We live in a world where we are exposed to more information and raw data on a daily basis than many people were in their entire lifetime just a hundred years ago. Tweets, Instagram, 24-hour news cycle, real news and fake news, we are bombarded with stories every minute of every day and we need help to make sense of what is happening all around us. We need encouragement to continue to put one foot in front of the other and not curl up in the fetal position. We want to know why is all this stuff happening?
Though this overabundance of information is a relatively new phenomenon, people have always been trying to make sense of the day’s events. In the midst of the dark and challenging words from Jesus in Luke’s gospel today, you have people are trying to make sense of what’s been going on.
See Pilate, the Roman governor of the region, notorious for his brutality, had killed some pilgrims from Galilee who were in Jerusalem and mixed their blood with that of animals being sacrificed to the Roman gods. It was a brutal and insulting murder. And people were wondering, did these people deserve this treatment, were they being punished for some transgression they had committed?
So standing there together, trying to make sense of the world around them, they asked Jesus. Were these people worse sinners than the other pilgrims in Jerusalem? Did they deserve what they got?
And so Jesus answers, well sort of. He says, “No, I tell you; but unless you repent you will all perish just as they did.” It’s not a very satisfying answer. Jesus rejects the notion that tragedy and misfortune are the categorical consequence of sin. Jesus refuses to accept the conventional wisdom that pain and suffering are always and only the consequence of bad behavior and therefore deserved. So that’s a good thing. Jesus clearly says No. Your wife’s cancer, your child’s mental illness, your unemployment, natural disasters aren’t God’s punishment for your sin, this is happening to you because you deserve it.
Jesus says unequivocally no, God did not do this. But the why question is left hanging in the air. Why does it happen?
Jesus doesn’t answer that one. Instead, he joins the conversation about the day’s events and says, “Remember those 18 people that were crushed by the tower last week, were they the worst offenders in all of Jerusalem? Of course not, but unless you repent, you will all perish just as they did.”
Repent or you will all perish, just as they did. These words are obviously not meant as words of comfort to the people gathered around Jesus or to us who are gathered here today. But Jesus isn’t threatening us either.
Repent or you will all perish, just as they did. Jesus speaks these words as descriptive words of truth. Life is fragile, frighteningly so. Jesus knows this. Life in this world is complicated and it is dangerous, it was in Jesus day and it is in ours. And so with urgency Jesus’ calls us to bring ourselves, to bring our lives to God. Jesus’ call to repentance is a call to fully embrace the mercy of God who offers us new life in the midst of the tragedy and uncertainty of this world.
The call to repentance is an invitation to align yourself with the creative, redemptive and life-giving work of God. It’s a call to enter into the messiness of life, a call to get mixed up in one another’s lives. Jesus’ call to repentance is a call to see this fragile life as a gift.
Jesus’ call to us is to leave the questions why behind and enter fully into the what of God’s eternal life made known to us now in the middle of the fragile messiness of life. Not because why questions are wrong or unfaithful, but because ultimately we are never able to find a satisfying answer.
But just because we can’t answer the why question, doesn’t mean there’s nothing left for us to do.
Though we feel mired in confusion and uncertainty, though the road ahead in unknown, it doesn’t mean we don’t have work to do… I know I sometimes I want to throw my hands in the air, saying it’s all too much, and then I go about my business. I return to my office, my home, and miss the opportunity to repent, to return to God, to join God’s work in this world.
But we’re called to do more we’re called to bear fruit.
One of my professors from seminary, Matt Skinner, in reflecting on this passage wrote. Life’s fragility gives it urgency.
In Jesus Christ God extends to us mercy filled moments for repentance. Chances to live differently, to live marked by God’s love and grace. That’s what this parable that Jesus tells is all about. The tree has failed to do the very thing it was created to do, bear fruit. For three years it has failed in its only task, and yet, in and through Jesus Christ God pours more resources into it. God tends it, waters it, loosens the soils and spreads manure around it so that it might finally respond and live as God intended.
Our whole lives are filled with days, hours, and minutes that are extraordinary opportunities to use this life you have been given to bear fruit for God’s kingdom, opportunities to repent… These opportunities are sacred interruptions, moments where you invited to align yourself with God’s salvation project.
Start now. Pray for someone you work with. Right now pray for someone in the cube next to you, your boss, your direct reports, the person you volunteer with, the person who sits next to you in Algebra. Pray for the person that stirs within you all kinds of anger and frustration. Picture that person and pray for them. It can be simple, easy, say something like God, may this person know your presence, may the feel your love. Pray whatever you like, but do it now.
Good. See fruit worthy of repentance to quote Luke’s gospel from earlier in the year. Now, do this every day this week, maybe multiple times each day. Put a reminder on your phone, a note in your day planner, draw on your hand if that helps. Go ahead, I’ll give you a few seconds.
Brothers and sisters God has poured his very life into each one of us. God has blessed you and me with the riches of his love, how can we not use what we’ve been given for the sake of this world that’s hurting. We don’t know fully why calamity and disaster strikes, but we do know how to respond, we respond in faithfulness with love we have first been given. Amen.