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

 


A NUMBER OF YEARS AGO, I READ A BOOK TITLED “WHY BAD THINGS HAPPEN TO GOOD PEOPLE.” THIS IS THE CONTEXT OF THE QUESTIONS BEING ASKED OF JESUS. THE INCIDENTS OF THE SLAUGHTER OF THE GALILEANS BY PILATE WHILE THEY WERE AT THE ALTAR OF SACRIFICE, AND THE FALLING OF THE TOWER OF SILOAM ARE EVENTS LOST TO HISTORY, AS WE HAVE NO INDEPENDENT ACCOUNT OF THEM OTHER THAN WHAT IS HERE. THERE WAS A GENERAL ACCEPTANCE IN THE CULTURE OF FIRST CENTURY JUDAH THAT IF SOMETHING BAD HAPPENED TO YOU IT WAS BECAUSE YOU WERE BEING PUNISHED BY GOD. WE SEE THIS CONSISTENTLY THROUGHOUT THE GOSPELS, AS WHEN THE DISCIPLES SEE A BLIND MAN AND ASK JESUS, “WHO SINNED; THIS MAN OR HIS PARENTS?” THIS ATTITUDE WAS FOSTERED BY THE SADDUCEES, WHO REJECTED THE IDEA OF A RESURRECTION, AND WHO MAINTAINED THAT YOUR REWARD FOR BEING RIGHTEOUS AND YOUR PUNISHMENT FOR SINNING HAPPENED IN THIS LIFE. OF COURSE, THEY WERE RIGHTEOUS BECAUSE THEY WERE RICH AND POWERFUL; THE POOR AND THE DISEASED WERE JUST AS OBVIOUSLY SINNERS.

JESUS CONSISTENTLY REJECTS THIS ATTITUDE, AS HE DOES HERE. DO YOU THINK, HE ASKS, THAT, “THEY WERE WORSE SINNERS THAN ALL OTHER GALILEANS?” DO YOU THINK, HE ASKS, THAT THOSE CRUSHED BY THE FALLING TOWER, “WERE WORSE OFFENDERS THAN ALL THE OTHERS LIVING IN JERUSALEM?” “NO. I TELL YOU; BUT UNLESS YOU REPENT. YOU WILL ALL PERISH JUST AS THEY DID.” HE IS CERTAINLY NOT SAYING THAT UNLESS YOU REPENT GOD WILL GET YOU; A SLOGAN ONE MIGHT SEE ON A BILLBOARD ALONG SIDE THE ROAD IN SOME SOUTHERN STATES. WHAT HE IS SAYING IS THAT DEATH CAN COME UNEXPECTEDLY, AND SUDDENLY, SO THE TIME TO REPENT IS NOW. LIFE, AS THE PHILOSOPHER HOBBES REMARKED, CAN BE “NASTY, BRUTISH, AND SHORT;” WHICH THE PEOPLE OF FIRST CENTURY JUDAH WOULD HAVE UNDERSTOOD FULLY.

JESUS DOES NOT EQUATE TRAGEDY WITH DIVINE PUNISHMENT, NOR DOES HE ATTEMPT TO DEFEND GOD AND ANSWER THE AGE OLD QUESTION OF HOW CAN A GOOD GOD ALLOW BAD THINGS TO HAPPEN. SIN DOES NOT CAUSE TRAGEDIES; THEY JUST HAPPEN, AND ARE A PART OF LIFE. OF COURSE, SOME BEHAVIORS LEAD TO TERRIBLE CONSEQUENCES, BOTH PHYSICALLY AND SOCIALLY; LIKE THE RAVAGES OF ADDITIONS OF ANY SORT, AND THE DEPRAVED MINDS THAT DEVOLVE INTO MASS MURDER. WHAT HE IS SAYING IS THAT THE FRAGILITY OF LIFE DEMANDS AN URGENCY IN REGARD TO OUR RELATIONSHIP WITH GOD. WE, WHO HAVE SO FAR SURVIVED THE HAZARDS OF LIFE AND HUMAN SOCIETY, OUGHT NOT TO CONSIDER OURSELVES AS ESPECIALLY BLESSED BY GOD, BECAUSE, AS JESUS INDICATES, THINGS CAN CHANGE IN A HEARTBEAT. HE CALLS US TO REPENT, NOW, SO THAT WE DON’T FIND OURSELVES LIKE THE GALILEANS AND THOSE THE TOWER CRUSHED WITHOUT THE TIME OR CHANCE TO TAKE HOLD OF THE LOVE AND GRACE OF GOD.

LIFE IS FRAGILE, AND WE HAVE ALL EXPERIENCED THE PAIN OF LOSS, THE SUDDEN ILLNESS WHICH CHANGES THE LIFE OF A LOVED ONE, THE DEATH OF A PARENT OR CHILD. WE ARE NOT EXEMPT FROM THE RANDOM FORCES OF NATURE, WHICH WE IN KANSAS KNOW ONLY TOO WELL. EVEN AS WE GATHER TODAY, THE WATERS CONTINUE TO RISE IN NEBRASKA AND NEIGHBORING STATES, THREATENING LIVES AND DESTROYING PROPERTY AND LIVELIHOODS. YET NONE OF THIS IS A PUNISHMENT FROM GOD, IT IS JUST THE WAY LIFE IS. STILL, IN THIS OFTEN HARD LIFE, THERE IS HELD OUT TO US THE LOVE AND GRACE OF GOD, AND JESUS TELLS US TO TAKE HOLD OF IT NOW; TO REPENT WHILE THERE IS TIME FOR REPENTANCE.

REPENTANCE IS NOT JUST BEING SORRY, OR EVEN JUST TURNING AROUND A GOING IN A DIFFERENT DIRECTION. IT IS A COMPLETE REORIENTING OF THE MIND AND THE SOUL. IT IS A NEW CONSCIOUSNESS OF OUR SHORTCOMINGS BEFORE GOD AND OF THE FLEETING NATURE OF OUR EXISTENCE. IT IS THAT TO WHICH WE ARE MOVED BY THE SPIRIT OF GOD, JUST AS JESUS URGES HIS LISTENERS TO REPENT. OF COURSE, REPENTANCE HAS MORAL CONSEQUENCES, THE FRUIT WHICH COMES FROM REPENTANCE, BUT IT IS REPENTANCE WHICH GROWS THE FRUITS OF THE SPIRIT IN OUR LIVES.

THE LITTLE PARABLE OF THE FIG TREE TOLD BY JESUS IS A REMINDER THAT THE GRACE OF GOD IS WILLING TO WORK WITH US, DOING ALL THAT GOD CAN DO IN THIS PRECARIOUS LIFE TO NOURISH US AND HELP US GROW TO BE FRUITFUL AND PRODUCTIVE. THERE IS, THE PARABLE SAYS, A CHANCE FOR US IN GOD’S GRACE TO GROW AS HE DESIRES, AND THAT CHANCE IS HIS CALL TO REPENT.

OFTEN IN THIS TIME OF LENT, WITH ITS SOMBER TONES AND INTROSPECTIVE THOUGHTS, WE DEVELOP A MOROSE ATTITUDE TOWARD REPENTANCE. WHILE WE TAKE THIS TIME TO FOCUS ON IT, THE CHRISTIAN LIFE IS ONE OF CONSTANT REPENTANCE; A CONSTANT REORIENTING OURSELVES AWAY FROM OURSELVES AND TOWARD OUR LORD AND GOD. IN SO DOING, WE CLING TO GOD’S GRACE, AND IN HIS GRACE FIND HIS LOVE FOR US AND OUR LOVE FOR EACH OTHER. IN REPENTANCE, WE LIVE AND GROW IN GOD’S GRACE, AND IN HIS GRACE BLOSSOM WITH THE FRUITS OF THE SPIRIT; LOVE, CHARITY, COMPASSION, HOPE, AND JOY. WE CAN, IN GOD’S GRACE, LIVE A LIFE OF LOVE AND JOY IN SPITE OF ALL THE TRIALS AND TRAGEDIES OF THIS WORLD. WE CAN LIVE AS GOD INTENDS FOR US TO LIVE IN THIS LIFE AND THE NEXT, AND THAT WAY OF LIFE BEGINS IN RESPONDING TO GOD’S CALL TO REPENT.
AMEN