Homily for Saturday of the Nineteenth Week in Ordinary Time
There are forty-six books in the Hebrew Scriptures. The natural human inclination when reading a book is to start on page one and to keep reading until we reach the last page. However, this does not hold true when reading from the Old Testament. If we wish to truly understand what the Hebrew Scriptures are all about, it is best to start with the Book of Exodus, the second book in the Bible. The reason for this is found in the content of the second book; namely, it is in the Book of Exodus that we learn of the covenant that God entered into with the people of Israel. All of the rest of the Old Testament focuses on the covenant relationship that exists between God and the children of Israel.
That is particularly well emphasized by today’s reading from the Prophet Ezekiel. In what may well be the biggest contradiction in the Old Testament, Ezekiel proclaims that no one will be held accountable for anything but his or her own failings or faults. Even though the Book of Exodus tells us that God is a jealous God, inflicting punishment for their ancestors’ wickedness on their children down to the third and fourth generation, Ezekiel writes: “Therefore I will judge you, house of Israel, each one according to his ways, says the Lord God.”
I would imagine that most of us here today think along the same lines as the Prophet Ezekiel. Punishing the group for the sins of one person just does not sit well with our way of thinking. Yet, this is exactly what people believed and, to a certain extent, still believe today. When some sort of natural disaster happens, one can always find comments that illustrate this way of thinking. For instance, I’ve heard it said that the many, many school shootings that have taken place lately are the direct result of having removed language about God from our public schools. When Hurricane Katrina destroyed much of New Orleans, some people made the point that God was punishing the people for the evil behavior that was exhibited in this town. When the Mississippi River flooded and destroyed the homes and businesses along its banks, many people credited this as God’s punishment for the many abortions taking place in our country.
God is not capricious. It cannot be stated any more clearly than that. While the language of the covenant in the Book of Exodus seems to bear out this claim about God’s behavior, many of the prophets of Israel, including Ezekiel, simply would not accept this idea. When Jesus appeared in our midst, he preached the same message as the prophets. God’s love for us is unconditional.