Ezekiel 18:1-4, 25-32
The word of our God came to me: What 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”? As I live, says God, this proverb shall no more be used by you in Israel. Know 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.
Yet you say, “The way of God is unfair.” Hear now, O house of Israel: Is my way unfair? Is it not your ways that are unfair? 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. Again, when the wicked turn away from the wickedness they have committed and do what is lawful and right, they shall save their life. Because they considered and turned away from all the transgressions that they had committed, they shall surely live; they shall not die. Yet the house of Israel says, “The way of God is unfair.” O house of Israel, are my ways unfair? Is it not your ways that are unfair?
Therefore I will judge you, O house of Israel, all of you according to your ways, says the Holy One. Repent and turn from all your transgressions; otherwise iniquity will be your ruin. Cast 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? For I have no pleasure in the death of anyone, says our God. Turn, then, and live.
When Jesus 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?” Jesus 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. Did 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?’ But if we say, ‘Of human origin,’ we are afraid of the crowd; for all regard John as a prophet.” So 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.
“What do you think? A man had two sons; he went to the first and said, ‘Son, go and work in the vineyard today.’ He answered, ‘I will not’; but later he changed his mind and went. The father went to the second and said the same; and he answered, ‘I go, sir’; but he did not go. Which 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 realm of God ahead of you. For 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.
Let us pray. Holy one, you who hold all authority, bless us with a fresh anointing of your spirit. Open our hearts and minds to your truth, to your love; give us courage and strength to act with love and understanding, with your wisdom and authority, not ours. In all things we ask that your will be done, your truth and love be made known, in spite of our human weaknesses and failings. In your many names we pray, amen.
There’s an old saying—Actions speak louder than words. A more modern version says, Don’t just talk the talk, walk the walk. Or you can say, Talk is cheap.
They all point to the same thing. We can say all we want about something—what we believe, how people should live, what is the best thing to do—but when it comes down to it, do we actually DO what we said?
If I say I am ecologically minded and want to conserve energy and protect the earth, but throw trash on the ground, don’t reuse bags, leave all my lights on all the time, drive a big car with poor gas mileage and cut down all the trees on my property, will you believe that I really want to save the earth? Probably not!
If I talk about the importance of exercise, and going to the gym, and eating a healthy diet, but drive everywhere, eat fast food three times a day and don’t own a bicycle, would you think I really believe that a good diet and plenty of exercise are good things? I don’t think so!
I would not be walking the walk.
What about those religious leaders who confront Jesus? They have been given places of authority—people look up to them as educated and wise people who can offer advice and guidance on holy living. They are supposed to have the answers. And yet when Jesus asks them a question, they are more concerned about the reaction of other people than they are about the truth of the answer.
It’s a simple question. Where does John the Baptist’s authority come from? And yet those religious leaders don’t have an answer. They have responses that they come up with, but they don’t use either of them because they don’t want anyone upset with them, neither the crowds nor Jesus. So they come up with this non-answer.
In Scottish courts, there are three verdicts available to a judge or jury: guilty, not guilty, and not proven. The last is unique, and generally means that court thinks the person is guilty but that the evidence was not strong enough. In other words, “not guilty but don’t do it again.”
This is where the religious leaders are coming down—we don’t want to say, we can’t say, we don’t know, we’re afraid—and so they turn the question back to Jesus. It’s a non-answer.
And that is how they are acting, too—unsure, not really wanting to commit one way or another until they see how the political wind blows, unwilling to take a stand or speak the truth as they truly see it.
Those two sons in Jesus’ parable didn’t act exactly like the religious leaders, but very close to it. The one said he would do what his father asked—not wanting to rock the boat, not wanting to look defiant, not wanting a conflict with his father. But he didn’t do it. He talked the talk but didn’t walk the walk.
The second son, on the other hand, said he would not do it but then did do as his father asked. He didn’t talk the talk—but he did walk the walk.
Actions speak louder than words. His words said no, but his actions said yes—and that was what mattered.
I have known people who felt organized religion was a waste of time, and would never be found in a church—and yet they are caring, generous, loving people, truly sharing the love of Christ for the world. They don’t talk the talk either, but they do walk the walk. And truth be told, I am more comfortable with them than people who claim to be Christian and yet are judgemental, bigoted and unloving—talking the talk but not walking the walk.
Why are people so often afraid to walk that walk?
One word—the “C” word—change.
Human beings, or most of us, are afraid of change, are uncomfortable with change. In my church administration classes, one of the biggest debates was over introducing change into the congregation—new worship music, a new pastor, a new Bible translation, or heaven forbid, moving the pews. Some people argued for all the new changes at once, so people would only have to adjust once, and others were for changing one thing at a time, so people would have something they were used to. Should a new pastor make a lot of new changes when she first arrived or give it a year? A new broom sweeps clean, but would it be too overwhelming?
If those religoous authorities had answered either way to Jesus—that John was sent from God, or that he was acting on his own, human authority—change would have resulted. Either they would have had to admit they were wrong and that John was of God, and that therefore they should have been baptised by him; or they would have had to say they didn’t think John was of God and then have to face the wrath of the people who thought John was from God—those people who paid the religious leaders and supported them through the Temple tax. They didn’t want either one. They were happy with things the way they were and didn’t want the changes. They were comfortable—they were satisfied with their lives exactly the way they were.
C.S. Lewis said, “Prostitutes are in no danger of finding their present life so satisfactory that they cannot turn to God. The proud, the avaricious, the self-righteous, are in that danger."
People who are comfortable, cosy, happy—they see no reason to change anything. But the ones who are a rough place, who are oppressed, ill, lonely—they see a real need for change, not only in their own lives, perhaps, but in the world.
And so they speak truth and they try to bring about change—whether it is leaving an unhealthy relationship or working for justice for immigrants or finding a new job.
Change can be frightening—it means new ways of doing things that might or might not work out—and most people are afraid of risk, of things not working out. Sometimes people cannot imagine that things could ever be different, and so they resist attempts at change. The partner in an abusive relationship; the person who is a member of an oppressed group; the person with an addiction… It’s not that they are invested in their situation—not that they enjoy the abuse or the oppression. Quite simply, they cannot imagine their lives being any different—they cannot conceive of another way of living. It’s not because of ignorance or mental illness or lack of intelligence or integrity—it is simply part of their situation. Change itself is frightening, and even though their situation is awful, the effort and the transition required to get out of it seem even worse—hard as that seems to us who look in from the outside.
The courage to change. Why do you think Jesus asks people if they want to be cured before he heals them? It’s not a perfunctory question; it’s not about informed consent. He’s asking if they want to live their lives differently—not as “the blind beggar” or “the lame man” but as whole and healthy human beings, able to work and support themselves and rejoin their families—to change the way they live.
The good news is that when Jesus heals them, when that change happens, they have the courage, the support, the love of Jesus to go with them and see them through that change. When someone leaves an abusive relationship, it can be very difficult for a while—the abusive partner wants to reconcile, promising in their turn to change, or the person has to find a nee job, a new home, has to protect him or herself from the abusive partner, re-establish credit maybe, or get an education. For someone leaving an addiction, there are the physical issues of the body adjusting to not having that substance anymore; the psychological issues of working out the whys and hows of addictions; the financial issues, probably, begun when funds went to the substance rather than to other things. It isn’t easy. But every step on that journey, each moment of change, is a step of healing, towards wholeness and health, with Jesus walking alongside you.
Change isn’t easy or simple or even straightforward—three steps forward and two back, four forward and one back—but eventually we do win through, one step at a time, one day at a time.
We can change—we need to change. Especially when we have not been living what we believe. How can we say we believe something is true if we don’t live that truth out?
Live your truth—walk that walk.
In the many names of the one living true God, amen.