Scripture for the Day: Zechariah 1:1-6
In the eighth month, in the second year of Darius, the word of the Lord came to the prophet Zechariah son of Berechiah son of Iddo, saying: 2The Lord was very angry with your ancestors. 3Therefore say to them, Thus says the Lord of hosts: Return to me, says the Lord of hosts, and I will return to you, says the Lord of hosts. 4Do not be like your ancestors, to whom the former prophets proclaimed, ‘Thus says the Lord of hosts, Return from your evil ways and from your evil deeds.’ But they did not hear or heed me, says the Lord. 5Your ancestors, where are they? And the prophets, do they live for ever? 6But my words and my statutes, which I commanded my servants the prophets, did they not overtake your ancestors? So they repented and said, ‘The Lord of hosts has dealt with us according to our ways and deeds, just as he planned to do.’
The Lord was very angry with your ancestors. The Lord was very angry at my ancestors?
Do not be like your ancestors. Do not be like my ancestors?
Wow. If I read this passage from Zechariah as if it’s all about me, personally, I’m offended. How dare you tell me not to be like my mother and grandmother and father and uncle, who fought to integrate churches and schools and communities and lift up marginalized communities in a time in the South when it was even more dangerous for a white person to do so than now?
While we’re at it, if this passage is all about me, why do I need to repent from the sins of my ancestors? Yeah, there were people in my extended family who resisted the gospel my closest relatives were preaching. But why do I need to repent from that? I didn’t do those things.
But, as much as I would like for everything to be about me, it’s not.
This passage is about a particular context with particular people in a particular time and place. The prophet Zechariah is fulfilling his role to call people’s attention to future consequences of past and present action. He is also fulfilling the prophetic role to set people’s sight on a future that God is working on, and in which they have a role.
Here, Zechariah is calling the people’s attention to God’s desires as they go forth to rebuild the Temple. He is calling the people not to repeat their ancestors’ sin. He is calling the people to remember and follow God’s words and statutes. He is calling the people to rebuild a Temple that will not look like the old one at all, but whose splendor will far outweigh the old one, not necessarily in looks but in spiritual depth. He is calling the people to build a new dwelling-place for God within themselves so that when they rebuild the new structure, it is filled with people who follow God’s law, people in whom God dwells.
Zechariah is calling people’s attention to the sin of their ancestors, not because the present generation is actively repeating those mistakes, but perhaps because the present generation is just as susceptible to falling into the same sin. Perhaps because the present generation is not aware of just how susceptible they are.
Yes, some my ancestors fought to bring their church congregation, their friends, and their communities out of the sin of segregation. Some of them even had to repent from their own sin of racism before becoming anti-racist. I am in the generation after my ancestors of the 1940s and 50s. I am part of the first generation of my family that by and large (not all, but many) never wanted anything to do with racial inequity to begin with.
But again, it’s not about me.
It’s not about you (2nd person singular), either.
It’s about us.
It’s not about an individual. It’s about generations of people, the people of the past, the now, and the not yet. God knows that we are susceptible to falling back into the sin of previous generations. We still have to choose actively, every day, to turn against the sins of our ancestors. We still are susceptible to the same temptations of using power and privilege to the disadvantage of others. We still must teach God’s word and God’s law to the generations to come.
Sometimes, what we romanticize about the metaphorical temples of the past is not what God envisions for our future. When what we remember as prosperity for us may have created adversity for others. We have all participated in something that perpetuates injustice. We have all refused, at one time or another, to participate in the building of justice.
And now, something is once again dismantling the metaphorical temples of the past. And in the midst of it all, God is reminding us to keep turning away from the sins of our ancestors.
As we sift through the rubble of the dismantled temples of our past, may we see a future in which God is building a dwelling-place within each of us, within our generations, within our communities, and within our world. May we build that dwelling-place together, with God, and one day see the completion of God’s peaceable realm on earth.