I can’t think of any saying of Jesus that seems more relevant than His words in Luke 13:1-9, a somewhat forgotten parable about tragedy and its connection to sin.
On His way to Jerusalem, it was reported to Jesus that some Jews from Galilee were murdered at the temple in Jerusalem while trying to worship. The image of the spilled blood of worshippers seems so today’s newspaper.
We remember the nine murdered during a prayer service at the Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, SC on June 17, 2015. We saw the 26 people killed at Sutherland Springs, Texas, First on Nov 5, 2017. And we were shocked by the news of the 11 Jewish worshippers killed at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh just weeks ago, on Oct 27, 2018. We’ve seen the blood of worshippers spilled on altars of worship.
Jesus Himself followed up their report with His own account of the tragedy of the 18 who were killed when the tower of Siloam fell on them. Once again, it sounds so current. Oklahomans will never forget the 168 who died in the bombing of the Murrah Federal Building in downtown Oklahoma City on April 19, 1995. Neither will Americans forget the falling of the twin towers in New York City on Sept 11, 2001, leaving 2,296 dead. We’ve seen the broken bodies carried away from fallen towers.
Jesus questioned whether these tragedies indicated that these victims were more sinful than other people because they suffered these things. His definitive answer was “No!”
Unfortunately, we often fall into the same trap as the people Jesus addressed. They assumed that there was a direct connection between a tragedy and the sin of the victims.
In the midst of tragedy, violence and suffering, we desperately want to have an answer as to why it happened. Whether we voice it or not, many suspect that a tragedy is God’s direct judgment on an individual or a whole group of people.
Who can forget the story of Jesus healing the blind man in John 9? The conventional wisdom of the crowd was that God was punishing the man for his own sin or the sin of his parents. Jesus rejected the link between some sin the man committed and his blindness.
In the Old Testament, Job’s friends, Eliphaz, Bildad and Zophar, offered the same interpretation of Job’s suffering. Eliphaz, for example, asked Job, “Who has perished when he was innocent? Where have the honest been destroyed?”
Eliphaz continues, “In my experience, those who plow injustice and those who sow trouble reap the same (Job 4:7-8).”
When Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans, more than one preacher/theologian was eager to pronounce that God targeted the city because of its sexual immorality. Pat Robertson even suggested that the people who died in a series of tornados in Moore was the result of their lack of prayer. If people were praying enough, God would have intervened and stilled the winds.
The truth is, we never know enough to pronounce that a natural disaster or a random act of violence is God’s punishment on the victims for some sin they committed. In fact, Jesus refused to address the why of the tragedies, choosing rather to turn the focus back on his audience.
Rather than pronouncing on the sin of the victims, Jesus suggested that those left untouched by a tragic event should take the opportunity to repent of any sin they/we might have. We should not assume that the presence of tragedy and suffering in our life is a consequence of some sin we’ve committed any more than we should assume the absence of suffering and tragedy is an indication of our righteousness. When we find ourselves without suffering or tragedy all we can do is take it as a sign of God’s mercy, not an indication of his approval.
Instead of trying to speculate what sin led to a tragic event in someone else’s life, let us use the time, when the tragedy is not our own, to examine our hearts and repent while we still have the opportunity.