Text: Luke 13: 1-5
At that very time there were some present who told him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. He asked them, “Do you think that because these Galileans suffered in this way they were worse sinners than all other Galileans? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all perish as they did. Or those eighteen who were killed when the tower of Siloam fell on them—do you think that they 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.
This text was the Gospel Reading of the Mar Thoma Lectionary on 29th Jan 2012. I was to give the sermon in my Home Parish, Immanuel Mar Thoma Parish, Vishrantwadi, Pune. I was literally struggling to speak from this passage which I found was very disturbing. On January the 13th 2012, I received a text saying that Philip uncle, age 75 and aunty aged 71 met with a terrible accident after a Regional Convention and aunty died on the way to hospital and uncle had sustained some serious injuries. This couple had been foremost in all the church activities and uncle even at the age of 75 was a leader of utmost zeal. Why did this happen to Philip Uncle’s family? Why do innocent people die? Why do good people have so much of sufferings? Why do people we know and love so much have terminal illness? With all the faith and belief, such questions haunt us and disturb us.
When we look at the text we see a set of people gathered around Jesus who informed him of the dastardly act of Pilate and his soldiers who slaughtered the Galileans who had gone to offer sacrifices to the temple and mingled their blood with their sacrifices. The common belief was that only sinners encountered violent deaths and such deaths were in proportion to their deeds. The people must have concluded that, those who died in the temple deserved such a death in accordance to their sins. But Jesus rejects such a belief. He asks them “Do you think that because these Galileans suffered in this way they were worse sinners than all other Galileans?” “Or those eighteen who were killed when the tower of Siloam fell on them—do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others living in Jerusalem?” Jesus affirms that those living are none better than those who are dead. Jesus knew that those alive were as good as dead. So he asks them to repent. What he meant was to reorient their sinful and selfish lifestyle to the hope of resurrection and life and to live with the purpose God created them for. To be a light and to spread the light. Repentance is asking God to lead us from darkness to light, from ways of death to ways of life.
When tragedies happen in our lives, we ask the question “Why God?” and we have every right to ask it. But the trouble is we stop at that. We feel victimized and overwhelmed by the circumstance. Let us transform our question from “Why God?” to “What should I do God?“. And Jesus answers this by asking us to repent. Unfortunately, our traditional understanding of repentance, is, just to affirm our sins and be pathologically sin conscious. But repentance is much more profound and positive. Our faith is cornered on the premise of certainties. Every tragedy reminds that there are many things beyond our reach and control. Repentance is acceptance of our finitude. Repentance is also reorientation. We in our self assured lifestyle have to step out of our comfort zones. Let us identify how our life can make a difference to the people and society around us. How can we be the messengers of Love, Hope and Reconciliation which defeats forces of death and affirms life symbolized by the Resurrection of our Lord.
“What a friend we have in Jesus” is an eternal hymn that comforts and challenges us. Let us learn about the lyricist of this great hymn. Joseph Scriven was an Irishman who completed his academics in Dublin. Life was on song. He fell in love with a woman and harbored dreams of a married life. A day before the wedding, the bride-to-be drowned, leaving Joseph hapless and heartbroken. He reconciled with it again and fell in love with another woman. He got engaged to her but she too fell ill and died. This was too much for him to handle. Later, he came to know his mother was ill and to encourage her, Joseph wrote the poem “What a friend we have in Jesus.” Joseph was a broken man. He must have asked “Why God, Why Me”. But he did not stop at that. He asked “What Should I do God?” And he answered the call to be a comfort to the poor and needy people in Dublin. Out of his experience of pain and brokenness, he reoriented his life to be a healer to bruised souls and people of broken spirit. His song stands a testimony that declares to all the broken people “What a friend we have in Jesus.”
Faith is how we respond to life. There may be many things in life we find unfair and compel us to ask “Why God, Why Me?” Let the Resurrection of Jesus help us to overcome this helplessness to conquer hate with love, bitterness with reconciliation, dejection with hope. “What should I do God?” What is your response?