Bible Tuesday for Pentecost 17, 2017
Ezekiel 18:1-4, 25-32
The 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.
Ezekiel is a prophet who was exiled to Babylon along with the King of Israel and many of the priestly and monarchy class. In this passage of Ezekiel’s prophecy, he addresses the question, “Why are we forsaken by God and in captivity on foreign soil? Who sinned, us or our parents?” It is a valid question since Deuteronomy states, “I will visit the guilt of the parents upon the children, upon the thirds and fourth generations of those who reject me.” But Ezekiel insists that the Israelites are suffering the consequences of their own actions. To use the metaphor, the children both ate the sour grapes and now have their teeth set on edge.”
Many Israelites in Babylonian captivity thought that they were completely forsaken by God and all was lost. Ezekiel rejects that idea, insisting that God is fair and will respond to those who repent and ask for mercy.
33Teach me, O Lord, the way of your statutes, and I will observe it to the end.
34Give me understanding, that I may keep your law and observe it with my whole heart.
35Lead me in the path of your commandments, for I delight in it.
36Turn my heart to your decrees, and not to selfish gain.
37Turn my eyes from looking at vanities; give me life in your ways.
38Confirm to your servant your promise, which is for those who fear you.
39Turn away the disgrace that I dread, for your ordinances are good.
40See, I have longed for your precepts; in your righteousness give me life.
Psalm 119 is an acrostic psalm with each letter of the alphabet getting, not one line, but one whole set of stanzas. This stanza is the fifth stanza and begins with the letter “he” which makes the “h” sound. In the entirety of this psalm, relationship with God is replaced by faithful keeping of God’s law. Instead of the usual, “Have mercy on me…” Psalm 119 says “Lead me in the path of your commandments.” This shift to moral, righteous life from seeking the love and mercy of God is common in Christianity as well as Judaism.
8Owe no one anything, except to love one another; for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law. 9The commandments, “You shall not commit adultery; You shall not murder; You shall not steal; You shall not covet”; and any other commandment, are summed up in this word, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” 10Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore, love is the fulfilling of the law.
11Besides this, you know what time it is, how it is now the moment for you to wake from sleep. For salvation is nearer to us now than when we became believers; 12the night is far gone, the day is near. Let us then lay aside the works of darkness and put on the armor of light; 13let us live honorably as in the day, not in reveling and drunkenness, not in debauchery and licentiousness, not in quarreling and jealousy. 14Instead, put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires.
This passage is written in the context of governmental authority. Paul insists that all governmental authority is God’s tool to punish evil and maintain justice. I wonder if Paul thought and taught the same thing as he was fed to the lions in the coliseum by Caesar.
Paul moves from that teaching to the above by invoking Jesus’ very words, “The greatest commandment is this, Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength and love your neighbor as you love yourself.” Note: neither Jesus nor Paul were talking about feelings in this command. “Love” in this case is a covenantal obligation, not a feeling. Because you are in covenant with God and God gives you all things, as well as mercy and grace, therefore, you are to treat your neighbor as well as you treat yourself.”
Paul goes on to explain why it is not only important to follow this command, it is urgent. Paul believed, as did many early Christians, that Jesus would return “on the clouds with his angels” any minute. So if Jesus is going to walk in on you any minute now, you want to be on your best behavior. Verse 14 can be understood to mean, “Therefore, drop your old behaviors of being self focused, and instead imitate Jesus in all you say and do.”
23When he entered the temple, the chief priests and the elders of the people came to him as he was teaching, and said, “By what authority are you doing these things, and who gave you this authority?” 24Jesus said to them, “I will also ask you one question; if you tell me the answer, then I will also tell you by what authority I do these things. 25Did the baptism of John come from heaven, or was it of human origin?” And they argued with one another, “If we say, ‘From heaven,’ he will say to us, ‘Why then did you not believe him?’ 26But if we say, ‘Of human origin,’ we are afraid of the crowd; for all regard John as a prophet.” 27So they answered Jesus, “We do not know.” And he said to them, “Neither will I tell you by what authority I am doing these things.
28“What do you think? A man had two sons; he went to the first and said, ‘Son, go and work in the vineyard today.’ 29He answered, ‘I will not’; but later he changed his mind and went. 30The father went to the second and said the same; and he answered, ‘I go, sir’; but he did not go. 31Which of the two did the will of his father?” They said, “The first.” Jesus said to them, “Truly I tell you, the tax collectors and the prostitutes are going into the kingdom of God ahead of you. 32For John came to you in the way of righteousness and you did not believe him, but the tax collectors and the prostitutes believed him; and even after you saw it, you did not change your minds and believe him.
The setting for this conflict between Temple Authorities and Jesus is Palm Sunday afternoon. Jesus got off the donkeys (actually both jenny and her colt in the gospel of Matthew) and headed on over to the Temple where he cleansed the Temple, and taught the crowds. The chief priests and their colleagues approached Jesus to challenge him. “Who authorized you to teach this drivel?!” they demanded. This parable reinforces a theme in the gospel of Matthew, one that will build up a head of steam as the gospel moves to Good Friday. This theme is that the Jewish commoners are shepherdless sheep who are being misled and misused by the corrupt high priest and King Herod. Throughout the gospel, the Jewish authorities chastise Jesus for ignoring those in power and ministering to those without power. The high priests and the colleagues, the Sadducees and Pharisees are confident that they already know God’s assessment of the current situation. Whereas, Jesus who is God speaks the Word of God, which they reject.
In the above parable, the first son is the representation of the Jewish authorities: the high priests and their colleagues, etc. They claim that they are doing the word of God, metaphorically going out into the vineyard (a common Old Testament image for the Jewish people), but they do not actually do what they claim they are doing. Whereas, the peasants, the prostitutes, the tax collectors and fishermen that follow Jesus metaphorically blew off God’s command to go and serve the world in God’s name, but because they hear Jesus’s words and believe into him, now they are harvesting grapes.