I sat in the pediatricians office on Friday with Hannah and Rowan. Rowan had been there the day before and was now on several medicines. It was Hannah’s turn. Puffy Eyes, snotty nose, and fever, it was time to test her for strep throat. Not once did I think, you know her illness is because of sin…
We just don’t think in those terms anymore…at least on such a small scale. Though when big things happen, we do ask why me? Why this cancer? Why this death that has come to my house? We want a reason. Why did 9/11 happen? Or that tsunami or Katrina…
We don’t like the silence, the lack of reasons, the lack of control… Part of this is human nature, and our sad ability to want to control everything, & when we can’t, to place blame for natural occurrences, no matter how horrific.
When the Black Death ravaged Europe in the Middle Ages, the blame fell mainly upon lepers and Jews. Most lepers in Europe were wiped out because they showed an outward sign of their inward sinfulness. Why else would they be lepers? No one thought that Leprosy was an infectious disease caused by Hansen's bacillus.
For others it was the Jews, they were erroneously called Christ killers, and their sinfulness and unbelief caused the plague to fall upon Europe, many believed. People died because of such ignorance and hate. The plague was probably caused by a bacterium, which no one at that time had a clue about. So instead they looked around them for minority populations to place blame. Such hatred toward others is a sad part of our Christian history.
Of course it still happens today. For years, people who were HIV and died of AIDS were blamed for their own deaths. Their sinfulness caused the disease. In the midst of the epidemic in the early 90s, I read an article about a baby orphaned at birth because of AIDS, who was HIV+ herself and she died shortly after birth because of some opportunistic infection. When the hospital asked several churches if they could do a funeral for the baby, many declined to do it, some citing the fact it was an AIDS baby. Finally, a priest at an Episcopal Church, said she would do it. And the baby was given a proper burial.
I also remember one prominent preacher who said that 9/11 happened because of America’s sins and there are still others today who promote that line of thinking…
So what about in the time of Jesus, those Galileans who were killed by Pilate whose blood had mingled with the sacrifices in the temple…weren’t they sinners? Jesus replied, “Do you think that because these Galileans suffered in this way they were worse sinners than all other Galileans? No, I tell you.”
The Galileans were murdered. Jesus refuses to buy into the suffering = your sin understanding of our lives. But notice that does not end it… Jesus said, “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.”
No they are not worse sinners. BUT unless you repent, you will perish just as they did… What is Jesus getting at?
He gives us no easy answer. No mechanistic worldview that says you do good, you are safe, you do bad and you are not. His own life shows that truth, the sinless man who is killed in a horrible way on a cross. What Jesus does, is call us to repent. Archbishop William Temple reminds us that: “To repent is to adopt God's viewpoint in place of your own.”
Repentance is not giving up a bad habit, it is to have a change of mind, it is about trying to be in fellowship with God by adopting God’s viewpoint as our own. By doing this, we change our heart, our mind, our habits, our actions, everything. We turn from sin to God. “To repent is to adopt God's viewpoint in place of your own”
If we repent, it does not mean that we will be safe at least as far as accidents and tragedies go. What we will be, is right with God. Which leads us to the parable of the fig tree…
Jesus tells us about a fig tree that has not produced fruit. It lives but bears nothing in its three years. The owner of the vineyard wants to cut it down, but the gardener wants to give it another chance, by doing even more, giving the tree more moisture & fertilizer, to give it another opportunity to grow and bear fruit. So what does the parable tell us of repentance?
I think God’s viewpoint as expressed in this parable is a God who is full of love and mercy, willing to give us every chance to bear good fruit. For it is God’s mercy that we rely on and trust. To change our viewpoint to God’s, is to look with love and mercy upon everyone we meet. It is to see others as God’s sees us, to be with others when tragedy strikes, or illness, or an accident, to be with them in love and mercy.
In the end, it is not about us as the flawed, sinful human beings that we are. God knows that. In the end, God will judge what we did do or failed to do. We need to remind ourselves that all of us are created in the image of God. We are redeemed by Jesus. And as Christians, we are called to follow where Jesus has led. For we are loved by God and God longs for us to bear fruit, fruit that shares in God’s love and mercy.
Unless you repent, you will all perish as they did. Jesus said. Unless we repent, and take on God’s viewpoint as our own and change our ways, then we are like that fig tree that lives and yet bears no fruit. And in so many ways, that life is like death because it bears no fruit for ourselves or our world.
Let us strive to adopt God's viewpoint in place of our own. See the world through the eyes of love and mercy. To help victims, to help those who are ill and help all people feel God’s presence in the darkest moments of their lives. Without judgment and without easy answers, let us in what we say and do, help them see God’s longing for them and to know and trust there is love and mercy always. Amen.