Every now and again, someone in the Sacrament of Confession will mention a sin, and comment, “I know it’s wrong, but no one is hurt except me.”
In yesterday’s first reading we heard the first part of the story of King Ahab and Queen Jezebel conspiring to dispossess Naboth the Jezreelite of his vineyard in Jezreel located next to the palace of the King. It is a tale of Shakespearean intrigue, malice, and evil doing. And now for the rest of the story.
In today’s first reading, King Ahab is about to experience the warning from the prophet Hosea: “When they sow the wind, they will reap the whirlwind.” (Hosea 8:7) The warning uses an illustration gleaned from the agricultural process of sowing and reaping. A farmer would sow seed. Of course, the type of seed he planted determined the type of plant that would grow and be harvested. In Hosea 8:7, God says that Israel had planted wind, taking the “wind” to mean something worthless and foolish (see Job 7:7; Proverbs 11:29; and Ecclesiastes 1:14, 17). Hosea is speaking of Israel’s idolatry, warning that their foolish pursuit of false gods would reap a severe judgment from the Lord, a veritable storm of consequence. The farmer may plant one kernel of corn, but he will reap much more than that—a whole ear. In the same way, Israel’s sin of idolatry would bring forth an amplified consequence that would sweep them all away in a “whirlwind” of judgment: “The stalk of grain that forms no head can yield no flour; Even if it could, strangers would swallow it.” So, the crop yields nothing. Their idolatry will lead to ruin.
The prophet Elijah pronounced the whirlwind upon Ahab and upon his whole family. “Because you have given yourself up to doing evil in the LORD’s sight, I am bringing evil upon you: I will destroy you and will cut off every male in Ahab’s line, whether slave or freeman, in Israel…because of how you have provoked me by leading Israel into sin.”
Jesus is clear that the man born blind was not due to the sins of the parents, but this refers to the unintended consequence that one sin can carry into the generations that follow. Consider this case: a parent has a successful business career and has accumulated wealth, savings and a very comfortable lifestyle. The spouse and the children lead a privileged life until the day the one parent is convicted of massive fraud ala Bernie Madoff. The courts imprison the parent, all the ill gotten gains are taken from the family and suddenly they are living on the charity of what friends remain, the kids are in public school with no secure college fund, and they are taunted as children of the most horrible of people, a known thief and rogue. The sin belongs to the parent. The children reap the whirlwind.
“The LORD, the LORD, a God gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in love and fidelity, continuing his love for a thousand generations, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion, and sin; yet not declaring the guilty guiltless, but bringing punishment for their parents’ wickedness on children and children’s children to the third and fourth generation!” (Ex 34:6-7; see also Nb 14:48 or Dt 5:9)
Perhaps the parent confesses and receives forgiveness from God and the victims, but the whirlwind has been let loose. There are no victimless sins.