Our first reading today comes from the middle of Chapter 18 in the Book of the Prophet Ezekiel. It tells us that if the wicked man turns from his evil he can be saved, while if a just man should change to indulging in evil, he will not be save.
That Chapter 18 opens with the same teaching, but put figuratively. The Lord was criticizing the people for repeating a saying to which he strongly objected. The saying was, “Fathers have eaten green grapes that have set their children’s teeth set on edge.”
When you were a kid, if you ever helped yourself to a neighbor’s grapes, only to find them so sour that it set you teeth on edge. These many years later, when you hear that old saying, your teeth can remember how the bitterness set them grinding.
What that saying meant to them in Old Testament times was that children share in the guilt of their parents. Chapter Twenty of Exodus backed up that interpretation where it said, “I, the Lord, your God am a jealous God, inflicting punishment for their fathers’ wickedness on the children of those who hate me, down to the third and fourth generation.”
How can the Bible change what it says? In Exodus it says children, even grand children and further will; be punished for the sins of their parents?
For one thing, the Book of Exodus seems to have incorporated some laws and sayings from contemporal law codes without binding us to see hem as coming from God.
Then Paragraph 15 of Vatican Two’s Constitution on Revelation says some passages in the Old Testament were “imperfect and provisional.” It gave rules that were supposed to hold only until the right thing came along, which it did with Ezekiel.