Ezechiel 18:1-9 / Matthew 15:21-28
It would seem obvious that the experiences and actions of a previous generation should have significant impact on the generation, indeed the generations to come. This is not to suggest that the younger generation can do nothing new, cannot contribute in any way to what it has received, or even improve upon it. Even so, it seems a basic fact of life that the impact of the past is often greater and more lasting than the generation which acted, or refrained from acting, in the first place, for good or for ill. We need only consider, on the one hand, patriotic holidays as celebrations of indebtedness to the past, and on the other hand to our present environmental problems as an unwelcome inheritance. It would appear, then, that the fathers have eaten sour grapes and the teeth of the children are set on edge.
Yet, God tells us through the prophet Ezechiel that, at least in the spiritual life, this is not so. While one generation must pass on God's holy Law, or in Christ the Church, her Scriptures, and her sacraments, God assures us that each and every generation, indeed each and every person, is held accountable for his own actions. The virtuous, whatever the vices of their parents, are rewarded, while the wicked, whatever the virtues of their lineage, will receive their due reward as well.
We might imagine that this claim should be obvious, that God would of course not hold our father sins against us. However, the force of this prophetic utterance is rather in the other direction, namely, that righteousness in one's own life and justice for the poor must be lived, and lived to the full, in each and every person's life, in every generation. We cannot appeal to the greatness of the saints of old and of their merits, trumpeting the great good of the Church, unless we, here and now, each and every one of us keeps free from false worship, is faithful and chaste in our marriage, deals fairly with those in our debt, never submits others to violence or coercion, feeds and clothes the hungry and naked, does not take financial advantage of those who are poor, and has upheld only what is true in all public and legal dealings. There are not optional features of our lives. Rather, they constitute the core of what a life made new in God's grace must look like. Whatever else more there may be in our life with God, these cannot be absent without peril to the truth of our very selves, the truth of a life made new in the waters of baptism and by the power of the Holy Spirit, the life we mean to embrace again in our discipline of Lent.