Two Ways To Learn
Thursday: Nineteenth Week of the Year: August 11, 2016
Year II: Ezekiel 12:1-12; Psalm 78:56-62; Matthew 18:21 to 19:1
In Ezekiel 12:1-12 we see God’s dilemma: he is good to his people, faithful to his promises. He wants to guide and govern them for their good, to lead them into happiness. But they are “a set of rebels who have eyes and never see, ears and never hear.”
This is a triple problem. First, one of the will: they are “rebellious.” They just don’t want to obey. Secondly, there is a problem of intellect: they can “see and hear” without understanding what is communicated to them. And there is a third problem: one of perception, attention or memory. Sometimes, in spite of having eyes and ears, they just don’t pay attention to what is right before their eyes, or do not remember what was shown them before.
Isn’t this true of us all?
The Responsorial (Psalm 78) urges, “Do not forget the works of the Lord.” God’s solution is first to get their attention. He has Ezekiel go through a puzzling mime of someone escaping into exile, “making sure that they are looking.” Then, when they ask him, “What were you doing?” he is to explain it so they will understand. After that, it is up to their free will: “Perhaps they will admit then that they are a set of rebels” and change. Perhaps not. That is God’s greatest dilemma: how to convert and help people who do not want to be helped -- without violating their freedom.
There is one more thing God can try. He can let them suffer the consequences of their choices. God sees they are on a collision course with disaster. They will not listen to his warnings. Perhaps when they experience the disaster they will realize that God was trying to help them all along. And begin to listen.
That is learning the “hard way.”
Matthew 18:21 to 19:1 is a parallel story, with the emphasis on forgiveness. Jesus wants to teach us the “way of peace,” which is to forgive one another as God forgives us — unreservedly and inexhaustibly. God will never refuse to forgive, no matter what we have done or how many times, or how often we go back on our pledged word and do it again. His gift of grace carries a “lifetime guarantee.” No matter how many times we damage or destroy it, if we go back to him, he will always make it as good as new again: not just “seven times,” which Peter thought was a generous number, but “seventy-seven times,” which in the Jewish way of speaking meant without limit.
Jesus catches our attention by using an imaginary story, as God had Ezekiel act out one. It is filled with graphic images of debts, demands and threats of slavery and torture. It makes us sit up and listen. We can empathize with the helpless debtors, and burn with indignation when the one whose huge debt was forgiven refuses to forgive another’s tiny one.
But God has the same ultimate dilemma. If we will not listen, he cannot save us from the consequences of our choice. God does not have to “hand us over to the torturers.” If we do not “forgive our brothers and sisters from the heart,” we will never be at peace.
Initiative: Give God’s life: Be a “priest in the Priest.” Offer yourself as victim rather than attacking others as avenger.