Sometimes when we are among children, or immature adults, we will hear words like those that we have heard in this passage from Ezekiel, “You are being unfair!” Usually it means that one side or the other feels that the other side is not playing by the same rules that they think they are playing by. The words of the prophet, speaking for God, “Yet you say, ‘The way of the Lord is unfair,’” (v. 25) seem to me to be saying that the house of Israel, of which he spoke, wanted the game of right and wrong, life and death, salvation and damnation, to be played by their own rules. But to us, following in the inheritance of the teachings of Jesus, the statement made in the second part of today’s reading, “when the wicked turn away from the wickedness they have committed and do what is lawful and right, they shall save their life,” (v. 27) seem ultimately fair.
This play of words about which way is unfair reminds me of the passage in Matthew’s Gospel when Jesus compared the Jewish crowd who had been resisting his teaching to children sitting in the marketplaces and calling out to one another, “We played the flute to you, and you did not dance; we wailed and you did not mourn.” (Mt. 11:17)
From our perspective, if we are thinking like adults, we can surely see that God is the one who has the rule book. And when we look at it objectively God’s rules are ultimately fair.
The assertion near the middle of our reading that those who turn from righteous lives and commit abominable sins are guilty of that sin and should die is the contrast that proves the truth of the original assertion of God’s desire that people who live righteous and penitent lives should live for the righteousness that they have done. (v.21-22)
As Jesus said over and over again, if you sin and repent and try to live a new life, you will be saved. The opening verse of our reading from Ezekiel also states the same truth clearly, “If the wicked turn away from all their sins that they have committed and keep all my statutes and do what is lawful and right, they shall surely live; they shall not die.”
This statement concerning God’s offer of forgiveness and his desire that sinners repent and live can be found expressed in other ways also. When I was preparing to enter seminary the bishop under whom I had begun the process for ordination invited me to attend a conference for West Coast Episcopal clergy in San Francisco. One of the things that Bishop Cross said in the course of that conference was that the omnipotence of God is limited by the loving fatherhood of God. The truth that the prophet asserts, that when the wicked turn away from wickedness and do what is lawful and right, they shall have saved their life, (v. 27-28) is a manifestation of that same loving fatherhood of God repeated over and over throughout the Psalms and the writings of the Prophets, and throughout the whole of the New Testament.
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