Thursday, March 17, 2011

Tragedy and Mercy

This past Sunday I took the opportunity to preach in light of the earthquake and tsunami that has devastated Japan.

I did this because (1) it is on people’s minds, (2) God said something about situations like this, and (3) I will be here this week to preach what I was going to preach last week.

I addressed the topic from Luke 13:1-9 where Jesus addresses two kinds of human tragedies. The first was brought to him by people apparently questioning how the Kingdom of God could be here if Pilate is killing worshipers in the act of worshiping. Does Jesus have an anything to say about that, they wonder?

Turns out he does.

And it’s pretty simple: “Do you think you are better than they are, simply because you were not one of them? Your main concern should not be the worshipers that were killed, but yourselves.”

You see, they want to question Jesus about the kingdom and justice. Jesus wants them to question themselves about their own state.

Jesus then raises another issue. This one is not some sort of religious genocide, but accidental tragedy. A building falls and kills eighteen people.

Again Jesus calls their attention to themselves.

In both of these cases, Jesus turns our attention, not to perceived injustice but to the condition of us all. He turns us not to sympathize with hurting families and destroyed communities, though that would certainly be an appropriate response to the plight of hurting images of God.

And this is difficult for some.

In the midst of tragedy we want a prophetic Jesus that cries out against injustice and disaster. We want Jesus to stand up and proclaim Pilate to be a terrible ruler, unjust and declare the innocence of the victims. We want Jesus to stand up and declare the accidental deaths to be the fault of someone somewhere who failed in their job.

And Jesus does that elsewhere.

But here Jesus does no such thing. He rather directs our attention back to ourselves.

For Jesus the question is not “Why” or “why them?” it is “Why not us?”

We are not better than the people in Japan, or Haiti, or China, or Cambodia, or Europe, or Jerusalem. Surviving is no evidence that we are okay. It may be merely evidence of God’s merciful opportunity for repentance.

The bigger point of the parable, the thrust of it, is that God has mercy on people who should have already repented. The continued existence of sinners, whether Jew or Gentile, is not evidence of God’s approval or acceptance of them. It is rather evidence of his mercy. He should have already cut them off for failing to bear fruit. But he waits.

“Repentance is not something you put on a list of things to do some day. Time is short. You are in the midst of a desperate effort to save your soul. Repent now, or perish now. God’s grace has given you another chance.”[1]


[1] Trent C. Butler, Luke, Holman New Testament Commentary; Holman Reference (Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 2000). 221.

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