The Third Sunday in Lent
Pastor George Pejakovich
Luke 13:1-9

THE GENERAL ATTITUDE TOWARDS ANY MISFORTUNE IN THE FIRST CENTURY CAN BE SUMMED UP IN THE PHRASE, “YOU BROUGHT IT ON YOURSELF.” ANY ILLNESS OR DISEASE WAS CONSIDERED A SIGN THAT GOD WAS PUNISHING YOU FOR SOME SIN. IF YOU WERE POOR, EVEN BORN INTO POVERTY, OR BORN WITH SOME PHYSICAL DEFECT, IT WAS THE RESULT OF THE SIN OF YOUR PARENTS. IF YOU WERE RICH AND PROSPEROUS, SURELY IT WAS A RESULT OF GOD’S FAVOR TOWARDS YOU. IT WAS NOT ONLY THE COMMON PEOPLE WHO HELD THIS ATTITUDE, BUT ALSO, IF NOT ESPECIALLY, THE MOST WEALTHY. THE SADDUCEES, WHO DID NOT BELIEVE IN ANY LIFE AFTER DEATH, WERE FIRM IN THEIR BELIEF THAT GOD REWARDED OR PUNISHED YOU IN THIS LIFE FOR YOUR RIGHTEOUSNESS; AND, SINCE THEY WERE THE RICHEST AND MOST POWERFUL IN JUDAH, IT PROVED TO THEM THAT THEY WERE THE MOST RIGHTEOUS. THERE ARE AMPLE EXAMPLES OF THIS KIND OF THINKING IN THE OLD TESTAMENT, ESPECIALLY IN THE BOOK OF JOB, SO THE IDEA THAT BAD THINGS MEANT GOD WAS ANGRY AT YOU WAS PRETTY COMMON.

EVEN TODAY, IT IS NOT UNCOMMON FOR THE FIRST WORDS OUT OF THE MOUTHS OF THOSE WHO HAVE SUFFERED A DEVASTATING LOSS TO BE, “WHY DID GOD LET THIS HAPPEN?” OF COURSE, THOSE WHO HAVE JUST LOST A LOVED ONE, OR HAVE SEEN EVERYTHING THEY HAD DESTROYED IN AN INSTANT BY A KANSAS TORNADO, ARE NOT REALLY LOOKING FOR A SOUND THEOLOGICAL DISCUSSION ON THE SUBJECT; THEY JUST WANT SOMEONE TO HOLD THEM AND GIVE THEM A SHOULDER TO CRY ON. NOTHING MAKES ME MORE INCENSED THAN TO HEAR SOME IGNORANT CLERGY PERSON TRY TO COMFORT THE BEREAVED BY SAYING, “IT WAS GOD’S WILL.”

THIS WAS THE ATTITUDE OF THOSE WHO CAME TO JESUS TO ASK HIM ABOUT THE HORROR COMMITTED BY PILATE IN THE TEMPLE WHEN HE SLAUGHTERED SOME GALILLEANS AS THEY WERE MAKING THEIR SACRIFICE TO GOD. WE HAVE NO INDEPENDENT CONFIRMATION OF THIS EVENT, BUT IT DOES SOUND LIKE SOMETHING PILATE WOULD DO. THE GALILLEANS WERE ALWAYS TROUBLE FOR ROME AND THE JEWISH LEADERS, AND PILATE WAS SO HARSH THAT EVEN OTHER ROMANS COMPLAINED TO THE EMPEROR UNTIL HE WAS FINALLY RECALLED TO ROME. THOSE WHO TOLD THIS STORY TO JESUS WANTED HIM TO EXPRESS HIS OUTRAGE AGAINST ROME AND TELL THEM IF GOD WAS FOR OR AGAINST THEIR OPPOSITION TO ROMAN RULE. JESUS COUNTERED THEIR PRESUMPTION THAT WHAT HAPPENED WAS THE WILL OF GOD BY ASKING IF THEY THOUGHT THOSE WHO WERE KILLED WERE WORSE SINNERS THAN ALL THE OTHER GALILEANS. “NO I TELL YOU,” HE SAID, “BUT UNLESS YOU REPENT, YOU WILL ALL PERISH AS THEY DID.”

JESUS THEN ADDED HIS OWN EXAMPLE OF THE EIGHTEEN PEOPLE KILLED WHEN A TOWER AT THE POOL OF SILOAM FELL ON THEM, IN WHAT WE WOULD CONSIDER A TRAGIC ACCIDENT. WAS IT BECAUSE THEY WERE WORSE OFFENDERS THAN ANYONE ELSE IN JERUSALEM THAT GOD PUNISHED THEM IN THIS WAY?
“NO I TELL YOU,” HE REAFFIRMED, “BUT UNLESS YOU REPENT, YOU WILL ALL PERISH JUST AS THEY DID.”

THE GALILEANS SLAUGHTERED AT THE ALTAR IN THE MIDST OF THEIR WORSHIP, AND THOSE WHO DIED CRUSHED BY THE STONES OF THE TOWER, WERE TAKEN FROM THIS LIFE SUDDENLY AND WITHOUT WARNING. THIS IS THE WAY LIFE IS, AND JESUS WAS NOT INTERESTED IN THE POLITICS OF RESISTANCE TO OPPRESSION, NOR IN THE QUESTION OF WHETHER THE TOWER WAS ARCHITECTURALLY SOUND; HE GRIEVED FOR THOSE WHO DIED BEFORE THEY HAD THE OPPORTUNITY TO REPENT. “UNLESS YOU REPENT,” HE SAID, DEATH WILL COME SUDDENLY AND WITHOUT WARNING, AND THE TIME FOR REPENTANCE WILL BE GONE. REPENT NOW, IS HIS WARNING CALL, WHILE THE TIME FOR REPENTANCE IS HERE.

REPENTANCE IS NOT SIMPLY TRYING TO LEAD A GOOD AND RIGHTEOUS LIFE BY FOLLOWING THE RULES AS BEST YOU CAN; IT IS MUCH MORE THAN THAT. THE SADDUCEES AND PHARISEES HAD A LOT OF TROUBLE WITH UNDERSTANDING JESUS’ CALL TO REPENT; THEY CONSIDERED THEMSELVES AS RIGHTEOUS AND HAD NO NEED FOR REPENTANCE. REPENTANCE, METANOIA IN THE GREEK, IS A COMPLETE CHANGE OF THE ORIENTATION OF THE MIND AND SPIRIT. IT IS NOT MERELY A CHANGE IN THE WAY ONE BEHAVES, ALTHOUGH IT WILL LEAD TO NEW BEHAVIORS, BUT IS A CHANGE IN THE WAY ONE RELATES TO GOD. IT IS THE RADICAL REORIENTATION OF OUR BEING OF OUR UNDERSTANDING AND ACCEPTANCE THAT BY OURSELVES WE ARE UNWORTHY TO STAND BEFORE GOD, BECAUSE WE CAN NOT FACE HIS RIGHTEOUS JUDGMENT AND WILL PERISH. REPENTANCE MEANS THAT WE CAN ONLY LIVE BY OUR RELIANCE OF THE GRACE OF GOD, FOR IT IS ONLY IN HIS GRACE THAT WE CAN FIND HOPE AND JOY NOW, AND IN THE LIFE TO COME.

THIS IS NOT A ONE TIME EVENT, BUT IS A DAILY, ALMOST CONTINUAL, CASTING OURSELVES ON THE GRACE OF GOD, AND, BY HIS HOLY SPIRIT, TURNING AWAY FROM WHATEVER WOULD SEPARATE US FROM OUR GOD, AND TURNING BACK TO HIM. LENT IS THE SEASON OF REPENTANCE ONLY IN THAT WE PARTICULARLY REFLECT AND MEDITATE ON WHAT REPENTANCE MEANS; REPENTANCE IS, FOR US, NOT A SEASON, BUT A WAY OF LIFE IN GOD’S GRACE.

WHEN JESUS TOLD THE PARABLE OF THE FIG TREE, NONE OF HIS HEARERS COULD MISS THAT THIS WAS A PARABLE ABOUT ISRAEL. THE FIG TREE DID NOT BEAR FRUIT, AND SO WAS USELESS EXCEPT AS FIREWOOD. THE OWNER WANTED TO CUT IT DOWN AND REPLACE IT, BUT THE GARDENER PLEADED FOR MORE TIME. LET IT STAND FOR ONE MORE YEAR, HE SAID, AND LET ME DIG AROUND IT, AND PUT SOME MANURE ON THE ROOTS, AND IF IT BEARS FRUIT NEXT YEAR, WELL AND GOOD. IF NOT, YOU CAN CUT IT DOWN. THUS THE GRACE OF GOD COMES BEFORE HIS JUDGMENT, AND THE GARDENER HAS COME TO DIG UP THE HARD SOIL OF OUR LIVES, AND TO WATER OUR ROOTS WITH THE LIFE GIVING WATER OF THE SPIRIT OF GOD; AND HE GOT DOWN IN THE MUCK AND MIRE OF OUR LIVES TO DO JUST THAT.

BAD THINGS HAPPEN IN THIS LIFE, PEOPLE DO EVIL THINGS, AND NO DAY GOES BY WITHOUT A TRAGEDY SOMEWHERE; AND IF YOU DOUBT THAT JUST READ OR LISTEN TO THE NEWS. GOD IS NOT A PUPPET MASTER, DISPENSING GOOD OR EVIL AT HIS WHIM; HE IS LOVE AND GRACE IN THE MIDST OF AN OFTEN CRUEL AND BRUTAL WORLD. IN SPITE OF WHAT HAPPENS IN THIS WORLD, IN SPITE OF WHAT HAPPENS TO US, IN LIVING A LIFE OF REPENTANCE, WE CAN BE ASSURED THAT GOD LOVES US AND CARES FOR US, AND THAT THROUGH HIS SON, JESUS, HE IS WITH US ALWAYS. NO ONE GETS OUT OF THIS ALIVE, BUT, WITH JESUS, A LIFE OF REPENTANCE LEADS TO THE GLORIES OF THE LIFE TO COME.

AMEN

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