Ezekiel 18:1-4, 25-32 (NRSV)
18The word of the Lord came to me: 2What do you mean by repeating this proverb concerning the land of Israel, "The parents have eaten sour grapes, and the children's teeth are set on edge"? 3As I live, says the Lord God, this proverb shall no more be used by you in Israel. 4Know that all lives are mine; the life of the parent as well as the life of the child is mine: it is only the person who sins that shall die. 25Yet you say, "The way of the Lord is unfair." Hear now, O house of Israel: Is my way unfair? Is it not your ways that are unfair? 26When 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. 27Again, when the wicked turn away from the wickedness they have committed and do what is lawful and right, they shall save their life. 28Because they considered and turned away from all the transgressions that they had committed, they shall surely live; they shall not die. 29Yet the house of Israel says, "The way of the Lord is unfair." O house of Israel, are my ways unfair? Is it not your ways that are unfair?
30Therefore I will judge you, O house of Israel, all of you according to your ways, says the Lord God. Repent and turn from all your transgressions; otherwise iniquity will be your ruin. 31Cast away from you all the transgressions that you have committed against me, and get yourselves a new heart and a new spirit! Why will you die, O house of Israel? 32For I have no pleasure in the death of anyone, says the Lord God. Turn, then, and live.
Did you grow up with an extra sibling named “wasn’t me”? Whenever trouble came knocking and mom or dad wanted to know who was to blame, the culprit was loudly identified: “It wasn’t me!”
The “sour grapes” proverb concerning Israel was a popular saying in Ezekiel’s era. The people, during a time of great hardship, were convinced “wasn’t me” was responsible. They pointed their fingers at previous generations as the source of their woe.
Not only that, they even sought to make God culpable in their demise! God’s ways are unfair, they yell. Yet, it is not God who must live up to our standards. Death comes from blaming others by looking back and around us; life comes from looking within us and owning up to our faults. After acknowledging our culpability, we are invited to “repent and turn.” How have we, individually and corporately, abdicated our responsibilities and pretended to be powerless?
Gracious God, help us to see our faults and failures and choices as ours and ours alone. And let that realization drive us to the foot of the cross. Amen.