Do not be like your ancestors, to whom the earlier prophets proclaimed: This is what the Lord Almighty says: ‘Turn from your evil ways and your evil practices.’ But they would not listen or pay attention to me, declares the Lord. Where are your ancestors now? And the prophets, do they live forever? But did not my words and my decrees, which I commanded my servants the prophets, overtake your ancestors? “Then they repented and said, ‘The Lord Almighty has done to us what our ways and practices deserve, just as he determined to do.’”

Zechariah 1:4-6

Woe to you, because you build tombs for the prophets, and it was your ancestors who killed them. So you testify that you approve of what your ancestors did; they killed the prophets, and you build their tombs. Because of this, God in his wisdom said, ‘I will send them prophets and apostles, some of whom they will kill and others they will persecute.’ Therefore this generation will be held responsible for the blood of all the prophets that has been shed since the beginning of the world, from the blood of Abel to the blood of Zechariah, who was killed between the altar and the sanctuary. Yes, I tell you, this generation will be held responsible for it all.

Luke 11:47-51

The Pharisees were hypocrites in many ways, not the least of which was their passionate devotion to restoring the old ways according to scripture while ignoring the role that their own ancestors had in those scriptures. There was an unbroken family line, even through captivity, between the men who put to death the prophets and the men who stood atop the society in Jerusalem in Jesus day. They made no reckoning with that, and after all, only the living can make things right.

We could miss the point of this lesson if we misuse grace. While God’s grace may cover personal sin, it does not repair generational harm. The effect of the death of the prophets was ongoing, and making oneself famous and well-respected by spending money to house their bones did nothing for the people of their tribe who went on living after the prophets were dead.

The question of generational harm is not “what am I personally responsible for?” and “to whom does the bill come due?” but rather, what good needs to be done right now and how can I do the most for the people who need it?

Ethan Kirl