God’s amnesty scheme? Friday, 1st Week of Lent – Ezekiel 18:21-28/Matthew 5:20-26

When you first read Ezekiel 18:21-28 it seems like a spiritual amnesty scheme has been announced and it reads very well in the context of Lent. Just as the Income Tax Department (IRS), from time to time has an amnesty scheme; pay your tax with no penalty of jail time or else face the heat, this text too sounds at first like God’s spiritual amnesty. The text itself says, “IF the wicked man RENOUNCES ALL the sins he has committed, RESPECTS (all) my laws and is law-abiding and honest, then he will live.” But read this text in its larger context and it reads rather differently.

This is an argument that God and the exiles of Babylon seem to be having. The people’s point of view, while not recorded, is answered by God in his defence arguments. What seems to set God off is recorded in Ezekiel 18:1 where the third generation of exiles seem to think that their suffering is due to their parent’s fault; so why should they suffer? They propagate their victim spirituality in a neatly crafted proverb. “The parents have eaten sour grapes and the children’s teeth are set on edge.”

God does not buy into this argument. The parents of these exiles indeed brought the wrath of God and their exile into Babylon by their sinful behaviour but that does not mean that God is vengeful enough to make several generations suffer. God categorically states in today’s text that ‘he does not take pleasure in the death of even the wicked man.’ So clearly, the exiles in Babylon had to man up and take responsibility for their actions (which they cleary did not want to)

God is emphatic; you are responsible for your spiritual life. If a wicked person renounces his wickedness and embraces God he is saved. This is an offer for all of this Lent. Yet when “an upright person renounces integrity, commits sin, copies the wicked and practices every kind of filth (all God’s words used here) all the integrity he practiced is forgotten from then on.

So let me put this in a very clear illustration. Assume your parents have cheated their relatives of the ancestral property. They appropriated by forgery or trickery the family property. This is a grievous sin and is purely their sin. However, this sin does not and cannot pass down to you. Let us now assume that they have passed away and, in these years, you have lived a good, honest and wonderful Christian life. Now that they have passed on, they have willed you this property which YOU KNOW has been fraudulently obtained. The teaching is clear. Upto now you are blameless, their sin is not your sin. However, the day you accept that which you know is fraudulently inherited or rather usurped, even though it is willed to you, that is the day you renounce your uprightness and integrity, you become a participant of the sins of your family, you copy the wicked.

In the Gospel of Matthew, God does not want us to accept mediocrity; he wants us to be the best. Do not kill we are told and many of us do not commit murder but then again slander and calumny come so easy to us. The season of Lent IS DEMANDING but then again no one forces you to accept it, Christ did not! Remember he said, “If you wish to be my disciple….take up your cross.”

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