Silence! I kill you – Eleventh Sunday after Trinity 2011

 

The ventriloquist Jeff Dunham is most famous for his character Achmed the Dead Terrorist, the skeleton in the turban whose catchphrase is, “Silence! I kill you!” That phrase and character might serve as an atheist’s caricature of God, especially as he appears in certain parts of the Old Testament. There’s a lot of death-threat in today’s passage from Ezekiel. It’s not all that’s there, to be sure; but nonetheless it is there, and we need to deal with it.

If I say to the wicked, O wicked man, you shall surely die… that wicked man shall die in his iniquity. (Ezek 33:8)

Seeing as all of us, good and bad alike, die eventually, death as such isn’t much of a threat. So we need to look at this a bit harder. Later interpretation would see here a reference to damnation, to eternal punishment, to the second death. That still has a value for us, the idea of dying as God’s enemy rather than in his friendship, the idea of being eternally cut off from all that is good and beautiful and life-giving. That would really be death as punishment. But in the time of Ezekiel that idea of resurrection to judgement had not yet been developed.

The ancients seemed to have made a distinction between death that comes as the culmination of a long, complete and successful life, in which one is gathered to the ancestors, leaving descendants to carry on the name; and untimely death, death through illness or violence, death without burial, death without descendants – death as the final futility. Here is a death that can function as a dreadful punishment. In the context of Ezekiel, it may be that is the future survival of the nation, and of each family in it, that is at stake. In their Babylonian exile, oppressed by the memory of foolishness and guilt that has led to their predicament, the Jews are inclined to give up hope. “Our transgressions and our sins are upon us, and we waste away because of them; how then can we live?” (Ezek 33:10) Their exile, and lack of hope, is perhaps the form of death that their foolish choices have brought on themselves.

It is a given fact in the Bible, that there are certain choices and behaviours that ultimately destroy people and nations. “The wages of sin is death“, as St Paul puts it. That’s not religious threat, simply common sense. Some behaviours are directly a threat to physical well-being. For example, this week’s statistics on the increased incidence of lung cancer, linked to tobacco smoking. Or the relationship between alcohol and road deaths. That’s boringly obvious, until it’s someone you know in the mortuary. But we can think of many types of death or destruction linked to foolish choices. The casual racist comments that provide the support for rioting and murder. The glorification of ultra-thin models that encourages anorexia. The lust that abuses the innocent; the violence that traps those who dabble in crime; the grudges and jealousies that poison congregations and communities. Far from being the impotent scream of a petty tyrant, the warning about deeds that lead to death is absolutely essential to our well-being. It is not a vindictive mocking, rather a warning to turn back, to turn away, before it is too late.

 

Ezekiel is big on responsibility. Everyone is responsible for their own choices and their own destiny. What a really valuable insight that is. I am responsible for myself and my choices. I am not responsible for my background, for my upbringing, for my inheritance. I am not responsible for the circumstances in which I find myself. And it may be that circumstances and background conspire against me, so that my options and choices are very limited. But I still – and here perhaps we see the grace of God – I still have the freedom to take responsibility for myself, to choose for God or against him, in whatever measure I can. It’s very natural to look at backgrounds and circumstances and to make excuses, for ourselves and for others. But unless we will take responsibility, not for what has been wished on us, but for what choices we make in our circumstances, then we remain trapped in our powerlessness.

Ezekiel sees another form of responsibility; the responsibility of the prophet to act as a watchman, to warn the wicked of the inevitable result of foolish choices, so that the wicked have a chance to repent. They may well not do so; but the watchman must fulfil his thankless duty. Anyone who can see the danger has a duty to warn others. If you can’t be a good example, at least be  a dreadful warning. But in what spirit should we give the warning? The story is told of the Scottish atheist, who died and found himself in the lake of fire and brimstone, who cried out to God, “Lord, Lord, we didna ken!” To which the Lord replied, “Well, ye ken the noo!” I told you so. But that is not the spirit of today’s reading, for God says,

I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from his way and live; turn back, turn back from your evil ways; for why will you die, O house of Israel?” (Ezek 33:11)

Somehow, we have find the same passionate love for our neighbours, that will give us the courage and wisdom to act as watchmen, to warn each other away from all that leads to harm and sorrow.

 

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2 Responses to Silence! I kill you – Eleventh Sunday after Trinity 2011

  1. […] Silence! I kill you – Eleventh Sunday after Trinity 2011 (dewildox.wordpress.com) Rate this: Share this good news…LinkedInTwitterFacebookEmailPrintLike this:LikeBe the first to like this post.   […]

  2. Jason says:

    Seriously, great post…All the things I wish I could say in my journal, but I am not a great writer…You are a great writer, keep up the good work…God bless you!

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