Luke 13:1-9 (Lent 3C)                                                     

St. John, Galveston 3/20/22

Rev. Alan Taylor

 

+ In Nomine Jesu +

 

Grace and peace to you, from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.

 

This morning’s Gospel reading is about repentance. But it’s also about the various tragedies in life that sometimes leave us judging others for their misfortune. 

 

"There were some present at that very time who told (Jesus) about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. And he answered them, “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans, because they suffered in this way?  No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.  Or those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them: do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others who lived in Jerusalem?  No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.” 

 

No doubt these two tragic events mentioned in today’s reading were fodder for a great deal of discussion in and around Jerusalem, the kind of discussion that begins with “did you hear about…?” Did you hear about the Galileans whose blood Pilate mixed with their sacrifices? We heard that he desecrated their sacrifice by mixing their own blood with the blood of slain animals. They were worshipping God and this terrible thing came upon them. They must have done something awful for God to allow such a thing to happen to them, don’t you think?  

 

We all know too about the pool of Siloam. It’s the place where the lame and the infirm went with hopes that God would work a miracle in their lives. All it took was the stirring of the water and them stepping into it and they would be healed. Did you hear about the 18 people who were there, presumably to receive a miracle from God, and the huge tower there at Siloam fell on them and killed them? What kind of sinners must they have been that God allowed such a terrible thing in happen to them? 

 

The views of these folks in Luke 13 had a long-standing precedent among people of both the Old and the New Testaments. Job, you may recall, suffered several tragedies in his life. His friends, counselors, as they were called, offered him advice. Essentially, they said, ‘Job, until you figure out what it was that you did that offended God and repent of it,’ these tragedies are going to continue in your life. Job adamantly resisted their advice. It wasn’t that he considered himself sinless. Rather, he simply didn’t accept such an understanding of God, that tragedy and suffering were the direct result of the wrath of God toward sin. 

 

When Jesus met a man who had been born blind, people asked Him if he was born blind because of something his parents had done wrong or because of His own sin. Again, people of both the Old and New Testaments tended to look at sin and suffering in that way. And I’m not altogether sure that we don’t fall prey to the same sort of temptation too. 

 

When suffering comes our way, we sometimes try to figure out what it was that we did that God either allowed or perhaps even caused such suffering to come to us. Such an understanding of God and how He relates to us leaves us on a maddening treadmill of trying to figure out specifically how we may have offended Him in our lives. And worse yet, it leaves us wrestling with the atonement of Jesus and how it relates to us individually. Was His death on the cross the payment for all sin, or has He left the punishment for some sins to be exacted from a pound of our flesh? To put it another way, did the Father punish His Son for the sins of the world, including your sins and mine, or does He intend to punish us individually for our sins?    

 

And so, this passage from Luke 13 cautions us about questioning the atonement of Jesus because of our suffering. It also cautions us about coming to a faulty conclusion about God that I’ve heard argued many times by people. Since God is Almighty and powerful, and, since He is loving and merciful, why do people, especially God's own people, sometimes suffer as they do? Some, of course, conclude that God can't be all-powerful and merciful if such things do in fact occur. They reason that, since tragedies happen, either God isn't all-powerful, or He isn't merciful. 

 

In this passage from Luke 's gospel, Jesus gives us the truth about tragedy and suffering, the third option, if you will. Tragedy and suffering have nothing to do with the power of God, or, with His mercy and grace. Nor do they necessarily have anything to do with the guilt of the sinner. Rather, in tragedy and suffering the otherwise purely academic study of the Scriptures becomes real as the sinner learns to repent, trusting what God says, in opposition to what his or her eyes see. 

 

That is really the heart of what it means to live beneath the cross of our Lord Jesus. In suffering we cry out "kyrie elleison,""Lord, have mercy."  We recognize our smallness in the greater scheme of things, and yet, we turn to the God who has esteemed us so highly that He would give His own Son in death for us. We ask God's forgiveness for who we are and for what we do, or don't do. And then, we trust that God is doing great things, powerful and merciful things in our lives, though our eyes don't always see them. In fact, we trust that God is in control and that He is working all things together for good even when what we are experiencing seems to defy either His power or His goodness or both.

 

This is really a hallmark of the Lutheran understanding of the Gospel in opposition to the peace and prosperity gospel that is so often preached in our world today. Luther, among others, laid the foundation for such an understanding of God. He wrote, "he deserves to be called a theologian, who comprehends the visible and manifest things of God seen through suffering and the cross."

 

At one point Luther described the righteousness of Christ as “the countenance of Job” (AE 31:64). God called wounded and suffering Job to intercede for his friends and avert God’s wrath (Jb 42:8). In a similar way, the wounded and suffering Christ interceded for all sinners, averts God’s wrath from us, and grants us His righteousness. The Lord looked upon the diseased and battered countenance of Job and He heard Job’s plea for his friends. In a similar way, when the Lord looks upon the battered face of His Son, He hears Christ’s pleas on our behalf.

 

Our suffering, your suffering is not a sign of God's wrath toward you. If you want to see God’s punishment for sin, look to the cross of His Son. Your suffering is not a sign of God’s wrath toward you. It is, however, a call to repentance, because it reminds you of your brokenness as a sinner saved by grace. In times of suffering, you look to the cross of your Lord Jesus, or more specifically to where He may be found today, to this altar, as it were, wherein His body and blood are given and shed for you. In doing so, you can thank Him for working in your life through the ugliness of the cross and even through the ugliness and pain of your own suffering. 

 

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

 

The peace of God that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus unto life everlasting.  Amen.

 

+ Soli Deo Gloria +