Read also based on the Gospel

The prophet Ezekiel today makes a double point. On the one hand if the man who has done evil genuinely repents of what he has done he will be totally forgiven. All the sins he committed will be forgotten from then on; he shall live because of the integrity he has practiced. God promised not a probationary restoration to the wicked man who turns, but full restoration. It is God’s desire that we should live rather than die. On the other hand, if the formerly good man turns to a life of sin, he will die in his sin. Some may object that that is not fair. Why should he be punished when he did so much good in the past?

There was a tendency among the people of the Old Testament to believe that people were not only guilty of their past sins, but even of the sins of their parents. We remember in John’s gospel, how Jesus was asked whether the man born blind was that way because of his own sin or the sin of his parents. Chronic disabilities – blindness, paralysis, deafness and the like, were often seen as punishment for sin. When the paralysed man let down through the roof came to the feet of Jesus, the first thing Jesus said to him was: “Your sins are forgiven.” And his subsequent healing was taken as proof that indeed his sins were really forgiven, because the cause had also been removed.

But here, Ezekiel is affirming that sin is something that belongs to the individual. And that it is a person’s present dispositions, and only these, that determine God’s judgement. God’s heart is for the wicked man to repent, to turn from his ways and live. God is not sadistic and cruel, making repentance impossible because He loves to see humanity suffer.

One thing that comes out clearly in the Scriptures, especially the New Testament, is that God has a very short memory. Far from being a defect, it is a quality that very much favours us. The person God sees is the person that I am now. What matters are my relationships with him now. The past, good or bad, is forgotten. There is not a divine account book with credits and debits that have to be balanced out at the end of the day.

The fact that God does not take pleasure in the death of the wicked does not mean that it will not happen. God’s general desire for all humanity is that they would repent, turn to Him and be saved; yet He will not spare the requirements of justice and holiness for those who refuse to turn to Him. Judas, a chosen apostle was lost because of the final choice he made in life. Yet the murderous brigand on the cross with Jesus repents, and goes with Jesus to heaven. Some may complain that “what the Lord does is unjust”. But the reading makes the situation clear:

When the upright abandons uprightness and does wrong and dies, he dies because of the wrong which he himself has done. Similarly, when the wicked abandons wickedness to become law-abiding and upright, he saves his own life. It is not God who condemns us. It is we who make the choice to be with God or to alienate ourselves from him. And God recognises our choice.

So, we too need not be anxious about our past. The door of repentance and restoration is open to any man or woman who repents. All that matters is how I relate to God today, and each day forward. And the choice to be with God, or away from him, is all ours. If today I reject God, directly or through the way I relate with those around me, then, however virtuous I have been in the past, I have put him out of my life. If, on the other hand, today I choose God, then I have nothing to fear, whatever I may have been guilty of in the past.

– Sacred Space

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