Friday of Week 1 of Lent – First Reading

Commentary on Ezekiel 18:21-28

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:

None of the transgressions that they have committed shall be remembered against them, for the righteousness that they have done they shall live.

This is because 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:

Friend, your sins are forgiven. (Luke 5:20)

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 disposition, and only this, that determines God’s judgement.

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.

Judas, a chosen apostle, was lost because of the final choice he made in life. 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 righteous turn away from their righteousness and commit iniquity, they shall die for it; for the iniquity that they have committed, they shall die…when the wicked turn away from the wickedness they have committed and do what is lawful and right, they shall save their 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. 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.

For our own reflection, we can be consoled that, no matter what we did in the past, it will have no effect on our relationship with God provided we reach out to him here and now. On the other hand, there is no room for complacency. Our past good record can be completely undone by our turning away at any time.

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