Friday, 26 September 2014

Definitely not a Doormat!

Lectionary  Passages for Sept.28: Ezekiel 18:1-4, 25-32, Psalm 25:1-9, Phil. 2:1-13, Matt 21:23-32

Sour grapes. Here's where the phrase comes from! When the parents eat sour grapes-the children's teeth are set on edge. That's not right, why would the children have to suffer because of the parent's poor choice of fruit? It is obvious that the actions of parents affect children-the parents provides the atmosphere the children grow up in and learn from-but that's missing the point a bit here.

Ezekiel is telling the people that individuals have to be responsible for their own actions, that they cannot continue to blame subsequent generations for historic sins. They can't hold the child to the debt the parent incurred. (this is fair, but certainly irritating for those trying to collect!) Like any normal human being, these people would rather spread the blame around to take the focus off of themselves. It makes me think of times when I've confronted my children with some transgression. Instead of focusing on what they did, the first impulse is often to blame the sibling. "Yes, but he told me to do it!" or "yes, but he did it too!" I've tried to respond well by saying something like; "Right now I don't care what your brother did, I want you to think about what you did."

We can only control our own actions, and ultimately, we are responsible for the bad and the good that come out of them. We have to resist crying out the "unfair" buzzword (see verse 25) and take responsibility for ourselves. We also are encouraged to allow others to change. We can't keep remembering the transgressions of the past and not allowing people to grow. God is the ultimate judge who wants all people to "turn and live."

Psalm 25 encourages an amazing and humble attitude for change. The psalmist petitions God to save him from shame, leaves any retribution to God (v 3), and then humbly focuses on an attitude of learning that occupies the rest of the Psalm. It's amazing. I wonder what could happen for groups of people if we took responsibility for our own actions with an attitude like this. It perhaps doesn't address big problems, but it does give each individual a place to start in any situation.

Phillipians also pushes this humble attitude, encouraging us to imitate Christ who "emptied himself, taking the form of a slave...) This is amazing, a mandate to put aside selfish interest to serve others.  This, however, can easily be misinterpreted and turn Christians into doormats, people so humble and self-effacing that they get walked on.  That's not what is offered here. Jesus was no doormat. In fact, he could be downright blunt in addressing injustice where he saw it. He often spoke out publicly against the powerful leaders who thought too much of themselves. Those who could change their ways were included even among his disciples! (Think of Matthew-who traditionally is thought to have been a tax collector, yet he is also traditionally thought of as the author of the gospel that emphasizes the gospel and ethics, faith and morality.)

In the Matthew story, Jesus certainly doesn't lay down for others to wipe their feet on him. He challenges the scribes and pharisees to treat him with the same respect he would show them. When they do not, he refuses to answer their question. Definitely not a doormat, and yet definitely open to change. The next parable has the story of the son who at first refused to work for his father, then later changed his mind and did what was asked. This son is proclaimed as faithful! Change, although it does not always happen, is possible!

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