The daily Scriptures continue to surprise me. Just when I think I have the important messages memorized, a verse shows up saying something I don’t remember ever hearing before. This morning it’s from Ezekiel. I’ve been confident for as long as I remember, knowing that God said “I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you…” but this morning the verse before the gospel stuns me with: “Cast away from you all the crimes that you have committed, says the Lord, and make for yourselves a new heart and a new spirit.” (EZ 18:31) That sounds like the retort of Jesus when the disciples tell him the huge crowd that’s been following him needs food and he says, “Give them something to eat yourselves.”
The Scriptures do note that occasionally Jesus says something to challenge them before he does something extraordinary to solve the situation – as in the miracle of the loaves. But this is different. This is the God of the Hebrew nation speaking about radical life change. Jesus does become the model for this, teaching us to live from the heart in compassionate love regardless of the consequences. It cost him his life. If, however, we are to develop such a generous spirit it has to come from the inside – from our own decision and action. A prayer of “God, make me kinder, gentler” isn’t answered with the wave of a wand. It takes constant practice and sometimes vigilance to achieve and there is always possibility for us to fall back into selfishness or lassitude.
There is a bit of encouragement for us here, however, as Ezekiel ends God’s message with the following verse intimating that it isn’t all on us to succeed; God will be our cheerleader in the process. “Why should you die, O house of Israel?” God asks. “For I have no pleasure in the death of anyone who dies. Return and live!”