Ezekial 18:21-32 and Matthew 5:20-26
I am not a really big fan of this passage. I am not a big fan of Ezekial. Period. Dry bones? God smiting the righteous because they sin? Big wheels in the sky? Are you sure this isn’t an African Folk Tale? Well…actually, wait….
Incidentally, to smite and to love are two sides of the same coin…get it…smitten…like our brains shrivel up and we die when we fall in love…we have been smited (is that a word?) by love. I am sure I could go all sorts of theological places with Paul about being smited (smitten) by our love of Jesus (dying daily, etc.). That was dumb but true. I digress.
Okay, Matt and Zeke. I think the meaning of this passage is really wrapped up in verses 30 through 32. Ezekial isn’t really saying that God smites the righteous if they commit a sin; he is saying that sin, and consequently the conditon of the heart, is the problem: “Rid yourselves of the all offenses you have committed, and get a new heart and a new spirit. Why will you die, O house of Israel?” (See again Psalm 51) They will die, as will we, if they don’t repent: if their hearts aren’t changed. By this time, Israel is in deep with other cultures that they were specifically told not to intermix with. They are burning incense and worshipping Asherah poles, which decidedly do not lead them to YHWH. Their hearts have become so corrupt with sin, that even the righteous are turning from the Lord and their lives, part and parcel, have become sinful: “Because he considers all the offenses he has committed and turns away from them, he will surely live; he will not die.” Were the righteous willing to turn a discerning eye toward their own lives and re-evaluate and repent? Are we willing to look at ourselves and repent?
EDIT: (This is really long already, but I just read the rest of the chapter of Ezekial and it seems to be about generational sin. Please if you read this passage, read all of chapter 18. It makes these few verses so much clearer. I would write a bit about it to remind myself later, but I must move on to Kate Chopin and Mary Cassatt. Please, really, read all of Chapter 18. It even makes sense when you think of the Pharisees in Matthew as spiritual fathers. Food for thought.)
Which leads me to Matthew, who says: “For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven.” Jesus is not only calling out the Pharisees, although he does not say they aren’t righteous, but he is calling for those who are listening to his words to go above and beyond the righteousness of the Pharisees: to live the spirit of the law not only the letter of the law. To evaluate their lives and find the ways their souls are stuck in auto-pilot and reeking of internal unholiness. Jesus is saying that it isn’t about outer posture, but it is about inner holiness.
What today’s readings boil down to for me is this: It is wonderful to be righteous (more wonderful to not sin), but within that righteous attitude must be righteous action. We also cannot live lives degraded by a posture of consuming sin. Of course, it is wonderful to give money to a youth group, but how much more wonderful would it be to actually form a relationship with the kids in that youth group? While it is great to go to church and sit in the pew every Sunday, wouldn’t it be more amazing to let your heart be transformed by God and to live out that transformation? In Matthew, Jesus is calling us to go deeper. It isn’t enough to not murder. We are to realize that at the very heart of it all our words can be instruments of destruction, our attitudes can be instruments of destruction, our lives (think about Ezekial and sinning) can be instruments of destruction. Even the way we handle ourselves in disputes is evidence of our inner lives. We are called to live in the Spirit, to evaluate our lives, and to turn from the unrighteous toward the righteous. To be holy as God is holy.
Both of these passages are asking us to re-evaluate and cleanse our hearts, spirits, lives, minds, and actions from sin: “Repent and live!”