Today’s Reading: Ezekiel 33-36
Today’s Reflection: Ezekiel 33:12-16
12) “And you, son of man, say to your people, The righteousness of the righteous shall not deliver him when he transgresses, and as for the wickedness of the wicked, he shall not fall by it when he turns from his wickedness, and the righteous shall not be able to live by his righteousness when he sins. 13) Though I say to the righteous that he shall surely live, yet if he trusts in his righteousness and does injustice, none of his righteous deeds shall be remembered, but in his injustice that he has done he shall die. 14) Again, though I say to the wicked, ‘You shall surely die,’ yet if he turns from his sin and does what is just and right, 15) if the wicked restores the pledge, gives back what he has taken by robbery, and walks in the statutes of life, not doing injustice, he shall surely live; he shall not die. 16) None of the sins that he has committed shall be remembered against him. He has done what is just and right; he shall surely live.
In Ezekiel chapter 35, the prophet discusses the righteous and the wicked, but not in the way you would expect. He warns the righteous that their righteousness cannot save them, yet says the wicked will be saved if they turn from their wickedness. How can bad people be given hope while good people have it taken away? The answer is simple: both the righteous and the wicked are actually the same.
Romans 3:9-12 – 9) What then? Are we Jews any better off? No, not at all. For we have already charged that all, both Jews and Greeks, are under sin, 10) as it is written: “None is righteous, no, not one; 11) no one understands; no one seeks for God. 12) All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one.”
The distinction ‘righteous’ and ‘wicked’ discussed here were judgments made by man—and that judgment was (and is) generally that a person thinks they and people like them are righteous, while people unlike them are not. Jesus demonstrated this much in the parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector. A Pharisee was a man considered to be righteous in the eyes of Jewish society, while the tax collector was considered to be among the worst of sinners and a traitor to his people.
Luke 18:9-12 – 9) He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and treated others with contempt: 10) “Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. 11) The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed thus: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. 12) I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.’”
The Pharisee judged himself based on his righteous acts, and even Jesus never disputed that these were good things for a man to do. The issue is that the Pharisee thought he was righteous on the basis of these acts, despite the fact that he too was a sinner, and as a result was deserving of death, just as much as the tax collector he dismissively belittled. The Pharisee needed something other than his righteous acts to save him. While the Pharisee did not understand this, the tax collector did.
Luke 18:13 – 13) “But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’ 14) I tell you, this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.”
The tax collector realized there was nothing he could do to make up for his sins but confess, fall upon God’s mercy, and ask forgiveness. And because we all have sinned the only way out for any of us is to do this: confess, fall upon God’s mercy, and ask for His forgiveness. As Ezekiel 33 makes clear God is waiting to forgive those who ask for it (vs. 11), and He sent His son to die for us so that with forgiveness God can also restore us to our originally intended eternal relationship with Him.
The man who considers himself righteous overlooks his need for God’s forgiveness and the grace that comes through Jesus Christ. The man who considers himself wicked knows he needs God’s grace and mercy and is willing to ask for it. Let us all confront the truth of our sinful state so that we can seek, find and embrace the salvation that God offers freely to all willing to receive it.
Romans 5:16 – And the free gift is not like the result of that one man’s sin. For the judgment following one trespass brought condemnation, but the free gift following many trespasses brought justification.