The charge occurs again in the reading from today’s Mass (Thursday of the 19th Week of the Year):
The word of the LORD came to me:
Son of man, you live in the midst of a rebellious house;
they have eyes to see but do not see,
and ears to hear but do not hear,
for they are a rebellious house (Ezekiel 12:1-2).
Yes, God repeats that we tend to be stubborn, prideful, and difficult to correct. And when reproved we often harden our hearts and become resentful.
God notes elsewhere (in love),
I know that you are obstinate, and your neck is an iron sinew and your forehead brass (Is 48:4).
This is another way of saying, “I know that you are stubborn. You are hardheaded, as though your head were made of iron. Nothing gets through your thick skull, as if it were made of bronze.”
Yes, we certainly are difficult! God calls us sheep, but in some ways we are more like cats; our Shepherd, Jesus, has the unenviable task of herding cats!
For some of us, this tendency to be stiff-necked is gradually softened by the power of grace, the medicine of the sacraments, instruction through God’s Word, and the humility that can come from these.
For others, though, the stubbornness never abates, even growing stronger as a descent into pride and hard-heartedness sets up. The deeper the descent, the more obnoxious the truth becomes. The likelihood of conversion decreases; resistance to the truth becomes hostility towards it.
God tells Ezekiel that we (collectively speaking) are rebellious. The word “rebellious” comes from the Latin re- (again)+ bellare (to wage war). In other words, God says that we again and again resort to fighting against Him. So easily do we resist Him and even wage war against the truth!
God is talking about all of us. Even though not every individual exhibits this tendency to the same extent, we all have it to some degree.
St. Paul describes this tendency using the phrase “the mystery of iniquity” (2 Thess 2:7). The Greek word here translated as “iniquity” is ἀνομία (anomia) and literally means “without law.” So, this description speaks of an attitude of living in lawlessness, of having utter disregard for God’s law.
While it is clear that it is rooted in Original Sin, there remains a mysterious aspect of this stiff-necked rebelliousness: Why are some people more this way more than others? Why do some harden their hearts more and more while others find the path of humility?
Being stiff-necked, stubborn, impenitent, and hard-hearted is deadly. If it is not repented of, it is a path straight to destruction, to Hell. One must submit to God in order to be saved.
Recall this short text from Proverbs that illustrates the problem:
He who is often reproved, yet stiffens his neck, will suddenly be broken beyond healing (Prov 29:1).
Here, then, is a matter to consider as we look to our moral condition. Am I rebellious? If so, how? Am I teachable, or do I resist and scoff?
Help me, Lord, for you are clear that being rebellious, stubborn, and stiff-necked is a serious problem. Keep me teachable, Lord, and order my steps in your Word!