Last night I went to a play at the LivingRoom Theatre in downtown KCMO. A small theatre with seating on three sides of the stage; like its name, it is like doing a play in your living
room. The setting is uniquely capable of small, challenging plays that depend heavily on characters and dialogue and much less on sets or props. The play “Justice in the Embers,” is the after story of a fire in Kansas City in 1988 that killed six firefighters. The play raises compelling questions about the subsequent “justice” that may or may not have been done on behalf of the firefighters and the public.
Today’s lesson from Ezekiel wonders about the wicked and the righteous. The prophet points out that the wicked person who turns from his or her wicked ways and seeks righteousness in the decisions, choices, and actions of their lives will live. Conversely and disconcertingly, Ezekiel declares that the righteous person who turns from his or her righteous ways and instead decides to do wickedness will die. In the first instance, none of the wickedness or transgressions done in the past will be remembered once they have turned from their wickedness ( metanoia ). Likewise, the righteous cannot bank their righteous behavior from the past and some how offset present iniquity and wickedness. “Who am I now? How do I choose to act now?” are the essential challenges of our existential present in relationship to God.
Jesus in today’s lesson from Matthew does not mince words, “I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” This calling to follow God is a high calling and one that demands a high commitment to righteousness in every moment. Moreover, it offers the opportunity to recognize our transgressions and turn our hearts back to God. God’s promise in Ezekiel and in Jesus is that the sinner who turns back to God will be received with grace, mercy, and love. The righteous one who turns away from God, plunges into that world of gnashing and grinding teeth (until, of course, he or she finds the courage to turn back).
The play, “Justice in the Embers” wants us to consider the nature of righteousness as expressed by the societal systems representing us. However noble our national experiment in democracy and justice may be, however filled our history may be with examples of just action and egalitarian intent, however exceptional we may believe ourselves to be, we must be willing to sometimes turn our hearts from the pathways of error and work to restore justice and dignity in the gate for those injured or harmed by past societal injustice or oppression. Only justice in the present moment, not the historic past (which may be suspect too), is the measure of righteousness of our society. Sometimes we must be willing to turn and repent of the cultural injustices that masquerade as justice.
Day 9 Lectionary: http://www.lectionarypage.net/WeekdaysOfLent/FridayFirstWeek.html