A homily, based on Luke 13.1-9, preached with the joint congregation of All Saints’ Episcopal Church, Clinton, SC, and Epiphany Episcopal Church, Laurens, SC, on Wednesday, March 20, 2019
Bad news, whether today in the thrall, in the throes of our 24-hour broadcast cycle or back-in-the-day when any update on current events was aired literally from lips-to-ear by word-of-mouth, travels fast!
Jesus, in the course of his ministry, has garnered a reputation as a preacher, teacher, and healer. And in the crowds who gathered around him, “there were some present who told him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices.”
Some poor, benighted pilgrims, arriving in Jerusalem to offer ritual sacrifice to God, on the order of Pontius Pilate, Roman governor of Judea, known for his brutality, were attacked by soldiers and slain. Why? We don’t know.
Nevertheless, whispered in the people’s report of this tragedy, can we hear their implicit question, “What do you think of that, Jesus?” and their schadenfreude-esque condemnation, “They must have been bad to deserve that!” and their self-interested thirst for confirmation, “So, we have nothing to fear, right Jesus?”
“Ummm, no,” answers Jesus, recounting another bad news story about some unfortunate souls who happened to be standing under the tower of Siloam when it came crashing down. Concerning both incidents, he says, “Unless you repent, you, too, will perish!”
Yes, there is a connection between sin and suffering. There is a connection between our human predisposition to violate God’s will for us, going our own way, satisfying “the devices and desires of our own hearts”(1) and, thus, risking the ruination of our life’s fulfillment.
However, these folks who died at the hands of state-sanctioned terror and random accident did not die because they were sinful. If that was, is true, then all of us who are sinners, that is, all of us, at anytime and anywhere need fear.
No. They died because this is a world in which human existence is precarious. This is a world in which our flesh, always fragile, is subject to assaults of all sorts. This is a world in which tragedies are not the causal result of divine punishment, but rather simply, sadly happen. This is a world in which human life, from the start, throughout, and unto the end, is an inherently terminal proposition. No one, as a sage soul once said, “Gets out of life alive!”
It is life’s fragility that gives it, that gives us urgency. The urgency of the necessity of repentance. Of turning always from our ways to God’s way. And not for this life. For the godly and the godless, each, one day, will die to this world.
When Jesus speaks of “perishing,” he means eschatological death; the death of our souls. Thus, when Jesus speaks of “repentance,” he is not talking about our attempts “to-toe-the-line” of God’s will, as best we can, so to ward off any harm to our lives in this world.
He is talking about our continual, constant reorientation of life so that we, like an unproductive fig tree when tended by a patient trough-tilling-manure-tossing gardener, may produce fruit and so fulfill God’s purposes of our creation that we may “delight in God’s will and walk in God’s ways”(2) from this day forth unto and into eternity.
(1) From the General Confession, Morning and Evening Prayer: Rite I, The Book of Common Prayer, pages 41 and 62
(2) From the General Confession, Morning and Evening Prayer: Rite II, The Book of Common Prayer, pages 79 and 117
Pilate Orders the Murder of Galilean Pilgrims, artist unknown
The Fall of the Tower of Siloam (1894), James Tissot (1836-1902)
Parable of the Unfruitful Fig Tree (1894), James Tissot. Note: Tissot depicts the gardener (left) pleading to spare the fig tree to the property owner who wants to cut it down.