At that very time there were some present who told Jesus about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. 2He asked them, ‘Do you think that because these Galileans suffered in this way they were worse sinners than all other Galileans? 3No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all perish as they did. 4Or those eighteen who were killed when the tower of Siloam fell on them—do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others living in Jerusalem? 5No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all perish just as they did.’
As a hospital chaplain, I have often sat alongside sufferers as they try to make sense of their suffering? What did she do to deserve cancer, she asks. What did he do to deserve paralysis from an auto accident? Sometimes their pain is compounded exponentially by the acquaintance who deigns to explain for them the “whys” of their suffering.
I was reminded of this as I heard arm-chair theologians and “friends of Job” rushing to microphones and word processors to explain the earthquake and suffering of the Haitians. Some said it was because of something the Haitians had done or not done; others disclosed it had to do with a compact they made with the Devil.
It seems there is never a shortage of people who try to unscrew the inscrutable, or explain for other mortals the ways of God. Such is the situation in today’s scripture text as people rush to Jesus with breaking news from Jerusalem. The headlines scream: “GALILEAN WORSHIPPERS SLAUGHTERED BY ROMAN TROOPS IN TEMPLE PRECINCT!”
In the tragic news they bring to Jesus, he hears the suggestion that it was all because of some evil the Galileans had done. But Jesus sets them spinning on their heels when he says: “Were they worse sinners? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all perish as they did.” Jesus will not abide such legalistic parsing of God’s ways!
Then Jesus puts forth another instance of senseless suffering. He reminds them of eighteen men killed when the tower of Siloam fell of them. Is it something the men had done? “No, I tell you,” Jesus answers his own question and then warns: “but unless you repent, you will all perish just as they did.”
Hard words from the Savior, but needed words for any legalist who presumes to think he has a claim on God’s mercy. It is as Jesus explained in his Sermon on the Mount: “The heavenly Father makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous (Matthew 5:45). In ways that are inscrutable to us now, tragedies befall the righteous and unrighteous, and blessings shower down on the evil and the good.
I do not think anyone has an adequate answer as to WHY of this tragedy, but I do know WHAT the Father would have us do in response to the tragedy:
WE COMBAT NATURAL DISASTERS WITH ACTS OF GOD
(The Salvation Army)
Let us be doing the acts of God!