Summary: Crisis and Choice, Pt. 1
SUFFERERS ON TRIAL (LUKE 13:1-5)
On the day the terrorists struck New York and Washington D.C., I received an e-mail from a friend that hinted strongly that America was under attack for forsaking God. Two days later, Jerry Falwell commented harshly: “I really believe that the pagans, and the abortionists, and the feminists, and the gays and the lesbians who are actively trying to make that an alternative lifestyle, the ACLU, People for the American Way--all of them who have tried to secularize America--I point the finger in their face and say, ‘You helped this happen.’” (Los Angeles Times 9/20/01) http://www.latimes.com/news/local/la-000075439sep20.story
Before the week had passed, Falwell apologized for his comments, admitting that his remarks ran counter to his lifelong theological conviction that it was impossible to know whether an event reflected God’s judgment. In an interview with New York Times, he corrected himself, “I am saying that no human being has the knowledge that any act is an act of God’s judgment and any person is responsible for God’s judgment. If the terrorist attacks did reflect God’s judgment, then that judgment is on all of America — including me and all fellow sinners.” (New York Times 9/18/01) http://www.nytimes.com/2001/09/18/national/18FALW.html
Saying that an individual, a group or a nation is under divine punishment for sin is nothing new. It is as old as Scripture. As a pastor quipped on Fawlell’s remarks, “Isn’t that what Job’s friends said to him?”
In Luke 13, Jesus was asked an age-old question on current events; specifically, why do people suffer? Jesus addressed the issue of intentional and unintentional deaths or Pilate’ premeditated slaughter of the Galileans at the altar and the unwitting death of eighteen men who were unwittingly crushed by a collapsing wall by the Pool of Siloam. These two situations cover most victims of death – planned or unplanned death, famous or unknown individuals, innocent or culpable.
Why do people suffer? Do good people or bad people get the worst of it? Why did God not protect godly people from suffering?
Do Not Equate Physical Violence with Moral Character
13:1 Now there were some present at that time who told Jesus about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mixed with their sacrifices. 2 Jesus answered, “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans because they suffered this way? 3 I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish. (Lk 13:1-3)
The worst form of atrocity, wickedness and barbarity comes to the nicest, the most friendly and likable man or woman on earth. A talk show host correctly called what happened to New York and Washington not a tragedy, but a travesty, because it was not an unfortunate freak accident, but an orchestrated act of evil. The terrorists’ actions were a crime against humanity, an assault on innocent lives and the epitome of the worst kind of evil.
After the September 11 travesty, part of the Christian world went nuts, too. A caller to a Christian talk radio called New York the Babylon of Revelation 18, the city that was fallen, overthrown and doomed for destruction by God. Another caller said she had received a message from God that morning as she was reading a verse from the Bible. The problem was that she got her inspiration not from the Bible, but traced to a different source. It was widely known that a North Carolina pastor, Rick Joyner, had came out with an e-mail bulletin days after the strike, proclaiming a prophetic message that quoted the same verse - Isaiah 30:25 - referring to “the day of the great slaughter, when the towers fall.”
A careful reader will surely see the danger of taking a verse out of its context, toying with biblical prophecy and playing God with people’s lives. The judgmental attitude of some Christians mirrored the same narrow finger-pointing, Scripture-quoting, judgment-passing attitude Christians displayed toward California, especially San Francisco, the gay capital of the world, when a 7.1 earthquake hit Northern California in 1989.
In Jesus’ day, the topic of conversation was the death of a group of Galileans at the hands of Pilate, probably throwing them into a fire for revolting against his rule. Jesus’ answer was contradictory, unexpected and final. He did not agree with the consensus of the day, that is, the belief that Galileans got what they deserved.
Jesus was protective and respectful of dead people’s reputation, honor and memory. He was not harsh, cold or insensitive to the deceased’s character, their families’ grief and the loss of life. In fact, he used an unusual word to describe their suffering. The word “paschal” is the same word Luke’s gospel applies only to one other person’s suffering – the six-fold reference to Jesus’ suffering on the cross (Lk 9:22, 13:2, 17:25, 22:15, 24:26, 46).