March 25, 2019
Scripture Luke 13:1-5
“He asked them, “Do you think that because these Galileans suffered in this way they were worse sinners than all other Galileans? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all perish as they did.”
Luke 13:2-3 NRSV
In this unique portion of scripture in the Gospel of Luke, Jesus touches on the fate of all human beings and describes the presence of evil and violence in the world. In addition, the telling of the tragedies reminded the crowd of the well-accepted belief among the Jewish faithful that those who sin deserve punishment while the sinless should remain untouched. However, Jesus rather pointedly demonstrates that this is not our experience. Jesus is stating that God is present among the sinful along with those with less sin. The difficulty is that the less sinful met unavoidable tragedy in this passage, and they did not deserve what happened to them. Indeed, human beings have free choice, that is, the ability to choose what we do, where we go, and who goes with us. But, Jesus clearly states that in failing to repent, we are not prepared for the unexpected, especially our own death!
Jesus rapidly points out that relatively sinless people encountered tragedy at the temple during the ritual of the sacrifice. They did not deserve the injury that came to them or the resulting sacrilege. Likewise, the tower that fell on workers and passersby seemed random. In fact, Jesus states that God was not directly punishing the innocent who were caught up in that incident. Many more sinful people in Jerusalem were not affected at all!
So, what follows for us is a bit of a debate on the presence, or absence, of God in natural and unnatural disasters. Before and after these verses, Jesus describes God as present and all-knowing. Jesus points out that none of us can predict the time or place of death, with or without a tragic cause. Because of that inescapable fact, Jesus tells those around him to repent. That is, give up sinning intentionally, as in purposefully inflicting harm on others. It is like the motto of scouting: “Be prepared!”
This scripture describes what Christ commands. It is exactly what God calls us to do.