Not who I was, but who I am
Throughout the year, the Southern New England Conference of the United Church of Christ reproduces the Daily Lectionary for use by churches. These are the suggested readings for March 24th: Psalm 130; Ezekiel 33:10-16; and Revelation 11:15-19. I would encourage you to read these short selections as part of your Lenten practice.
Today is our fifth Lenten Friday, especially solemn days within the solemn Season of Lent. The Prophet Ezekiel says to us today, “The righteousness of the righteous shall not save them when they transgress; and as for the wickedness of the wicked, it shall not make them stumble when they turn from their wickedness.” This is a liberating revelation. It frees each person from a supposed inherited punishment for the sins of his or her forebears.
I presume that the message conveyed in the Torah is intended to speak to the munificence of God when it is written: “For I the Lord your God am a jealous God, punishing children for the iniquity of parents, to the third and fourth generation of those who reject me, but showing steadfast love to the thousandth generation of those who love me and keep my commandments.” (Deuteronomy 5:9-10) This obviously is hyperbole. If it is not, if it is literal, it creates mathematical contradictions that cannot be erased. As hyperbole, it conveys the seriousness of God’s judgment, but puts it in the context of the extraordinariness of God’s faithful love.
Even so, there is the lingering message that the consequences of sin outlast the lifetime of the sinner. Such a notion may have arisen from the practical observations that a parent’s life choices do affect the life situation of the next generation(s). These consequences can persist within a manageable, finite period. There are many families where great grandchildren are held in the arms of great grandparents, which is the observable fourth generation of the biblical text. This manageable, observable, finite, period is contrasted with the divine span of “the thousandth generation,” an incomprehensibly extended period. The message may be that our sins do leave a practical, lasting effect on the generations that follow us, but that God’s “steadfast love” is effectively timeless.
Ezekiel, however, is in a particular situation where even this message is fraught. The nation of Israel/Judah has been destroyed, the king dethroned, the Temple gone, and the people sent into exile in a foreign land. These are the people of Ezekiel’s prophecy. The generations that had come before them had failed and now they were living with the consequences. Ezekiel must speak encouragement to them. He must let them know of this new revelation that in the utter destruction they are enduring there is hope. The sins of the past are past. The consequences of good or evil take effect immediately. A person cannot rely on the goodness of the past to cover the sins of the present, and alternatively and probably more to the prophet’s point, a person must not worry that the sins of the past prevent the blessings of righteousness to take hold in the present.
To a people defeated, deported and demoralized Ezekiel offers the hope of a fresh start. Change is possible. No one is locked into their story. Each person is free to become.
On this fifth Lenten Friday, maybe take some time to think about the example of the good thief on a cross adjacent to Jesus’. He admits that he has been “condemned justly,” but he turns to the crucified Saviour and says, “‘Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.’” (Luke 23:41, 42) There is not much life left in this man’s lifetime, but the instant that conversion takes place it takes effect. Jesus consoles the repentant man by saying, “‘Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise.’” (Luke 23:43) No one is bound by their past in the eyes of Jesus. He sees the person as they are, not as they were. What a blessed liberation this is for anyone who feels entrapped by the past; and what a call for people of faith, for the followers of Jesus, to not be a harshly judgmental people. This is something to consider as we approach Calvary and the crucified Saviour.
If you’d like, here is the link to the Southern New England Conference’s daily reading schedule: www.sneucc.org/lectionary.
Faith, love and chitchat.
Children Sunday School 9:30-10:30am
Nursery care available during worship
Make a single or recurring contribution by clicking here