“But I tell you, “…unless you repent, you will all perish as they did!” What a response! That’s what Jesus gives back to the persons who approach him with a concern as serious as the massacre. What does this Gospel evoke in you? Well, whatever the feeling, the most important thing would be finding out: how does this word accompany us in living this season of Lent in a fruitful way?
Exodus 3: 1-15
Psalm 103: 1-4, 6-8, 11
1 Corinthians 10: 1-12
Luke 13: 1-9
There are a few expressions that pop up in mind as my reaction to the Gospel: What have I done to deserve this? This comes from the feeling that the misfortune that befalls me is God punishing me. Here we have the image of a vengeful God always on the lookout for transgressors to punish them. Such way of thinking feeds on the understanding that it’s God who sends the misfortune.
The other expression is: you had it coming for you. From a retributive image of God, comes also the judgement. We look at some people with an eye that the misfortune they suffer is out of their own making -so they merit it. Consequently, we are scarcely compassionate with them.
And the last expression is: giving a cold shoulder, which means disregarding or dismissing someone -especially not appreciating enough their concerns. We may be hurt or feel put off when others play down the issues we esteem as important.
How are these expressions echoed in the Gospel?
Unless you repent…you will perish as they did!
What a response! Some people report to Jesus, whatever their intention, about the massacre that took place in the temple. There are many layers around it. In the first place, the temple is a sacred place reserved to the worshipping Jews, but the soldiers, probably non-Jews and with no intention of praying, defied the sacredness of the holy place by entering. In fact, not only did they enter but they also went on to massacre persons inside. What a defilement! There’s also a question of justice. We are talking of the foreign, oppressive roman government using force to crush the spirits of the local people who are only reclaiming justice. Then, you can appreciate how emotionally loaded the case may be. But how seriously does Jesus receive their report? He responds: “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” Obviously, that was the least response they could expect. Doesn’t that look like a cold shoulder? But there’s a lesson for sure!
Misfortune and Punishment
In the response of Jesus, you can see a kind of link between death and sin: “Do you think that because these Galileans suffered in this way they were worse sinners than all other Galileans? Or the other example that Jesus himself introduces: “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?” Although Jesus is accusing no one here, however, he lays bare the common mentality that when you suffer, or something bad happens to you, it’s a punishment for the wrong you may have done. I just wonder how far we ourselves are from such way of looking at life! When something happens, we introspect ourselves to see if we are not paying for what we did. We are more tolerant if we find something, otherwise, we put God to task -he should explain why we should be suffering innocently.
Who knows? Perhaps these people who came to Jesus were wondering, how could such horrible thing can happen to the innocent people who are merely in the house of prayer? And how could God allow it?
That’s why, in his response, Jesus tries to help them not only to move beyond the logic of sin-punishment but also to clarify the connection between sin and death. That is, it’s not about judgment but a consequence.
Our struggle too
Every day the social media is bombarding us news and images of floods, shootings, explosions, in short, events that we can call evil. A lot of destruction going on around the globe. Shocked, we are tempted to get God to explain himself, most especially when we are affected in a direct way like in a case of serious illness or death of someone among those who are dear to us. We are scandalised to see people suffering innocently. But there are also others who, in their suffering, all they get from us is: you had it coming for you. That’s our human thinking, and we entangle God in it. But Jesus reveals the true image of his father that can inspire us to live better our Lenten season.
Consequence of sin, not judgment
When think of suffering as punishment we see it in terms of judgment passed onto us following what we did. However, when Jesus says, if you don’t repent you perish, he is saying if you turn away from destructive attitudes and behaviour -you die. Sin is anything that cuts us you off from love and life; it’s destructive. And as long as we keep on the road that leads to destruction, then, we know what we can reap.
In a way, Jesus challenges us ask ourselves: the attitudes I’m developing or the actions I’m engaged in, are they for life or for destruction? It’s a call to assume our responsibility for our action for they have consequences, positive or negative, on us and on others. There I realise God punishes no one and neither does he slap a sinner with: you had it coming for you. Jesus reveals us a different image.
A patient and positive gardener
The last part of the Gospel speaks of the gardener who pleads for according more time to an unfruitful plant. He is hopeful that, with a little patience and care, something better can come out of it. That’s God’s attitude towards us; he believes in what we can become, and he accompanies us so that, no matter our past, we may grow into better and fruitful persons. Ours is the God who hears the cry of those who call for help. That’s the image we get of God from the first reading, when he sends Moses to go and liberate his people after hearing their cry. This should open us to a new way of looking at Lent.
Lent, time of hope
Lent is not time for anguishing about the impending punishment; it’s a time of hope. God hears our cry and he comes to our help. It’s not time for pointing fingers on sinners out there who are responsible for the evils in the world, rather, it’s time to look at my own actions and see their impact. Repenting from sin is changing from destructive attitudes and actions and begin to act in the manner that heals and gives life. Right now, there are cries descending into the ears of God, and he wants to save them. But he’s looking for Moses. You and I, are we ready to go to Egypt?
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