Summary: Everyone must face the problem of evil; Jesus tells us to be faithful to our call.
3rd Sunday of Lent 2013
Despite the fact that nobody but academic researchers remember it, November of 1641 was one of the most important months in history. In that month, just before the English Civil War broke out, the first issue of what would be called a “newspaper” appeared in the shadow of Parliament. Until that time, news of contemporary events in one’s town, nation or the world was either unavailable or heavily censored by the town crier and officials. After that time, the increasing availability of paper and the printing press meant that what was happening in one’s world was less and less likely to be ignored. Today, of course, the decline of newsprint is offset, and even caused, by the exponential rise of news on computers and hand-held devices.
Today we get a glimpse of Jesus interacting with the local news of Jerusalem. Pontius Pilate was a ruthless Roman procurator. He represented the Emperor’s interests, and responded with cruelty to any perceived threat. Otherwise unknown to history, the events in today’s Gospel show what would have been considered an atrocity by a faithful Jew–Pilate murdered some Galilean pilgrims in the very act of going to the Temple to offer sacrifice to God. Jesus not only responds with a sermonette, he takes it one step further by bringing in another recent news item–a tower in the Siloam district of Jerusalem had collapsed, killing a number of residents. And to both evils he teaches the same thing–the people who suffered these disasters didn’t do so because they had committed some awful sin. They were no worse than the people around them, or than Jesus’s listeners. But they were dead, and unless the survivors–and we, by extension–repent, we will be just as dead as they.
Luke adds an unique parable–about the landowner with a barren fig tree. To his command to cut it down, his gardener responds, “let me aerate and fertilize it one more year, to see if it responds with fruit, and only then let me cut it down.”
So what can we learn about our own lives from the Word of God today? St. Paul tells us rather starkly: all the Hebrews led out of Egypt by Moses were in a sense baptized into Moses, and all ate the manna and drank of the miraculous waters. But they, and generation after generation of their descendants, disobeyed the Law of Moses, worshiped false gods, even sacrificed their babies to those demon gods, and they all perished in their sin. “These things are a warning for us, not to desire evil as they did.”
The problem of evil represents one of the fundamental questions of life that every human being must face. There are two kinds of evil, and Jesus distinguishes between them but gives the same answer to them. The first kind of evil is imposed by humans on other humans. Pilate murdered the Galileans for some reason or another. Some medical doctors here in San Antonio wake up every morning, go to work, and destroy the lives of innocent preborn babies. This is gross, intentional evil, absolutely out of God’s plan, criminally violating the natural law.