Shifting the blame – Saturday, 19th week in ordinary time – Ezekiel 18:1-10,13b,30-32
Shifting the blame to someone one else is an age of trick in the survival guide book of our life. We were taught this by our very parents when we were toddlers. Bang into a table when learning to find your feet and the family rushes into to hit an inanimate object. The better lesson would be to tell the child to learn to be careful while they walked rather than shift the blame to something that has no control of any situation.
“The parents have eaten sour grapes and the children’s teeth are set on edge.” This was one of those popular saying in Ezekiel’s time that allowed the blame to be shifted. It began to find resonance and acceptance once again in the voices of the exiles in Babylon. We don’t know the exact source of this proverb, although Jeremiah also quotes it (Jeremiah 31:29) but the message was clear; ‘why punish us when our parents have brought us into the mess we find ourselves. If a finger could be pointed, it needed to pointed into the past.
The exiles in Babylonia were convinced that it wasn’t their fault: they were paying the price for the crimes of past generations. In other words, they believed themselves to be innocent and their treatment at Yahweh’s hands to be unjust. This neat saying about sour grapes absolved Ezekiel’s contemporaries from any responsibility for their current situation.
But if you are honest with yourself, this proverb has some truth in it. Children do suffer for the ‘mistakes’ (or call it sins if you wish) of their parents. The children of dysfunctional parents are more likely to suffer dysfunction than their peers from more functional families. However, we also see exceptions to this rule. People from dysfunctional families often rise above their circumstances to lead normal lives. Also, some people from good families rebel against their upbringing and lead dysfunctional lives. The conclusion is rather clear; a great deal depends on the individual’s choices and this is the point that Yahweh makes. So, God cuts them short. “As I live,” says God, you won’t be reciting this proverb anymore (18:3).
Ezekiel refutes the deadly proverb with logic that sounds harsh, but in fact holds out life-giving grace. This text from Ezekiel emphasises a personal choice; accountability for the individual’s sins rather than the sins of the parents. It emphasises Yahweh’s fairness, and says that Yahweh will judge people according to their ways, not their parents’ ways (v. 30a). It promises that repentance can save a person from ruin (v. 30b).
This is an important point. If people believe that they are going to be punished for the sins of their parents, that belief robs them of hope. It tells them that they are doomed, regardless of anything that they might do. It tells them that they have no way of escape. Even more importantly, it tells them that God is unfair and is, in some sense, their enemy.