Ezekiel seems to be saying that what goes around comes around. It is karma all over again as Yogi Berra might say. When we engage in evil, we are embracing death. When we do good, we are participating in life. God does not derive pleasure from the sins and death of the wicked, the unjust. God wants the wicked to turn to godly ways and to live life fully. The psalmist reminds us that God is forgiving.
Ezekiel is trying to arouse a sense of individual responsibility for sin. Culturally the focus had been on collective sin and punishment. Many evangelicals and Catholics are deeply imbued with a sense of responsibility for their individual sins. It is the task of the new Ezekiels of today—John Dear, Richard Rohr, Daniel Berrigan—to remind the people of the reality of corporate sin. When we fail to challenge unjust structures, we sin. When we live with unjust structures which support our comfort and security zones, we are complicit in sin.
Jesus ups the ante. We can no longer claim to be just because we do not commit murder. Jesus is telling us that the quality of our relationships with one another is what counts. Relationship—right relationship—is a matter of justice. Sin always has an individual and corporate face.
Anger and name calling is wrong. Does this mean that there is no such thing as justified anger? Hardly. Jesus was angry for the right reasons on many occasions. When he saw the Temple money makers ripping off the least among the people, he took decisive action. When the religious leaders placed undue burdens on the people, Jesus had strong words for them—“brood of vipers.” We call this justified anger.
Our problem is that we can always seem to justify our anger. We can readily deceive ourselves. How do we overcome our propensity to justify our anger? It begins with our prayer life. Contemplative prayer cleanses us and heals us. Thomas Keating, Trappist monk, tells us that the Divine Physician is at work during our prayer (http://www.contemplativeoutreach.org/site/PageServer). If our lives are rooted in the prayer of contemplation, God will purify our motives. The deeper we go into solitude, the more we will grow in our love of God and other people. The more we listen for the voice of God in silence the more we will be prompted to walk humbly and do justice.
Another practice which helps us purify our motives is the Ignatian examen. Before retiring or upon rising, we should review the day and see where we may have missed the mark (http://ignatianspirituality.com/ignatian-prayer/the-examen/).
It is natural to get angry. It is divine to forgive. We must also remember that justified anger, channeled in the appropriate ways, can rectify wrongs. We MUST get angry and speak out against injustices if we are to be true to the Gospel message. To do this effectively, we must be grounded in mindfulness and contemplation.
There is much to speak out about in today’s troubled world. The TEA party is the tail wagging the Republican dog at the present moment. The Taxed Enough Already—“I’ve got mine, you get yours, if you can” attitude—must be challenged. The Catholic concepts of the common good and solidarity urge us to speak up for the “least among us.” When congress people propose budget reductions which cut benefits and services to the “least among us,” we cannot sit in silent complicity. When a government racks up a huge deficit due in large part to funding unjust wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, we must shout from the rooftops. When greed for profit and comfort prompt us to adopt quick-fix, short-term solutions, such as building nuclear power plants or fracking for natural gas, we must protect our Mother. When government leaders approve budgets in which 52% of the appropriations go to defense and wealthy defense contractors (read Prophets of War), we must call them to task. When elected officials demonize undocumented persons and Muslims, we must speak Gospel truth. I go expound further but, by now, you are getting the point.
Gandhi reminds us that our goal is not to make enemies of our opponents when we speak out but rather to make friends. Each person has a piece of the truth—despite the fact that many religious people think they have THE truth. Merton teaches us that we must look to the evil in our own hearts before pointing fingers at others. In dialogue we seek the truth the other person speaks and we speak our truth. This requires humility. This requires contemplative practice. Then and only then can we can bring our gifts to the altar.