Summary: A sermon for the Third Sunday in Lent preached 3/7/2010 at St. Paul's Lutheran Church, Big Cove Tannery, St. Paul Lutheran Church, McConnellsburg, and Mt. Zion Lutheran Church, Little Cove. It talks about Jesus' response to tragedy and suffering in our w
One of the biggest news stories as the year 2010 began was the earthquake that hit Haiti. We saw on our TV screens, the newspaper, and the internet the stories and photographs of the disaster that hit that impoverished nation. The death, the ruin, the destruction that took place in such a relatively short period of time. Then, just as it seemed the Haiti earthquake started to take a back seat to other news, this past week, another earthquake struck in Chile, and a Tsunami warning was sounded for the Pacific, including Hawaii. While fortunately, little damage was done in Hawaii, more people were suffering because of this natural disaster.
In the Gospel lesson for this morning, Jesus is asked to address a couple of similar, tragic situations that happened in the news of His day. What did He have to say about suffering, and how does He turn it into a lesson on repentance? What does a story about a fig tree have to do with disaster and tragedy in our world? What does this text have to do with the daily life of the Christian? We’re going to find out that they are very much connected, and it fits right into our Lenten season.
As the reading opens, Jesus is asked about a recent tragedy that had occurred in Galilee. The first verse of our text tells us that “there were some present who told (Jesus) about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with the sacrifices.” (v.1) What had apparently happened was there were Jews from Galilee who had come to the temple in Jerusalem, and were offering their sacrifices at the altar in the temple, when Pilate had them killed by a legion of soldiers. Whatever his motive was, we don’t know, as there are not any other passages from the New Testament or from separate historical record that shed light on this event. To give you a modern day comparison, it would be similar if soldiers came into one of our churches and started shooting people as they came forward to receive the sacrament of Holy Communion. Even with what little we know about this event, we do know that it’s a tragic, horrifying thing. It’s not something that happened every day. It’s especially viewed as despicable because Pilate, a representative of the hated Roman occupation, was the one behind such an act of violence in a place that was supposed to be safe from it. In telling Jesus about this, they have a presupposition behind it. They want to know what in the world these Galileans had done that would bring such a judgment on them? Popular belief in the 1st Century was that such tragic events were a divine punishment from God for some particular sin.
So Jesus responds: “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans, because they suffered in this way? No, I tell you; that unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.” He then goes on to illustrate His point by asking about another recent tragedy of the day that we only see recorded in this one account in Luke’s gospel. Apparently, a tower had collapsed in Siloam, killing 18 people. That incident probably wasn’t ordered to happen by a government official or anybody else, it was just one of those tragic things that happen from time to time like the interstate bridge collapse that happened in Minneapolis a couple of years ago. But Jesus is asking them “Because this tower fell on those 18 people, you think that they had some horrible sin that earned them such a punishment?”
The ultimate point Jesus is trying to make is this: these people who died in the temple or in the collapsed tower, or suffer from any tragedy in their lives didn’t do anything more horrible than you, because in the end, the wages of sin is death. We all face it! Some earlier or some later than others, but eventually your sin will catch up to you if you do not turn away from it.
What makes this text particularly timeless is that here we are, nearly 2000 years later, and we still have folks out there today who, when asking the question of why do bad things happen to people in our world, believe it’s because they must have done something really sinful that God is punishing them for. I can recall as a child growing up hearing some TV preachers say that AIDS was a punishment from God for homosexual behavior. Yet, there were plenty of non-homosexual people who were diagnosed with the AIDS virus, and some from a needed medical procedure like a blood transfusion. Another Pastor I know back in Iowa shared with me this past week that he was watching a TV preacher, and this particular individual was telling his listeners that the reason Haiti was devastated by the earthquake because Haiti made a deal with the devil to kick the French out of their country, and that’s how the Hatians ended up with Vodoo, and the earthquake was a punishment from God for making such a deal with the devil.