Auxiliary Bishop Sylvester David offers his prayer and reflection for the people of the Archdiocese of Cape Town for today, Friday 26 February 2021, during this time of the Coronavirus pandemic. It is also available on the Archdiocese of Cape Town’s Facebook page and YouTube channel. Please also see below the text of his reflection, primarily for the deaf.
I prefer to see the wicked man renounce his wickedness and live. Ezekiel 18:21-28
“Thus says the Lord: ‘If the wicked man renounces all the sins he has committed, respects my laws and is law-abiding and honest, he will certainly live; he will not die. All the sins he committed will be forgotten from then on; he shall live because of the integrity he has practised. What! Am I likely to take pleasure in the death of a wicked man – it is the Lord who speaks – and not prefer to see him renounce his wickedness and live?’ …”
This text is about accountability – an element which is crucial to decent living, truthfulness and on-going conversion. It is the mechanism which helps us to put an end to double standards and the blame game that creep into so many aspects of life. Lack of accountability is not new – it is as old as creation. God asks Adam the questions: “Where are you?” and “who told you that you are naked?” (Genesis 3:9-11). These are classical expressions in the Hebrew bible which start the process of God’s justice where the aim is not to punish the guilty but to get the perpetrator to repent. This is the theme Ezekiel takes up in our first reading of today’s Mass. In the Genesis account God gives Adam a chance to reflect on what he had done and to make amends but Adam failed the accountability test. He blamed Eve and she in turn blamed the serpent.
In the time of the exile there was a well worn phrase: “The parents ate sour grapes and the children’s teeth are on edge” (Ezekiel 18:2; Jeremiah 31:29-30). In the next verse (Ezekiel 18:3) the prophet, using formal prophetic language which shows divine insistence, is emphatic that this saying about “sour grapes” is no longer to be used in Israel. Why is the Bible so insistent on this? The exile undermined truthfulness and personal responsibility, but the prophet shows that a new relationship with God is open to all the faithful – a relationship based on trust and truth telling. Our passage is a development of this call of the prophet to put an end to poor excuses, to accept responsibility and to trust in God’s merciful love. This is nothing else but a call to greater intimacy with God, and to trust God like a child trusting that its parent will never do anything to cause harm to him or her but will seek what is best for the child. When Jeremiah bans the use of the “sour grapes” proverb, he immediately follows it up with the solemn announcement of the new covenant which will usher in knowledge of God based on personal intimacy (Jeremiah 31:31-34).
Why is it so important to accept responsibility? It is important because without it there can be no change and no growth. Why do I need to change if I am never wrong? In South Africa today we have an unusual attitude to morality. For so many, as revealed by evidence at the on-going commission of enquiry, an action is only wrong if one gets found out. And even there, who is wrong? For some, the person who makes the discovery or who blows the whistle is wrong. It is never my fault – someone else has to take the blame. South Africa is not unique in this – denial, shifting the blame, and misinformation seem so embedded in some places that new and destructive precedents are being set. So called leaders and media networks eat sour grapes and successive generations and even the ecology will have their teeth on edge. God’s call for truthfulness has fallen on deaf ears.
Lent is an ideal time to rediscover the truth and to celebrate our proper relationship with God. We are not meant to hide from God as did Adam and Eve, but we have been created to enjoy intimacy with our God. In a recent reflection, Archbishop Brislin very meaningfully reminded us to choose life (Deuteronomy 30:15-20). Let us do so during this season of conversion. Notice that Ezekiel and Jeremiah were addressing people still in exile. We do not have to wait for the end of the pandemic to seek God, but even in the difficult circumstances in which we find ourselves we can make an effort to grow in truthfulness, accountability and greater intimacy with God. Union with God is, after all, the aim of all authentic spirituality.
Let us pray: Lord your word calls us to a radical honesty of our need for redemption. Send your Holy Spirit into our lives so that we may make good and wholesome choices based on truthfulness and in so doing deepen our intimacy with you. We ask this through Christ our Lord. Amen [Blessing].