The Third Sunday in Lent; Year C (3/7/2010)
When Terrible Things Happen
Lessons: Isaiah 55:1-9 Psalm 63:1-8 (1) 1 Corinthians 10:1-13 St. Luke 13:1-9
Prayer of the Day Eternal God, your kingdom has broken into our troubled world through the life, death, and resurrection of your Son. Help us to hear your word and obey it, and bring your saving love to fruition in our lives, through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.
13.1 At that very time there were some present who told him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. 2 He asked them, “Do you think that because these Galileans suffered in this way they were worse sinners than all other Galileans? 3 No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all perish as they did. 4 Or those eighteen who were killed when the tower of Siloam fell on them—do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others living in Jerusalem? 5 No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all perish just as they did.” 6 Then he told this parable: “A man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard; and he came looking for fruit on it and found none. 7 So he said to the gardener, ‘See here! For three years I have come looking for fruit on this fig tree, and still I find none. Cut it down! Why should it be wasting the soil?’ 8 He replied, ‘Sir, let it alone for one more year, until I dig around it and put manure on it. 9 If it bears fruit next year, well and good; but if not, you can cut it down.’ ”
St. Luke 13:1-9 New Revised Version Bible (C)1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America.
Jesus had been teaching about the end of time. He said that it would come quickly. He said that it would be very obvious when it arrived. He told them that only those who were faithful would be saved. His listeners responded with a natural question. They had heard a report about a terrible incident. Some Galileans had been worshipping, when Roman soldiers broke into their ceremony, killed those who were participating, and let their blood mix with the blood of the sacrifices. It was a horrible story that brought up some difficult theological questions: “Is this the kind of end Jesus was describing? Did those Galileans die so violently, because they were terrible sinners? Was there an element of justice in what happened to them?” They brought that question to Jesus, the traveling Rabbi, hoping that his wise answers would calm their anxiety.
Jesus refused to play their game. They wanted answers to these troubling questions, but he wasn’t about to be their answer man. Instead, Jesus did a remarkable thing. He ignored the anxiety they had (as a matter of fact, he tried to make it worse, by reminding them of another disaster: when eighteen people in Siloam died after a tower fell upon them.) Instead of helping them better understand these events, he used them as an occasion to speak of the fragility of life and the importance of repentance. He said that if they weren’t right with God when the end of their lives came, they too would perish, just like those Galileans who were killed by Pilot’s soldiers.
Why would Jesus be so callous? Jesus’ listeners were looking for answers. They were interested in right belief and correct understanding. In and of itself, that is a lofty desire. But even though that was an important concept, it wasn’t the most important matter, and Jesus knew it. The most important matter has to do with faith and salvation and one’s relationship with God. Anything else is at best secondary.
Jesus’ listeners had become distracted with a secondary issue: the issue of pain and suffering and the difficulty of living in this world. It is an important issue – but Jesus was among them to help them be drawn to the most important issue: their relationship with God.
That relationship can’t be right unless we live a life of humility and repentance; unless we realize how deep our need for God truly is. Jesus reminded them of that, saying: unless you repent, (unless you first deal with your relationship to God) you will all perish as they did. And with that, he put all the conversation about natural disasters and evil human behavior to rest.
We can hardly read this text today, and not think of our friends in Haiti and Chile. There are those who imagine they can find meaning in these kinds of events. They propose that when disaster strikes, God is at work, repaying humans for their sins, or setting up some sequence of events that will make happen what God wants to have happen. Nothing could be farther from the truth, and nothing could be farther from how Jesus reflected on these same kinds of events. God does not cause earthquakes and tsunamis in order to get our attention. But when these disasters strike, we are reminded of how fragile and precious human life is, and we are encouraged to pay attention to our relationship with God, on the off chance that our own personal death is not far off.
There may be times when you and I want answers in the worst way. And we may be tempted to believe that the Christian faith is all about finding the right answers to our most urgent questions. But the truth is, our God is not a God who supplies us with a long list of answered questions. God is, instead, one who urgently wants to have a whole relationship with us; one who is wiling to accompany us as we faithfully and thoughtfully work towards some of the answers we seek.
David J. Risendal, Pastor
Exploring This Week’s Gospel:
- What does it seem those first Century people thought about good and bad fortune?
- How does Jesus redefine the question or his followers?
- What does the “Fig Tree Parable” have to do with the question about bad things happening?
Connecting with This Week’s Gospel:
- What has happened to me, that has caused me to wonder whether or not God was behind it?
- What does repentance man to me?