Matthew 21:23-32; Psalm 25:1-9; Ezekiel 18:1-4, 25-32
What does that proverb means at the beginning of the Ezekiel text, “That the parents have eaten sour grapes and the children’s teeth are set on edge”? The Israelite people saying it in the reading are asserting that they have been brought into exile in Babylon because of their parents’ sins. The truth that the prophet is making clear to those who will hear him is that both parents and children suffer from their own mistakes.
God makes clear that there is no rejoicing in heaven over the death of anyone, particularly not those who have turned away from the embrace of grace. The openness of grace, God’s grace, is such that no generation can separate another from it. The embrace of God’s love is not earned, but it must be experienced. The acceptance of what God has done for anyone of us is reflected in living a holy life. This is what Ezekiel is urging the Israelites toward in this passage.
Turning to Matthew, the temple leaders have begun to take for granted that their titles reflect God’s view of them- rather than understanding that they are the stewards, the caretakers of God’s people. It is very important to remember that all kinds of people, throughout history, (up to and including a wide variety of religious leaders) have been very protective of what they deem their God-given rights and duties.
Frankly, it doesn’t matter what Jesus says to them at this point. They are afraid of how he will disrupt the system that feeds them and gives them power. They have forgotten what it means to be chosen representatives of the power of God in the world, what it means to be called to witness to the power of the Creator’s wisdom, might, and mercy.
Jesus knows this and they realize it, but most of them are not willing to go back, to repent, to refocus on what it means to be humble, acting justly, and pursuing mercy. They say the words, but they do not do the deeds. The embrace of God’s love is not earned through the right formula of words or deeds, but it must be experienced through trust and faithful living. The acceptance of what God has done for any one of us is reflected in working out a holy life in love and service.
What does this mean for us? There is no such thing as Christian autopilot. We cannot come here, say the right words, eat the right things, sing the right tunes, and go out assured of God’s presence in our lives. That presence comes not from what we do or don’t do, but through God’s promise.
We must examine ourselves, our lives, our priorities. Are we just saying the words about loving our neighbor without doing the work of forgiving, not gossiping, offering help, comfort, or prayer? Do we blame previous generations for the messes around us without acknowledging our own sins? Do we enjoy our comforts, our places, our familiarities so much that what is new is automatically suspicious and irritating?
It is never too late to refocus, to repent, to reform… There is time to be the one who does go and do the work, regardless of the words that may have been said in the past. The embrace of God’s love is not earned. It experienced through trust and faithful living. The acceptance of what God has done for any one of us is reflected in working out a holy life in love and service and knowing that we do not go out alone.