I know I’ve mentioned it before… But I’ve really had to limit my intake of network “news” over the past few years. It’s just too disturbing/upsetting, most of the time - mainly because it’s more commentary than news. And it was beginning to effect my attitude, and my thoughts about certain people… certain groups of people. So I literally turned it off.
That’s not to say that I don’t keep up with what’s going on. I turn it on when I feel I need to. But I don’t look to the talking heads of the cable news industry everyday. I just don’t need that type of negativity in my life.
Of course, plenty of people are watching, because there are lots of people who seem to thrive on bad news! There are people out there (none here today of course), who only get the newspaper to read the obituaries and the police report! They’ve got to make sure that they’re the first to know if any of their friends are dead - or in jail. Right? There are people who love bad news and they want to be the first to help spread it!
Of course sometimes, when bad things happen… and we all hear about it one way or another… One of the first things we tend to say is, “well, I wonder what they did to bring this about?” Or, “If they’d only been living right, it wouldn’t have happened.” How many times have we thought that way through the years?
Kinda like people saying the tragedy of 9/11 - the senseless killing of thousands of innocent people who simply showed up to work that day - was God‘s judgment on America. Plenty said that, and some still do.
Or, like the preacher up in Piedmont, Alabama... nearly 30 years ago now, who said the reason a tornado struck the Methodist Church, killing some 18 people as they worshiped God (on Palm Sunday)… including the pastor’s daughter… was the church‘s fault... because they allowed a female minister to fill the pulpit. Do you remember that? I do.
We hear stuff like that… and it causes us to recoil, or applaud? I’ve known plenty of people who fit both descriptions.
But, the more important question, or thought, is what does Jesus say about such tragedies? Particularly when bad things happen to good people?
Of course, our scripture lesson for today offers some pretty strong words for those who are quick to judge the tragic fates of others.
Jesus had been preaching and teaching to large crowds, large multitudes of people… as he made his way from Galilee to Jerusalem… where he would face a rather tragic death himself.
While he was teaching, a group of men bursts onto the scene and interrupted Jesus with some pretty bad news. They said, “Jesus, have you heard? Do you know about the Galilean worshipers who were killed while they made sacrifices to God in the temple? Their blood was mixed with the blood of their sacrifices! Don’t you agree that they were worse sinners than us because God allowed them to die in such a terrible tragic way?”
But what did Jesus say? He replied, “do you really think these Galilean‘s were worst sinners than you because of the way they died, I tell you NO! But unless you all repent, you’re all going to perish!”
Then Jesus turned the question to the crowd, “what about the 18 people who were killed in Jerusalem when a tower fell on them while they were working? Do you think they were worse sinners than you because they were killed? I tell you NO! But unless you all repent, you too, will all perish.“
There was a strong, misguided, yet prevalent understanding in Jesus day (that honestly, still persists today), a theological perspective, that asserted God only allows bad things to happen to bad people! It was an ideology or theology that came from the book of Job… where in chapter 4:7, Job was asked, “who that was innocent ever perished?” Many in Jesus’ day just assumed that whenever tragedy entered a persons life, it was a result of sin, personal sin. Sin the individual had committed, which, in turn, angered God and brought about tragedy.
But Jesus was quick to rebuff that idea… Making clear that tragedy is not necessarily the result of personal sin. Of course, there are times - when “playing stupid games wins you stupid prizes.”
But ultimately, bad things happen, to all of us, because we live in a world that’s filled with bad things. It doesn’t mean that God doesn’t love us. It doesn’t mean that we’ve been singled out or that we’re being punished. Bad things even happen to good people, people who go to church every Sunday, people who are faithful, and loving, and kind. People who live by the Golden Rule. Bad things happen, not because we’re bad people - or good people - but because we live in a fallen, broken, rebellious world.
Of course, the deeper meaning that Jesus was trying to stress - the point he was really trying to make - was that death comes for everyone! The Bible says in Matthew 5:14 at the rain falls on the just and the unjust! Whether you consider the rain a blessing, or a curse… usually depends on where you stand at the moment.
Jesus was saying: It’s not the cause of death that’s important, it’s not how tragic the situation is that’s important, it’s not even how we die (or when we die) that’s important: repentance is what’s important to Jesus. It’s how we live, how we act, how we think that’s important to God! Is our life producing the “fruit of repentance?” Are we allowing the Spirit of Christ to redeem our lives, now, today, while we have the opportunity? That’s what was important to Jesus.
Of course, I think we all know that Jesus liked to teach using parables, so he offers a parable in our scripture for today. Jesus said there was a man who had a garden with a fig tree growing in it, but when he went to gather figs, the tree hadn’t produced fruit… so he ordered his servant to cut it down. For 3 years this man had waited patiently for the tree to produce fruit, but it failed to do so, it was wasting the soil, so he ordered it removed. But the gardener begged the man, “please just leave it one more year , I’ll take special care of it, I’ll fertilize it and dig around it, if it bears fruit, great! But if it fails to produce next year, then let’s cut it down.”
Of course, Jesus parable, was about himself. Jesus had been preaching and teaching repentance for the better part of three years… He’d been patient… He had healed the sick, raise the dead, fed the multitudes. But the people still refused his offer of life. They still lacked faith, they were still fruitless. They were so concerned with the temporal matters of life, that they failed grab hold of the knowledge of the kingdom of God, when it was in their very presence.
The truth is, tragedy is nothing new. Tragedies are going to happen. Bad things are going to effect good people, always have and always will. But Jesus Christ has given us a promise; a very real and tangible promise that should fill you and me with HOPE and ASSURANCE and PEACE! It’s a promise to everyone who repents, to everyone who receives Christ… a promise that says NO THING... nothing, absolutely nothing in this life, nor in the next… can separate us from the love of God in Jesus Christ our Lord. Nothing.
When you and I repent and receive Christ into our lives, into our hearts… and when we submit to his Lordship over our lives… it changes us… we’re different; our outlook on life, and our view of death, our engagement with the world, changes... as we grow and as we mature in our faith... and we produce fruit, the evidence, of repentance.
The fact is, in this world, there are no safe places. There’s no home, no school, no church, no nation… where we’re 100% safe… where safety is guaranteed! The roof may collapse on our head at any moment… OR as recent history reminds us, a crazed gunman could walk in and start shooting at any moment (it could happen at the Post Office, WalMart, or in a theater, too). In fact, it could happen at any place, at any time. But the fact is: if our souls are secure in the salvation of Christ… If we have committed our lives to him… Our eternity is 100% secure, and our place in the kingdom of heaven is guaranteed.
That’s the message of Lent. It’s the message of Jesus. Take time to repent. For all, including you & me, have fallen short. But the good news of the Gospel is, when we fail, Christ prevails! He loves us too much to ever forsake us.