1 The word of the Lord came to me: 2 “What do you mean by repeating this proverb concerning the land of Israel, ‘The fathers have eaten sour grapes, and the children’s teeth are set on edge’? 3 As I live, declares the Lord God, this proverb shall no more be used by you in Israel. 4 Behold, all souls are mine; the soul of the father as well as the soul of the son is mine: the soul who sins shall die…
25 “Yet you say, ‘The way of the Lord is not just.’ Hear now, O house of Israel: Is my way not just? Is it not your ways that are not just? 26 When a righteous person turns away from his righteousness and does injustice, he shall die for it; for the injustice that he has done he shall die. 27 Again, when a wicked person turns away from the wickedness he has committed and does what is just and right, he shall save his life. 28 Because he considered and turned away from all the transgressions that he had committed, he shall surely live; he shall not die. 29 Yet the house of Israel says, ‘The way of the Lord is not just.’ O house of Israel, are my ways not just? Is it not your ways that are not just?
30 “Therefore I will judge you, O house of Israel, every one according to his ways, declares the Lord God. Repent and turn from all your transgressions, lest iniquity be your ruin. 31 Cast away from you all the transgressions that you have committed, and make yourselves a new heart and a new spirit! Why will you die, O house of Israel? 32 For I have no pleasure in the death of anyone, declares the Lord God; so turn, and live.”
“You should not have put it on the table when I was coming home from school!” Indeed, his parents should have known that he was coming home from school in a bad mood and would fling his pack onto the table and thereby bump the vase off the table and onto the floor. It was surely his parents’ fault that the vase now lay broken on the floor. At least in that teen’s logic it was their fault.
In Ezekiel’s day the people were in a terrible Exile and felt that they had been punished for their parents’ sins. That is the meaning of the proverb Ezekiel quotes, the fathers eat sour grapes, but the children’s teeth are set on edge. God rejects this line of reasoning. You cannot blame someone else. That is a truth which we would do well to remember. It is not just children who like to blame their parents. Many of those who march and even riot in the streets claim that the injustice of the past makes violence and destruction permissible in the present. On the other side of that equation, some imagine that because they did not directly participate in oppression, they have no responsibility to help the neighbor in need. Both are wrong.
The soul who sins shall die… Because the mortality rate for being human remains stubbornly at 100%, Ezekiel’s words should make anyone who would pass the blame to another hesitate. I knew a man who had been born with a degenerative disorder which trapped his sharp mind in a body which progressively robbed him of mobility, speech, and control of basic bodily functions. It was not fair. Had he inherited some genetic defect? Should he blame his parents? Was there some environmental cause – should he blame the nearest factory? If anyone had a reason to be angry and bitter, it was this man. He was not. He was in fact a ray of sunshine wherever he went. He had heard the last line of this text. God takes no pleasure in the death, suffering, or misery of anyone. He had heard God’s gracious invitation in Christ to turn and live. His problems were his own problems. God saw them and offered his help. He took that help and lived the life God had given him in joy, knowing that in God’s time, at the resurrection of the dead. God would make everything right again. We cannot undo the past, but we can love our neighbor in the present. Ezekiel called his generation to see that their own lives were distorted by sin. Yes, they suffered in the current situation. But the real question was then and remains today, what shall we make of this situation. Blaming another solves no problems. Repenting, changing, turning to God, and living – that has a future.