jason Mitchell at [email protected].