Now there were some present at that time who told Jesus about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mixed with their sacrifices. (Luke 13:1)
Unexpected tragic events. They’re certainly not new. No, not new, but definitely more documented these days. Technology is certainly fulfilling its hyped promise of bringing us closer together. Be careful what you wish for, that’s all I have to say.
So we’re right there looking at selfies in a French rock concert just before a terrorist attack that leaves a hundred dead. A Snapchat videos reveals the confused look on a young woman’s face in a crowded night club the moment she realises, tragically, that the pop-pop-pop sound is not the music and that something is terribly wrong. 49, including her, dead.
And if it’s not video, it’s deeply disturbing black box recorder audio of 140 people screaming out “Oh my God” in a variety of tongues of the nations, as a suicidally depressed pilot flies their plane into the side of a mountain. No survivors from that one to tell the tales of horror.
And hand in hand with the technological overexposure is the critical overexposure. Everyone has something to say about everything. All of the time. Everywhere. So many messages. So many diametrically opposed to each other. In a world in which everyone is right we can’t all be right, can we?
So when Jesus is presented with the brutality of Roman governor Pilate who, true to form bloodily dealt with people from Jesus’s home turf, we moderns expect Jesus to respond with a statement about the evils of oppressive government. We moderns expect Jesus to talk about the need for social justice. Come on Jesus, say something that we can nod our heads to and agree with. After all, we love shaping God in our own image,so please, Jesus, give us some moldable sound bite to demonstrate you agree with us.
It’s right to ask how Jesus would respond to tragic events. And the best clue to determining that would be to ask how DID Jesus respond to tragic events? Hence when we look at how he did respond Jesus’ reply comes as a bit of a shock:
“Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans because they suffered this way? I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish.”
What were you looking for in Jesus’ response? Pretty much what the ancients were looking for. A source of distinction that justifies us. For the ancients, this event was evidence that those Galileans were somehow worse than they. After all, look what happened to them!
Jesus, however, gives them no allowance.
In fact he pushes back harder. Hey maybe those Galileans did get a bit of what they deserved, being so bolshie and all as Galileans tended to be. Hence, in order to give them – and us – no wiggle room, Jesus picks another tragedy, one in which the victims could not be misconstrued as having played a part in their own fate:
“Or those eighteen who died when the tower in Siloam fell on them—do you think they were more guilty than all the others living in Jerusalem? I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish.”
Completely passive. Probably celebrating and enjoying life, as seems to be the mantra from our political leaders when the recent atrocities have occurred.
But with Jesus? No sense of that at all. And no call for stricter building codes. No demands or placarding the building company seeking litigation to punish those responsible.
Two distinct types of tragedies. Two distinct groups of people; grubby Galileans and self-justifying Jerusalemites: One simple conclusion: Unless you repent, you too will all perish.
What on earth is Jesus doing? Doesn’t he have a modicum of compassion? Yes. Yes he does. Far more compassion than we. He mourns over all of those events because he sees the end result of death – far more clearly than we.
His words are designed to shock his hearers – then and now – out of their stupor. The stupor that somehow we are okay. That somehow we dodged a bullet. That somehow death, when it comes, won’t sweep us away like that.
Jesus gets to the heart of the matter: the fact that a lack of repentance will usher in cataclysmic, surprising, destruction – for all of us.
That’s been the overriding commonality in all of these recent well-documented tragedies. How unexpected they have been. How quickly and ruthlessly they sweep people away. And Jesus urges us to repent or we too will be swept away.
What does swept away look like? When it comes to death sometimes it’s a 100km per hour car crash. But sometimes it’s a 1km per hour car crash; the slo-mo wreckage of the dementia patient who, having lived unrepentantly all her life, now finds herself lacking the wherewithal to do so. Both tragic. Both cataclysmic. Both a reminder of the pressing need to repent.
And if you dodge the death bullet and still fail to repent? Jesus has even got that covered:
For as were the days of Noah, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. For as in those days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day when Noah entered the ark, and they were unaware until the flood came and swept them all away, so will be the coming of the Son of Man.
Hey, you can marry who you want, you can party how you like, and if death doesn’t sweep you away in the end – I will!
Jesus responded to tragic events in the manner in which he did because he knew that there was a second death awaiting all who died their first death unrepentantly. That should sober us. And as Christians that should drive sin far from us.
That should stop us looking for sources of distinction from other groups and sub-groups. It should press upon Christians the need to live repentant lives and to make repentance the central plank of their message – just as Jesus did.
For the biggest tragedy that could befall you is not terrorism or car-crash. It is not famine or tsunami. No. The biggest tragedy is to live the well-oiled, well-lived, well-fed, well-educated, well-informed, well-experienced life of the rich man Jesus speaks of in Luke 16, yet be swept away cataclysmically and unrepentantly into death.