Ezekiel 18:1-10, 13b, 30-32
Our scriptural readings for today’s feast give us much to think about. The reading that captured my imagination is from the prophet Ezekiel, chapter 18, the first and second verse. We read: "The word of the Lord came to me: Son of man, what is the meaning of this proverb that you recite in the land of Israel: ‘Fathers have eaten green grapes, thus their children’s teeth are on edge’"? In fact, this is a very familiar proverb and a theme repeated more than once in the Hebrew Scriptures, the Old Testament. The proverb raises the question as to whether or not people can claim that they are punished because of the sins of their parents. We remember in the life of Jesus when the disciples saw someone suffering with an infirmity or physical affliction and they naively asked if the reason for such a condition was because of their own sins or because of the sins of their parents. It was not uncommon for people to believe that misfortune often occurred because of the wrongdoing of others who have preceded them. Hence, in Ezekiel, we read that the fathers (or ancestors) ate green grapes, not a good thing to do at all, and so the children’s teeth were on edge (a state of great anxiety, fear, and worry) all because of what someone else did!
Interesting way to approach life, isn’t it? Don’t we do this ourselves – frequently blame current conditions on what others have done? Yet, very clearly Ezekiel brings this kind of thinking to a halt. He states: "As I live, says the Lord God I swear that there shall no longer be anyone among you who will repeat this proverb in Israel. For all lives are mine; the life of the father is like the life of the son, both are mine; only the one who sins shall die." And then Ezekiel goes on to portray how the person who does what is good will live, while the sinner who chooses to do evil will not live but die.
There was another prophet who addressed this very same parable and that was Jeremiah. In the 31st chapter, verses 27 to 30, Jeremiah writes: "As I once watched over them to uproot and pull down, to destroy, to ruin, and to harm, so I will watch over them to build and to plant, says the Lord. In those days they shall no longer say, ‘The fathers ate unripe grapes, and the children’s teeth are set on edge,’ but through his own fault only shall anyone die; the teeth of him who eats the unripe grapes shall be set on edge.’"
So, dear friends, what does this parable in today’s reading say to us? What does this rather arcane image of eating green grapes and having teeth on edge have to do with us here and now? Sometimes, as mentioned above, we have a tendency to blame problems and bad situations on the actions of others. And while there are times when this may be true, too often we tend to forget the role our own responsibility plays in shaping life around us and within us. We are called by God to take responsibility for living a virtuous life, for shaping and forming a just and loving society. When there is suffering, disappointment, and failure first we must accept our own responsibility for such things. And then it is the duty of all of us working together to bring about healing, fulfillment, and victory over evil.
Fr. Pat Brennan, CP is the director of Mater Dolorosa Passionist Retreat Center, Sierra Madre, California.