We shared yesterday about a near-miss tragedy. I saw a connection with the first reading on Sunday (from the Revised Common Lectionary). I also saw one with the Gospel which I want to touch on today.
Tragedy evokes many emotions. It also stirs in us the need to "make sense" of what happens. One key component of that making sense is the blame game. We like to identify someone(s) who can be held responsible. This is why we say that someone should not have done this, or should not have said that, should not have gone there, should not have stayed here, should not have trusted him, should not have crossed her, etc. etc. The ultimate explanation is "God," and generally there is a drive in many of us to assume that bad things happen as a punishment. Really terrible things happen as a really terrible punishment. So we often wonder, what did I do to deserve this?
I am in no way claiming that we do not have responsibility for our actions, nor am I saying people have no part to play in the tragedies of this world. It is just that we sometimes need to face the truth; we can not explain everything. And God is not a machine where you input this sin and output that punishment. It is far more complex than all that.
Jesus, on Sunday, was quoted as saying that "the people whose blood Pilate mixed with their sacrifices" were not the greatest sinners in Judah. First off, I think what he is referring to is a recent event in the temple, perhaps connected to a riot of some sort, when Roman soldiers slew some Jews who were making their sacrifices. In other words, the blood shed (theirs) was in the same place (mixed) as the ritual cleansing sacrifices. One can only imagine it was a double tragedy. The family who lost their men wondered how God could let it happen in that place at that time? And no doubt Jesus was aware that the popular assumption was that these men had certainly done some awful sin to warrant such a horrible end. Jesus says different. They weren't the worst sinners. Wrong place. Wrong time. In a sinful world holy places are desecrated. There is no magic in Temples.
Jesus also talks about a misshap at the pool of Siloam, probably a construction accident. Again the question, special punishment for especially bad men? again the answer. No. Now in both cases Jesus adds a warning, REPENT, so nothing worse befalls you. Clearly Jesus believes in wrath and punishment. Yet, I think He also believes that it is a future judgment. In the present time we do reap and sow, but there is inconsistency. The faithful people of God do not always prosper here and now. The sinners do not always pay for their sins. Sometimes, there is unfairness, in the here and now---which is why we are waiting for the Justice and Redempion in the Kingdom.
It is hard for me to let go of the blame game and just trust. It is hard for me to see tragedy as nothing but a warning and reminder that in the End, we will all be judged. It is hard to accept a degree of randomness in the world; difficult to accept that sometimes cancer strikes non-smokers and heart attacks fell athletes. Jesus does not seem to be taken up with reflections on the why of life. Instead He focuses on trees, manure and fruit. He is about our duties to labor in the Kingdom now, to serve and obey God now. And He sees all the tragedies today as a reminder that something worse is coming for those who do not produce the Kingdom fruits. Love. Justice. Peace. You know the drill. So lets get on it. Now.