Summary: A Sermon for the Third Sunday in Lent, Series C preached 3/3/2013 at Emmons Lutheran Church, Emmons, Minnesota. This was my first Sunday as Pastor at Emmons Lutheran Church.
It’s not uncommon for natural disasters such as earthquakes, tornadoes, hurricanes, and other such forces of nature to make news headlines. Ranking right up there are stories of tragedy, such as building and bridge collapses, car accidents, aircraft crashes, and other such unfortunate incidents where people are seriously injured, or lose their lives. In each case, the pictures of ruin, destruction, grief, and death leave us often times asking ourselves the question: why do these sorts of things happen?
In the Gospel lesson for this morning, Jesus is asked to address a couple of 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, still try to explain it by saying it’s because they must have done something really sinful that God is punishing them for. A few years ago when an earthquake devastated Haiti, I recall hearing of a TV preacher, who made the comment 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 Haitians ended up with Vodoo, and the earthquake was a punishment from God for making such a deal with the devil, despite the fact there is a lot of good, Christian mission work being done by the Lutheran church in that country.