Waiting Game: The Reason Luke 13:1-9

malaysia-airlinesWhen we get in over our heads, we should head straight for Jesus.  The crowd asks Jesus about current events, so let’s ask him about the disappearance of the Malaysian Airline.  Jesus, what about these persons who range from age two to seventy six, why did they disappeared?  They were engineers, artists, religious pilgrims, vacationers and commuters; also they were fathers, mothers, children, soul mates and the dearest of friends.  We can’t imagine the good or God’s reason for this tragedy?

In this text, Jesus answers a question about some Galileans Pontius Pilate killed for not turning over the temple treasury funds to support a public works projects. Pilate not only slaughters the insolent offenders, he mingled their blood with animals in a religious sacrifice.  We’re reminded, Jesus knew of Pilate before he stood at his Judgment Seat. This crowd wants to know whether those killed were worse sinners than those who weren’t. They wonder if God punishes according to the measure of our wickedness.”  Jesus says, “No!  Were those eighteen who died when the tower of Siloam fell were worse sinners than others living in Jerusalem?”Businessman Touching Domino Pieces Arranged in a Line

We too easily jump to God punishing sinners after hearing of an atrocity.  Every time a hurricane hits, a mass shooting occurs, or a plane flies off the radar, someone assigns blame.  We’re more reluctant to accept it was a random event, a sick person went on a rampage, or terrorists are evil.  Every tragedy and disaster that happens doesn’t need to be explained by a direct spiritual cause and effect of God punishing sinners.

Neither is it a matter of degrees of sin whether God loves some people more than others.  It doesn’t matter if you’re a Galilean, Jerusalemite, Methodist, Episcopalian or Jewish.  Jesus’ point-It happens.  He says, “God makes the sun to rise on the evil and good and the rain to fall on the just and the unjust alike”.  We must turn off our tit for tat mind that divides things into categories we can easily accept.  The pursuit of rhyme and reason is useless; there’s no explaining or solving some things.

BlameJesus says there’s mystery and that sin has nothing to do with catastrophe. He refuses to connect the bad stuff that happens to God’s punishment or to people who suffer.  This isn’t to say our actions don’t cause stuff to happen.  Blaming victims is useless; they can’t defend themselves.  Blaming God is futile for God isn’t eager to justify such tragedies.  Figuring out whom to blame will make us insane; we won’t get it right.  Bad things that happen are mysterious; often there’s no obvious correlation to our stuff.

Our best example that bad things happen to good people is the person who the crowd asks their question-Jesus. Jesus doesn’t pass the buck when Roman officers arrest him.  He doesn’t assign the blame to other persons when he stood trial.  He makes no claims about the cause and effect of his demise.  He could not change what other people were willing to do in order to sentence him to an unjust death, so he doesn’t utter a mumbling word.

Instead, Jesus deals with this horrific experience with compassion for those who begged for and carried out his execution.  His acceptance of their bloodthirsty ways is heard, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do”, even though they clearly knew what they were doing.  He trusts this irrational experience will be the seedbed of God’s saving work.forgive them

Jesus uses the word repent twice to answer the crowd.  It may seem strange for Jesus to use tragedies as a call for repentance.  However, the stuff that happens to us can be seen as tests that are built into the fabric of our existence.  They’re the places we learn life’s lessons if we accept these test as common to all persons.  These mysteries are the fodder for spiritual growth.  Our repentance involves looking at them as opportunities of growth.  We are called to think differently about God, the way things are, and the way they should be when Jesus says repent or change your mind.  We make sense of the stuff that happens by letting these present tests stir up the growth needed so we can begin to live differently right now.

Repentance isn’t God threatening us but God wanting greater things for us.  He’s asking us to repent of our preoccupation with cause and effect and our incessant need to find meaning in madness by parsing the crime to explain punishment.  That’s not the way the world or God works.  We will find after we repent, we‘re able to use the mystery in our lives as a path that draws us closer to God. Lent is the season of turning around so we might experience a greater joy on Easter morning.

fig-fruitJesus tells a parable of a fig tree that is three years dormant.  The owner of the vineyard is impatient and wants to cut it down because it isn’t producing fruit.  Some interpretations of the parable make God the impatient vineyard owner and Jesus, the gardener. Jesus intercedes for us, the fig tree, to have one more year while he works on us.  God agrees and backs off; we get a reprieve, a one-year suspended sentence according to that version.

Allow me to cut down that interpretation and throw it into the fire.  The impatient vineyard owner is a false God.  If we follow that God, we are no different than the crowd that thought God is looking for ways to zap and punish us. Jesus tells the parable to demonstrate God’s patience and forgiveness.  When the gardener says, Sir, let it alone for one more year, the word for let it alone is the same word in Greek for forgive.  Forgive the tree for being fruitless up until now. Let me work on it, the gardener says.

The parable speaks of God’s deepest desire, which is none should perish but all should come to be at one with God.  It speaks of God doing any and everything possible to get our attention so we live a life that bears fruit and is worth living. The unconditional love of God is good news and does not need the help of preachers filtering it through the screen of judgment aimed at those who tend to wander astray. Good news that places judgment above love conjures up a bipolar God whose mood can’t be trusted.Good News

Children can think they’ll never please parents who apply overdone scrutiny and excessive strictness.  The child is confused when they come to Sunday School and hear Jesus loves the little children.  They are convinced they aren’t on God’s A-list.  Eventually, they give up on God and the church. Sometimes, they wander back to church as adults wondering if it is true what their Sunday School teacher told them. Hopefully, they hear God is more interested in the perfection of love than in the love of perfection.

The show Hoarders is about people whose lives are out of control because they can’t throw things away.  They have little living space, for their houses are full of junk.  The series usually shows how hoarding is often triggered by tragedies and they overcome their tendency to hoard when others help them see their response to their pain is killing them. Gradually, hoarders who repent, let go their stuff, experience the power of a new life.

letting-goThe world is fragile and tomorrow isn’t guaranteed.  Our family, friends, faith and life are precious.  God wants us to know an abundance of joy in all those moments.  So, repent; be born again today; God patiently waits for us to bear fruit.  Let us bind ourselves to one other, helping each other deal with the stuff of our lives.  Let us walk with each; pointing out how the stuff that happens is the stuff that can helps us bear new fruit.  Let us spur one another to turn loose of the stuff that weighs us down, so we may place trust in God who gives each day, despite the stuff it brings. Let us breathe each breath as a gift from God; living our precious and sometimes wild life.

St. Augustine wrote The City of God in the early 400s Christians differ, not in the ills that befall them, but in what they do with the ills that befall them.

May they write the same epitaph about you and I!

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Published in: on March 23, 2014 at 3:36 pm  Leave a Comment  

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