Jesus 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
Have you ever thought about how nice it would be if Jesus just told us what to think about what is happening in our world today? Wouldn’t it be nice to hear, directly from him, what he thinks about the current events that are so much on our minds?
There are a lot of people who claim to know what Jesus might say, of course, about these events. But a lot of times, these claims seem to contradict one another. So how do we really know?
When we turn to the gospels – the only true and reliable record of what Jesus said – we find very few occasions of Jesus commenting on particular current events. But we do find a few. And today’s gospel reading (Luke 13:1-9) offers us one of these rare occasions. An opportunity to hear what Jesus has to say about two specific current events in his world.
And by looking at these comments, we can get a little insight into what Jesus might say in our world today. So it is worth paying attention to what he has to say.
The first current event is the story of a massacre of some Galileans on a pilgrimage to Jerusalem. How often do we hear of massacres by cruel dictators in our world? Including right now, with all that is happening in Ukraine. And the second current event is a freak accident in Jerusalem that caused the tragic death of eighteen people. Again, how often do we hear of freak accidents causing senseless deaths? These may be events that took place 2,000 years ago, but they certainly sound similar to events that take place in our day and age. So what did Jesus have to say about them?
Playing the Blame Game
Before we get to that, let’s think about what might be the typical comments we would hear on events like these. In this gospel reading, people are playing the old “blame game.” Surely those Galileans suffered because of their sin, right? And the same with the eighteen killed in the freak accident. Why else would they have died in that way? Nowadays, we still play the blame game. We don’t always blame the victims anymore. But we still want to blame someone. It is human nature. We want to make sense of what are sometimes senseless tragedies. So we look for someone to blame.
Now, truth be told, very often there is someone to blame. A cruel dictator. A construction company cutting corners. Someone often is at fault. Not always, but often.
But what is interesting about this gospel reading is that Jesus is not interested in the blame game. He is not interested in what people think about these tragic events who were not directly involved in them. What Jesus wants to do is hold up the mirror. He wants to help us look at ourselves. Not to distract ourselves with the blame game. But to look in the mirror. To let the events of the world help us to take a closer look at our own lives, and at our own hearts.
Jesus does this in this gospel reading in two steps. First, Jesus wants to make sure that we understand that the victims of these terrible events should not be blamed. “Do you think that because these Galileans suffered in this way they were worse sinners than all other Galileans? No, I tell you.” “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? No, I tell you.”
Jesus makes it very clear that victims of violence and victims of accidents are not being punished by God for their sins. That was true then, and it is true now. And this gospel reading gives us a very clear and direct teaching from Jesus about that. Victims of violence and victims of accidents – then or now – are not being punished by God for their sins. Period.
Holding Up the Mirror
That’s what Jesus says. But he doesn’t stop there. He takes it a step further. Jesus wants for us to respond to tragedies like these by looking in the mirror. Jesus wants us to stop playing the blame game as a way of avoiding the mirror.
So, after reminding them that the victims should not be blamed in these terrible events, he goes on to say this: The victims are not to blame for these tragedies. “But unless you repent you will all perish just as they did.”
These are tough words, to be sure. They seem almost heartless. And if it were anyone but Jesus saying them, we might think that he was just trying to cast the blame elsewhere, the human way. But it is Jesus who says them – the blameless one, the Son of God. The One who is without sin, and who is going to take the blame for us; who is going to perish for us, so that we would not perish but have eternal life. This is the one who says these words, who calls us to repent. The one who is on his way to Jerusalem to suffer a cruel and undeserved and senseless death.
So what is Jesus getting at here? Why does he respond in this way? Well, the parable that Jesus then shares holds the key. It helps us unpack what Jesus is getting at with this call to repent. Jesus told them a parable about a fig tree that is not bearing fruit. For three years the owner has come looking for fruit, and has found none. Now, the owner wants to cut the fig tree down. But the gardener pleads that he give it one more year. If it bears fruit next year, well and good; but if not, you can cut it down.
Sick with Sin
Jesus himself has been planting seeds for three years now. He has been teaching, and healing, and feeding, and proclaiming the coming of God’s kingdom. But just like the fig tree in his parable, the people are still not bearing fruit. They are still not repenting and changing their ways. Perhaps now it is time to give up – time to cut the fig tree down; time to give up on God’s people. That’s what we might think. But not Jesus.
He says – like the gardener in the parable of the fig tree – one more year. One more chance. Don’t cut it down just yet. Let me die for their sins. Let me invite them once more to repent, to turn to God, and to be forgiven of their sins, and to live. Let me encourage them – one more time – to bear fruit in their lives of faith. Let me encourage them to make the changes that are needed in their lives, so that they begin bearing fruit for the kingdom. Do not cut them down just yet, Jesus is saying to his heavenly Father. Do not give up on them just yet.
Jesus cares about each of us so deeply. But he knows that we are sick. We need a Savior. We may not always know it, or we may not always be willing to face it. But he knows it. And so, Jesus uses tragic events in the world to remind us of this truth, to wake us up to our sin and to our need for a Savior. After all, if we don’t know that we are sick, we won’t seek a doctor’s care. In the same way, if we don’t know that we are captive to sin, then we won’t repent – we won’t turn to our Savior. So Jesus uses these events to remind us that we are all sinners, and that unless we repent, unless we turn to him, we will all perish.
This is what we should be worrying about, Jesus says: Our own sin, and our own need for a Savior. Not everyone else’s sin, but ours. Jesus wants us to stop playing the blame game, and to hold up a mirror. And when we do that, we will see our sin. But we will also see the cross. We will see a God who loves us, and Jesus who saves us. We will see that none of our worries and concerns matter as much as the love that shines through that mirror, and engulfs us in light – the healing light of God’s love for us all.
Healed by the Cross
Jesus reminds us today that senseless tragedies are not God’s will, but they can serve as God’s wakeup calls. They can remind us of the frailty of life. And of the importance of caring for our relationship with God. They can remind us to hold up the mirror and repent; to turn to our Savior, and to look to the cross. And when we look to the cross, we find the love that alone can stop the blame game.
Think about the cross in light of these senseless tragedies.Think about Jesus’ death as a current event. Is there a more senseless tragedy than the cross? A more cruel fate for God’s Son? A more violent act? A more innocent victim? The cross represents the worst of what we humans are capable of. But it also represents the best of what God is capable of.
The cross is God’s great, undying comment on all the terrible events of our world. It is God’s great headline that overshadows all other headlines. It is God’s way of saying that there is no tragedy that we can endure that His only begotten Son has not already endured for us. It is the greatest tragedy our world has endured. And it is God’s greatest triumph. It is the triumph of love. A love that is stronger than death.
The Last Word
But not just the cross. For the cross does not get the last word. Pilate does not get the last word. Blame does not get the last word. Evil does not get the last word. Death does not get the last word. The last word is God’s. And the last word is life. The last word is resurrection.
The last word is the great eternal headline that is above and greater than all the headlines of our world. It is the simple two-word headline that Jesus lives. And because he lives, we will live, too. And there is no tragedy, no matter how cruel, no matter how senseless, that will separate us from the love that has died on the cross, and risen from the grave. There is no violent act, no freak accident, no personal tragedy whatsoever, that can take away this love. There is nothing that can separate us from this love, for it is a love that has conquered death itself. It is God’s love in Jesus Christ. And it is the most important news story of our time, and of every time. Thanks be to God. Amen.