Summary: When tragedy strikes, we can wear ourselves thin asking why; or we can use the occasion for turning our life around.
Terror has struck again. Over 200 people were killed in Madrid this week and thousands more were injured. Like 9-11 this bombing of a train in Madrid was a heartless act by wicked fiends.
It is only natural for compassionate people like you and me to be filled with anger and raise our voices against these senseless acts. And then, of course, there are the questions, the forever haunting questions: Why did this happen? What did these people ever do to deserve this? Why must this senseless violence continue?
I personally do not have an answer to these questions and I guess that is something I will have to live with.
But there are many who cannot live without answers. They are well meaning individuals but highly impatient. They would rather have a simple answer than no answer at all. And so, they are carried away by the first answer that blows in the wind.
Remember what some of the most prominent religious sages said when 9-11 happened: “God is judging America. God is punishing America. The crashing towers of New York City is God’s wake up call.” And many of us swallowed these explanations lock, stock and barrel.
This is not new. Bad things happened 2000 years ago when Jesus was walking the face of the earth; things similar to what happened to American on 9-11 and things similar to what happened in Spain last week.
Two such tragedies are revealed in our text for today. The slaughter of innocent Jews while they were offering their sacrifices in Jerusalem, and the unfortunate deaths that occurred when the tower of Siloam came crashing down.
Just like today, so it was back then, explanations started circulating among the community about the reason it all happened; including the simplistic idea that these people were being punished for their sins.
I. WRONG EXPLANATION
Punishment for their sin? That is always the classical religious answer; isn’t it? It wasn’t the first time Jesus had deal with this presumptuous attitude. Remember, how the religious prudes brought a blind man to him and raised a similar question: “Who is responsible for this man’s disease? Is he responsible or is his parents responsible?" Jesus set them all straight on that occasion, and he does it again in the narrative before us.
He begins with a reasonable hypothesis. The sin of these victims is not greater than your sin. The logical conclusion to that hypothesis though not explicitly spoken can certainly be inferred. If these victims died because of their sin, certainly you would be among them and you would not be standing here talking about how sinful they were.
2. WEAK EXPLANATION
There is another possible explanation for this tragedy. The answer is not explicitly spoken in the narrative, but the details of the narrative point logically in that direction and it is difficult to argue against it. What is that?
These people died because they were at the wrong place at the wrong time, just like the people who died in the World Trade Center were at the wrong place at the wrong time; just like the people who died in the train bombing at Madrid were at the wrong place at the wrong time.
That of course is weak explanation and certainly not a satisfactory one for most of us. But it is the best answer we can offer from our human perspective without sounding arrogant and spiritually superior. And, while it may not be a complete explanation, it does provide, as you shall see, a backdrop against which Jesus can reveal an important message for those who are spared the tragedy.
Actually we are left without any explanation for why these tragedies happened. And perhaps the reason for that is because we have asked the:
3. WRONG QUESTION
Sometimes we become confused on issues because we cannot see the forest for the trees. In the same way we often fail to be enlightened by the twists and turns of life because we ask the wrong questions.
This happens with regard to the tragedies in our narrative and it happens in the context of the many tragedies that have and are befalling us as a nation.
When we ask the wrong questions, we are going to naturally come up with the wrong answers. To ask why innocent Jews were slaughtered by Pilate while doing sacrifice is the wrong question? To ask why innocent bystanders were crushed when the Tower of Siloam fell is the wrong question. To ask why 3000+ Americans died in New York several years ago, and why 200+ Spaniards died in Madrid last week is the wrong question.
I do not make that assertion from an apathetical stance. I make it from a pragmatic stance. I have limited time and energy and it is best for me to utilize that time and energy on matters that are achievable. I will leave the question “why” for the spiritual sages who have been working on this puzzle for thousands of years. As for me, I will follow the lead of my Lord Jesus Christ.