Formations 07.18.2021: Owning Up

Zechariah 5

As an only child, I’ll readily admit that there are some aspects of growing up that I missed out on. Some of these things I count as plusses and others I count as minuses.

For example, whenever somebody did something naughty at home, my parents never had to wonder which of their children to blame. It was always me. Who unrolled the toilet paper roll? Who scribbled with magic markers on the wall? Who left all these toys in the living room? All me.

Related to this, there was never anyone with whom to compare punishments. No brother to implicate as a co-conspirator. No sister who got off easier last week for a similar offense. What about them? They did it, too!

Are these things in the minus column? They certainly felt like it at the time. Now that I’m an adult, I can see how they may actually have been a plus. Though finger-pointing and whataboutism are universal human temptations, there were at least some areas of life where I was thwarted in this tactic.

In short, I learned early on that, at least some of the time, I was going to have to own up to my mistakes, that there is no “they” on which to deflect blame. Of course, “they” should never serve as a yardstick for “my” behavior in the first place.

As we come to Zechariah 5, we read two additional visions the prophet was given. In contrast to the ones we’ve studied previously, these visions point out the moral failings of God’s people. In the vision of the scroll, they are guilty of theft and swearing falsely, for which they may be “cut off” (v. 3). In the vision of the basket, the wickedness of the people is collected in a basket and dispatched to “Babylonia” (v. 11), the place of idolatry and judgment.

Mind you, we’re talking about God’s chosen people, recently restored from exile. They’ve been back in their promised homeland for less than twenty years at this point and were still busy getting their lives back together. Surely they deserve a little bit of slack, don’t they? And what about the Babylonians? They were a lot worse than the Jews!

It’s a harsh lesson, but the fact that we have had it rough in the past is no excuse for bad behavior. Through these visions, God essentially says, “Forget about the Babylonians. You’ve got your own issues to deal with.”

Just because the Jews’ exile is long over doesn’t mean they are beyond criticism. God still cares about their ethics. Are they stealing from each other? Are they defrauding one another? Are they mired in other kinds of wrongdoing? These things need to stop, God says. And they need to stop now.

Discussion

• What lessons about personal responsibility did you learn as a child?
• How have these lessons shaped your sense of morality or ethics today?
• What sinful behaviors continue to beset us, both personally and collectively?
• What would it mean for God to “cut off” those who engage in such things?
• What would it mean for God to remove those things from our lives?

Darrell Pursiful is the editor of Formations. He is an adjunct professor at Mercer University and an active member of the First Baptist Church of Christ in Macon, Georgia.

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