At that very time there were some present who told Jesus about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. Jesus asked them, “Do you think that because these Galileans suffered in this way they were worse sinners than all other Galileans? No, I tell you, but unless you repent, you will all perish as they did. Or those 18 who were killed when the tower of Siloam fell on them–do you think they were worse offenders than all the others living in Jerusalem? No, I tell you, but unless you repent, you will all perish just as they did.”
Read this newspaper any day and you will see similar events described that prompted this passage from the Gospel of Luke.
Sadly, Killeen has experienced massacres at Luby’s and Fort Hood. Tragedies such as the Columbine High School massacre, the Aurora, Colo., movie theater shootings and most recently, the Connecticut elementary school shootings shock us with such senseless loss of life.
Even in the Scriptures, Jesus speaks of untimely death to show that everyone will die, but not everyone has to perish.
The message for us all is to repent, sooner rather than later. In the first event Jesus mentions, some folks made a religious pilgrimage to Jerusalem to offer sacrifices in the Temple. But they were killed by order of Roman Governor Pontius Pilate and their own blood mixed with their sacrifices.
Our first question is usually, “Why would God allow such a thing to happen?” But the question in Jesus’ day was, “What sin had they committed to bring about this tragedy?” Jesus strongly answers NO, it was not because of their sin.
The second incident is an accident that killed 18 people when a tower collapsed. Again, Jesus claims it was not because of sin or offense that these people died.
Rather than dwell on side issues, “Why did God let this happen?” or “What sin caused this?” Jesus goes to the heart of the matter with a call to repent.
Yes, sin has dire consequences, but not as punishment from God linked to particular events. When Jesus encountered a blind man, his disciples asked, “Who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?”
Jesus replied that neither the man nor his parents sinned; he was born blind so that God’s work might be revealed in him, so Jesus proceeded to heal him.
Twice in the passage from Luke, Jesus reminds us that we will all die and that the manner and time of our death are unpredictable; but far more important is how we live our lives. The most important part of living is to repent and turn to God for the gift that God gives us in Jesus Christ himself, the gift of eternal life.
Whenever we are confronted with an untimely death or tragedy, we struggle to cope and the WHY questions begin. Eventually, life gets back to a new normal, but nagging questions remain.
The search for answers has been going on since the beginning of time. Listen to Jesus’ call for us to repent, and the questions begin to change to, “What shall we do now, God?”
Are we the ones who are straying from God, holding on to grudges, living as if God and eternity do not exist? The question, “What now, God?” enables us to examine our lives in the light of God’s mercy and grace.
There’s still time for change and become the new creation God intends us to be, living our lives in faith and hope and love. By Jesus’ own death and resurrection, God offers us chance after chance to repent and let our questions become, “What now, God?” AMEN.
The Rev. Ray Zischang is pastor of Immanuel Lutheran Church in Killeen.