Complete My Joy, or Diffuse My Guilt?
Most families aim to be happy. While we may argue and accuse, take offense, assign blame, and carry grudges, our deeper goal is to celebrate that “complete joy” Saint Paul talks about. Our sovereign need to be personally right and to affix fault to others, however, is a serious obstacle to comprehensive happiness. Whose fault is it, anyway, and how does the assignment of blame help a situation along to final resolution?
Blame is a hot potato. From the moment it shows up, it has to be set down somewhere—preferably, in someone else’s hands. In the world of the Bible, blame is often seen as a corporate rather than individual responsibility. If one member of a family breaks the law, everyone shares the consequences. The sins of the parents really do become the legacy of their children. So too with tribal offenses; or later, national ones. It doesn’t matter who poisoned the pot if we all ate from it and are now sickened. The real question is: Who’s got the cure? Inevitably the answer is God, which means making things right with God is more immediately vital than ascertaining the offender. There’ll be time for that later—should the community survive the sickness.
The prophecy of Ezekiel is intended to address the matter of fault. His generation lives in exile because someone screwed up: kings or priests, the past generation or the present. Since everyone’s hauled off to Babylon, the solution to the trouble is more critical than the source. Ezekiel’s argument is that the nation isn’t suffering from some epic corporate crime, but actually a multitude of tiny offenses. We each bought our own ticket to Babylon, he suggests. And the way out is as individual as the way in.
Jesus examines the nature of personal accountability in the story of sons responding to their father’s command. One son gets the ritual of obedience right in saying yes. But the answer he delivers to his father is still wrong, since he has no intention of following through. The second son gets the ritual dead wrong with his no. But as he fulfills his father’s command, we’re forced to recognize that this son is truly obedient.
Which brings us back to our quarrelsome families, our divided nation, our fractured church, or our shattered global community, as you prefer. Which is the more vital task: to bury all opponents in the assignment of unassailable blame, or to seek the healing, peace, and reconciliation we all desperately require? One thing is sure. Our joy will not be complete until it is COMPLETE—that is, until everyone gets a share in it and has a reason to be happy. Alice Camille-Religious educator, scripture commentator, and author of many books including This Transforming Word and other titles found at alicecamille.com.