The lectionary passage this week, Luke 13:1-9, begins with two cryptic news headlines. The first, an apparent murder of Galileans worshiping in the Jerusalem Temple by Roman occupiers. The second, a tragic accident that claimed the lives of eighteen people. The question, then, is a question that we have run into a lot in Luke. Perhaps that is because it bedevils human beings of all stripes: why is there suffering? As I talk to my peers, fellow pastors, it seems dealing with this question constitutes 90% of ministry. Why is my child addicted to drugs? Why do I have cancer? Why did a tornado destroy my home? Or my neighbor’s home instead of mine? In Jesus’ typical fashion, he provides an answer that only opens up more questions.
A common view, and perhaps the view that pervaded the culture of the elite and powerful and trickled down to the powerless, was that good things happen to good people and bad things happen to bad people. Do good, get good; do bad, get bad. Jesus disagrees, but qualifies his response in two ways.
First, although he says that those people did not die because of their sin, he also says that people should repent or they will also perish. This seems confusing and contradictory. If they did not die because of their sin, why repent?
Second, perhaps to explain the former, he tells a story about a fig tree that has failed to produce. The owner of the vineyard tells the gardener to cut it down, but the gardener asks for a reprieve. One more year. One more year to treat it right, to clear out around the roots and add some fertilizer. One more year to nurture it and give it what it needs. Then we’ll see.
It would seem that asking why there is evil is beside the point. Yes, certainly we must interrogate the sources of evil, dig around the roots a bit. When Pilate murders people worshiping in the Temple, or a priest is shot by Salvadoran soldiers while serving communion, it should be rebuked. When a tower falls or a bridge collapses or a tornado hits and ordinary people going about their daily routine suffer loss beyond compare, it should be mourned. But the real question for those who survive is: what are you going to do with your reprieve?
Please join us this Sunday, 11am at Kidd Springs Rec Center, as we talk about the nature of evil, the dreams of God, and what we are to do in response.
Grace & Peace,