“Son of man, you live in the midst of a rebellious house...” These words to the prophet Ezekiel have probably resonated with many of the faithful throughout the ages. Much in our world is not right. Flouting God’s laws seems all too common, and so is glaring public derision for those who support the truth. We are seeing evidence of Jesus’ promise to us that we would experience the same conflict with the world that he did. There is bound to be a tension between fitting into the world’s system and living faithfully to our Lord. Ezekiel is living in that tension and is asked to provide an object lesson for the people around him, who will watch what he is doing but not be able to grasp its meaning.
I recently watched a performance of “Fiddler on the Roof, Jr.”, which is a shorter version of this musical adapted for young people. My daughter Caroline (age 14) played Tzeitel. (Of course, she was wonderful, but I am a proud papa!) It was a lot of fun to see these youngsters singing and dancing their hearts out in this timeless tale of love, faith, suffering, and – of course -- tradition. The “papa” Tevye has such a wonderful sense of humor in the face of difficulties. Life in Bolshevik Russia was no picnic. Tevye was no rebel – he was faithful – and his faithfulness allowed him to process the suffering and even to read the signs of the times. Although his tradition yielded in some respects, it did so through a process of seeing and perceiving, hearing and listening, and most of all, loving. We could all do with more of this approach to life.
Sometimes rebels are just being naughty for a while, but then they get mugged by reality and come to their senses. We should be grateful that the laws of nature so effectively bring us back to reality when we stray from it. It is no easy process to return to our senses, as it usually involves suffering and difficulty. But that process seems uniquely equipped to lead us to back to God. Redemption comes when we are crying out to Him with gratefulness because we finally see our need for Him and hear His voice calling tenderly for us (as He was doing all the time we were lost, if only we had been able to hear it).
Today’s gospel is a familiar passage that also involves a fellow who does not see or hear very well. He receives a wonderful gift of forgiveness as the king overlooks not only his lack of prudence but also the emptiness of his promise to repay his ginormous debt. But this fellow cannot grasp what has happened and what it means to have forgiveness. Perhaps he just thinks he is clever and really pulled one over on that king. He goes on behaving badly and mistreating other people, refusing to see himself in their shoes. Redemption does not come to him, at least not in this story. It is disappointing to see this kind of ending.
May God open our eyes and ears so that we can perceive not just the reality of our works, but the works of God being done in our midst. The signs of the times are calling us to follow our Lord and to become more like him. It is not an easy thing, but it is not so easy being a rebel, either.