Week of Proper 14: Saturday, Year 2   3 comments

Above:   The Favorite, by Georgios Jakobides 

The Sins of the Fathers

AUGUST 13, 2022


Holy Women, Holy Men:  Celebrating the Saints (2010), of The Episcopal Church, contains an adapted two-years weekday lectionary for the Epiphany and Ordinary Time seasons from the Anglican Church of Canada.  I invite you to follow it with me.


Ezekiel 18:1-13, 30-32 (TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures):

The word of the LORD came to me:

What do you mean by quoting this proverb upon the soil of Israel:  “Parents eat sour grapes and their children’s teeth is blunded”?  As I live

–declares the Lord GOD–

this proverb shall no longer be current among you in Israel.  Consider, all lives are Mine; the life of the parent and the life of the child are both Mine.  The person who sins, only he shall die.

Thus, if a man is righteous and does what is just and right:  If he has not eaten on the mountains or raised his eyes to the fetishes of the House of Israel; if he nost defiled another man’s wife or approached a menstrous woman; if he has not wronged anyone; if he has returned the debtor’s pledge to him and has taken nothing by robbery; if he has given bread to the hungry and clothed the naked; if has not lent at advance interest or exacted accrued interest; if he has abstained from wrongdoing and executed true justice between man and man; if he has followed My ways and kept My rules and acted honestly–he is righteous.  Such a man shall live

–declares the Lord GOD.

Suppose, now that he has begotten a son who is a ruffian, a shedder of blood, who does any of these things, whereas he himself did none of these things.  That is, [the son] has eaten on the mountains, has defiled another man’s wife, has wronged the poor and the needy, has taken by robbery, has not returned a pledge, has raised his eyes to the fetishes, has committed abomination, has lent at advance interest, or exacted accrued interest–shall he live?  He shall not live!  If he has committed any of these abominations, he shall die; he has forfeited his life.

Be assured, O House of Israel, I will judge each one of you according to his ways

–declares the Lord GOD.

Repent and turn back from your transgressions; let them not be a stumbling block of guilt for you.  Cast away all the transgressions by which you have offended, and get yourselves a new heart and a new spirit, that you may not die, O House of Israel.  For it is not My desire that anyone should die

–declares the Lord GOD.

Repent, therefore, and live!

Psalm 51:11-18 (1979 Book of Common Prayer):

11 Create in me a clean heart, O God,

and renew a right spirit within me.

12 Cast me not away from your presence

and take not your holy Spirit from me.

13 Give me the joy of your saving help again

and sustain me with your bountiful Spirit.

14 I shall teach your ways to the wicked,

and sinners shall return to you.

15 Deliver me from death, O God,

and my tongue shall sing of your righteousness,

O God of my salvation.

16 Open my lips, O Lord,

and my mouth shall proclaim your praise.

17  Had you desired it, I would have offered sacrifice,

but you take no pleasure in burnt-offerings.

18  The sacrifice of God is a troubled spirit;

a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.

Matthew 19:13-15 (J. B. Phillips, 1972):

Then some little children were brought to him, so that he could put his hands on them and pray for them.  The disciples strongly disapproved of this but Jesus said,

You must let little children come to me, and you must never stop them.  The kingdom of Heaven belongs to little children like these!

Then he laid his hands on them and walked away.


The Collect:

Grant to us, Lord, we pray, the spirit to think and do always those things that are right, that we, who cannot exist without you, may by you be enabled to live according to your will; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.


Some Related Posts:






You shall not bow down to them [idols] or serve them.  For I the LORD your God am an impassioned God, visiting the guilt of the parents upon the children, upon the third and fourth generation of those who reject Me, but showing kindness to the thousandth generation of those who love Me and keep My commandments.

–Exodus 20:5-6 (TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures)


Now suppose that he, in turn, has begotten a sun who has seen all the sins that his father committed, but has taken heed and has not imitated them….he shall not die for the iniquity of his father, but shall live.

–Ezekiel 18:14, 17c (TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures)

Do these passages contradict each other?  That is the matter I will explore in this post.  I know that the Bible contradicts itself in places, so I am prepared to accept the possibility of another contradiction.  Yet I seek to avoid mistaking a seeming contradiction for an actual one.

We begin with Exodus 20:5, a passage which a note in The Jewish Study Bible brings to my attention.  The relevant note for the Exodus passage states that this “punishment” of descendants is intended as a deterrent to , and punishment of “the sinful ancestors,” “not a transfer of guilt  to the descendants in their own right.”  (page 149)  This is still hard to swallow; would a just God punish a mere mortal for something for which he or she is not guilty?  “Ezekiel” agrees with my point.  The people of his generation suffered, he said, the consequences of their actions, not those of the deeds of their parents, grandparents, etc.  So repentance had real meaning for the living, hence the invitation to repent in Ezekiel 18:32.

What, then, are we to make of Exodus 20:5-6?  Do we misunderstand it on its face?  We might.  It is a proven fact that there are patterns–including destructive ones–in families.  Many children of alcoholics become alcoholics themselves, many children of abusive parents grow up and abuse their children, and many other negative behaviors cross generational lines.  We learn what we live, do we not?  Perhaps this is what the author of Exodus 20:5-6 (Let us call him “Moses” for the sake of convenience.) tried to convey.  Maybe he lacked our psychological understanding, and therefore perceived God as playing a part in that reality.

As an Anglican/Episcopalian, I understand that I need to consider scripture in the context of tradition and reason, tradition through the lenses of scripture and reason, and reason in the light of scripture and tradition.  And, as I once heard a Lutheran minister say, I need to read the rest of the Bible through the lenses of the four Gospels–through my Gospel glasses.  So I have no theological difficulty considering human psychology to be a factor useful in interpreting scripture or the words attributed to Jesus when pondering a passage from elsewhere in the Bible.  And Jesus did not hesitate to treat each person according to his or her potential–without regard to what his mother or father had done–or even to what that person had done years ago.  An impetuous fisherman became the “rock” and chief Apostle.  Some of those who exploited their fellow countrymen in service to the occupying Roman Empire changed their ways and followed our Lord.  And, perhaps most scandalously, Jesus said that certain prostitutes would enter Heaven before some respected religious leaders.

Yes, the attitudes and ensuing actions of others shape us, but so do other factors.  And we are ultimately responsible for our won actions and decisions.  Granddad might have set something positive or negative in action, and we might still feel its influence, but this fact does not deprive us of our moral agency.



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