Luke 13: 1-9
Now there were some present at that time who told Jesus about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mixed with their sacrifices. Jesus answered, “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans because they suffered this way? I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish. Or those eighteen who died when the tower in Siloam fell on them—do you think they were more guilty than all the others living in Jerusalem? I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish.”
Then he told this parable: “A man had a fig tree growing in his vineyard, and he went to look for fruit on it but did not find any. So he said to the man who took care of the vineyard, ‘For three years now I’ve been coming to look for fruit on this fig tree and haven’t found any. Cut it down! Why should it use up the soil?’ “‘Sir,’ the man replied, ‘leave it alone for one more year, and I’ll dig around it and fertilize it. If it bears fruit next year, fine! If not, then cut it down.’
The Nepal Earthquake has shaken all of us to the core. The devastation and death toll is really disturbing. But what else is more disturbing? The blame game that starts and the strange religious theories that float. Sakhshi Maharaj never stops to amaze us. He connected the Earthquake to Rahul Gandhi’s visit to Kedarnath. Wow. Seismic patters are indeed very complex. Next gem was Sadhvi Prachi who connected the Quake to the beef eating habits. Well as a Christian priest it will be very easy for me to criticize to such fringe voices in another religion and turn a blind eye to the narrative that pops up every time a calamity occurs. It is like a sport “Whose fault is it?”. There was an evangelist who accused that God punished America with 9/11 because of homosexual behavior of Americans. It is like we want to manage everything neatly and manage God in neat boxes. Now I recently received 8 Whatsapp messages that said “There was Persecution of Christians in Bhopal in 1980s and Bhopal Gas Tragedy happened, Graham Staines was murdered and there was Famine in Orissa, Christians wer persecuted in Gujarat and in 2001 there was Earthquake in Bhuj….” And there it continued on and on connecting to the Nepal Earthquake and how it is a retribution to Christian persecution. I am truly ashamed of such convenient assumptions by my community. The problem is, some very devout and faithful christians harbour such assumptions. Before anything, let us look at how Jesus answers in the passage in front of us.
The news brought of Jesus about Galileans being massacred by Pilate is not just a casual one but they too wanted to find what sins did those people commit to deserve such a death. “Whose fault was it” is indeed a very interesting game. But Jesus as one knows never answers anything straight away. He asks question to a question. The Holocaust survivor and legendary Elie Wiesel was once asked “Why do you Jews respond to a question with a question and not an answer?” to which Wiesel replied “Why not?” Again a question. Coming back to Jesus he says “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans because they suffered this way? I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish. Or those eighteen who died when the tower in Siloam fell on them—do you think they were more guilty than all the others living in Jerusalem? I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish.” (Luke 13: 2-5). Jesus does not like distant gossip or comment on a distant event with our own understanding of God. He turns the onus on us and says, “You are no better than who you think. It is easy to judge. You are in the same boat as being sinners. Forget whose fault it is.” The poet, Mary Oliver, states this beautifully in the last lines of “The Summer Day.”
“Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon? Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?”
This is repentance that Jesus calls us to. Do not sit there and judge of what God is doing. Tell me what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life? Do you want to be fully alive to God or live passively sitting conveniently playing the game “Whose Fault is it?”
Now the parable after this is about a fig tree and one knows that fig tree which usually takes a lot of time to grow and bear fruit. Eugene Peterson says that in Luke 9- 19 Jesus and disciples are travelling from Galilee to Jerusalem and in between they pass through Samaria that is very hostile to Jesus and disciples. They face hostility where Samaritans do not welcome them but create stumbling blocks. “But the people there did not welcome him, because he was heading for Jerusalem. When the disciples James and John saw this, they asked, “Lord, do you want us to call fire down from heaven to destroy them[a]?” But Jesus turned and rebuked them. (Luke 9: 53-55) Now the parable too talks of chopping the fig tree as it is the best solution and there is immediate result. This is what we want. We want thjem to be chopped off. Since we cannot do it, we think our God is worse than us and does it. As Anne Lammot says “You can safely assume that you have created God in your own image when it turns out that God hates the same people you do” But the gardener says “Leave it alone.” He will loosen the ground and put some manure”. The voice of the gardener is not something we like to hear. Manure is not immediate result. It needs patience. Results will not be immediately visible. So now the God revealed in Jesus does not ask us to enjoy the destruction as they deserved it for persecuting, but Jesus wants us to repent by remembering
“For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” declares the Lord. 9 “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts. (Isaiah 55:8-9). Let us remember this. Let us be part of the solution by being the manure in such times. Let us reach out in compassion. Let us reach out by volunteering for the people of Nepal. Let us reach out in love. Let us reach out in prayer. Let us be the manure by remembering “If we are too busy judging, we will have no time to love.” Manure makes us fear of the insignificance of our deeds. Questions like “In face of such destruction what can my little help do? What difference does it make? Let me narrate a story that most of you all know. Let us relearn it.
Once upon a time, there was an old man who used to go to the ocean to do his writing He had a habit of walking on the beach every morning before he began his work. Early one morning, he was walking along the shore after a big storm had passed and found the vast beach littered with starfish as far as the eye could see, stretching in both directions.
Off in the distance, the old man noticed a small boy approaching. As the boy walked, he paused every so often and as he grew closer, the man could see that he was occasionally bending down to pick up an object and throw it into the sea. The boy came closer still and the man called out, “Good morning! May I ask what it is that you are doing?”
The young boy paused, looked up, and replied “Throwing starfish into the ocean. The tide has washed them up onto the beach and they can’t return to the sea by themselves,” the youth replied. “When the sun gets high, they will die, unless I throw them back into the water.”
The old man replied, “But there must be tens of thousands of starfish on this beach. I’m afraid you won’t really be able to make much of a difference.”
The boy bent down, picked up yet another starfish and threw it as far as he could into the ocean. Then he turned, smiled and said, “It made a difference to that one!”
Rev Merin Mathew
Bethel Mar Thoma Church
Kolar Road, Bhopal
P.S.- This note is a result of my wife Soji’s deep discomfort with the blame game that she read about. She insisted that I must challenge such simplistic thinking while I shrugged “What difference does it make?”
(This image of a man being tied up and burned and an arresting footnote that said that God had taken revenge on Nepal for persecuting a Christian brother. In actuality, the image is that of an Ecuadorian thief who was tied to a cross and set on fire by angry peasants from who this guy used to steal. It took the local priest all his persuasive powers to dissuade the mob from totally burning up this guy. The priest along with some others took him to hospital and got him healed. Now this incident happened in 2006 and it come up in Cyberia conveniently after the Nepal quakes) This info was pointed out by my friend Mr Aby V Koshy