“What did I do to deserve this?” “Is God punishing me because of…….?”
We often assume that for every effect there must be a cause. If something happens then there must be a reason. If something bad happens then it stands to reason that God is punishing us or trying to get some kind of point across. Right?
Well, that’s the attitude of the group of people who question Jesus in our Gospel text today. This group of Galilean pilgrims had been attacked and massacred while they were in the process of offering a sacrifice at the Temple? What did they do to deserve that? This was an act of state-sponsored terror. Jesus offers another example – what about the accident where the tower by the Pool of Siloam collapsed and killed 18 men? Was that because God was punishing them? To both questions Jesus answers an unequivocal NO. This is not God “getting even” or meting out punishment. These events happened. Period. We live in a fallen and imperfect world where these kinds of things happen, and while it is natural for us to search for a “reason” sometimes there is no “reason.” And, regardless, it is never the case that God is “causing” bad things to happen for some reason.
Within the last couple months we (the world community) have experienced two horrific earthquakes. Thousands of people of been killed, many more displaced and continue to suffer. There have been voices that have suggested that the Haiti earthquake was deserved, or that God had caused it for some reason as punishment. We heard the same kinds of things said after Katrina, and even after 9/11. If this is true, what an angry and terrible God we worship, who would destroy so many innocents in order to simply make a point.
But that is not how God works. Jesus makes that very clear and he even betrays a little impatience with the suggestion: “Do, you think they were worse offenders than all the others living in Jerusalem? No, I tell you…” NO, that is not how God works! You need to not be so concerned with judging and look to yourselves, Jesus tells them. You need to repent and live lives that reflect God’s love and grace. We will all perish, because we are mortal – but it won’t be because God is zapping us.
So, if this is not how God breaks into the world – then how do we experience God? How is God active in the world? Well…. There was a man who had a fig tree… This parable suggests that we experience God as patient and nurturing; always expecting the best from us and being willing to wait and help us become fruitful in our lives. How else is God active in the world? Look at Jesus’ ministry – reaching out to others, loving, healing, caring for others. This is how we experience God. So is God in the earthquake and in the accidents and in the bad things that happen to us. Yes, God is there with us: comforting us, caring for us, working with us to bring good out of bad. That is the promise of the Gospel!
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