“What About Those Galileans?” (Luke 13:1-9)

Third Sunday in Lent
March 7, 2010

“What About Those Galileans?” (Luke 13:1-9)

Whenever there’s an unusual tragedy in the news–a violent death or a natural disaster, a murder, an earthquake–people begin to search for an explanation. They look for meaning. They’re perplexed. They don’t understand why this great tragedy occurred. They ask questions. Why? Why did this awful thing happen? Often they look for somebody to blame. They blame the perpetrator, if it was a crime. Sometimes they blame the victim, thinking that the person must have done something to deserve this. And sometimes they’ll blame God for allowing this evil to happen. Those are the standard reactions to the terrible tragedies that get our attention in our day. And, as we’ll see, this is nothing new. People back in Jesus’ day speculated about why terrible tragedies occurred. We see it in their question to Jesus, “What About Those Galileans?”

“What About Those Galileans?” That’s the gist of what some people were saying when they told Jesus about a terrible tragedy that was in the news in their day. Jesus himself was from Galilee, so they must have figured this news story would be of interest to him, especially as those Galileans were killed in Jerusalem, and now Jesus is traveling on his way to Jerusalem. And Jesus, being a man of obvious religious insight, who’s known to speak his mind–well, of course you’d want to get his take on this story.

And it was a particularly intriguing news story, with plenty of theological and political overtones. Our text begins: “There were some present at that very time who told [Jesus] about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices.” Now that sounds pretty gruesome! And it was. We don’t have any other information on this particular incident, but apparently what happened was this: There were some Galilean Jews who had traveled to Judea, to Jerusalem, for the religious holy days. They went to worship at the temple, which was located in Jerusalem. OK, so far, so good.

But the Jewish nation at that time was occupied by the pagan Romans, and in the province of Judea, the Romans had put in one of their own to act as governor, a man by the name of Pontius Pilate. So Jerusalem especially, the capital of the Jewish nation, was watched over closely by the Romans, to keep order in the most important city of the Jews, whose population would swell enormously at the times of the high holy days. Pilate would be careful and on the lookout for any potential troublemakers who might think about starting up a revolt or an uprising. And Pilate would not be averse to using armed force and violence to put down any suspected insurrectionists. The Romans did not mess around.

Well, apparently, for some reason unbeknownst to us, Pilate had reason to suspect those Galilean pilgrims worshiping at the temple. So what did he do? He sent in some of his troops, right into the temple courtyard, while those Jews were offering up their religious sacrifices, and Pilate’s men struck them down in their very act of worship. The blood of the slain pilgrims thus was mixed in with the blood of their animal sacrifices.

Now this was an extremely horrific and outrageous crime in the eyes of the Jews. For the pagan Romans to desecrate the sacred temple grounds in that way, to go into an area where Gentiles were not allowed to go, to defile the holy sacrifices, to slaughter Jews going about their religious duty–this was just outrageous! A most brutal and horrible death!

So now the “why” questions start to arise. Why did this unspeakable evil happen? It seems, though, that instead of just directing their wrath against the hated Romans, which I’m sure they did also–it seems that the people talking to Jesus may have thought those Galileans themselves “must have had it coming to them” for some reason, that their brutal death was some sort of “divine karma” for hidden sins they must have committed. That such a thought was on their minds is implied in the way that Jesus answers them: “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans, because they suffered in this way? No, I tell you. . . .”

And then Jesus takes it a step further. He brings up another news story about people dying: “Or those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them: do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others who lived in Jerusalem? No, I tell you. . . .”

So do you see what the people talking to Jesus were doing? They saw these sudden deaths in the news, and they would conclude that it must have been a form of divine justice, God letting those people be struck down because of some hidden–or maybe not so hidden–sin. But to that way of thinking, to automatically draw that conclusion, Jesus says, twice, “No, I tell you.”

What about those Galileans who were struck down by Pilate? What about those Jerusalemites who were buried under the rubble of the tower of Siloam? What about those people in Haiti, buried under the rubble of an earthquake? What about the people in Chile and their earthquake? What about the murder victim, the young woman killed by a stalker? We too ask our questions, trying to make sense of it all. We too like to find someone to blame. For some of these stories, the crime stories, there is a criminal to blame. In some cases, a few people want to blame the victim. “Well, you know, those people down in Haiti–their ancestors made a pact with the devil, and that is why this earthquake happened.”

But now this attributing of blame can be a tricky business. In certain cases, you can almost draw a line between certain behavior and a terrible outcome. A guy builds a meth lab, it blows up, the guy is killed–pretty clear connection. But then in other cases, there does not seem to be any immediate consequences to really bad behavior. A scumbag like Hugh Hefner, for example, spends over fifty years corrupting the morals of a nation, and he makes billions of dollars and lives like a king, well into his eighties. On the other hand, an innocent little girl gets beaten close to death by her mom’s sleazebag boyfriend because he can’t stand her crying. Surely that’s not the little girl’s fault. You see, the “fault lines” are not always so clear, whether we’re talking about earthquakes or abuse or murder or cancer. Divine payback is hard to read sometimes. Why do the righteous suffer and the wicked prosper?

So what’s the natural next question? “Why did God allow this to happen?” That’s the favorite question of our age, it seems. We want to blame God. We want to put God on trial. A child dies a long and protracted death from leukemia. “I can’t believe in a God who would allow this to happen!” Whenever there’s a tsunami or an earthquake or any mass calamity in the news–as though this were something new or unusual–you always will hear the same complaint, “I can’t believe in a God who would let this happen!” As though any death were not a bad thing! What about a God who allows all these billions of deaths to happen, over all these thousands of years? Pretty much everybody on earth is going to die. Where is God in any of this, in all of this?

But whether we blame God, or blame the victim, or blame a perpetrator–we humans like to look for fault and assign blame and cluck our tongues in every direction but one. And that is, by looking at ourselves. We don’t like to do that. And so that is where Jesus directs our attention when we are tempted to ask, “What about those Galileans?” or “What about those people in Haiti?” Jesus answers and says, “What about you?” Are you any better, that you should not be struck down and swept away in sudden death? Take heed unto yourself!

And so Jesus says, twice, “No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.” In other words, take these examples of sudden, violent death as a warning. If death is based on people being sinners, then you yourselves ought to take heed. For you too are sinners. If you’re thinking it’s a matter of divine justice, then you ought to be concerned about how you would fare if weighed in the balance. No, it’s not God who is on trial, it’s you! How do you stack up, when measured against God’s holy law? Are you so good and holy that you think you will not die also? “No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.”

Instead of making us feel better about ourselves by looking down our nose at those bad people out there . . . instead of deluding ourselves into thinking that “the way of the Lord is not just” . . . instead of those foolish reactions, whereby I try to keep God’s judgment at arm’s length, out there, away from me–instead, Jesus does us the kindness of calling us to repent. That’s a good thing. Jesus wants each of us to see our own sinfulness and to turn from it, before it’s too late.

“Unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.” But you see, God does not want us to perish eternally, and so that is why he calls us to repent! “Turn from your sins and live!” God is calling out to us today. And it won’t be because you were so contrite and sorry and you’re trying real hard to do better. That won’t cut it. No, to repent means to turn from looking for an answer inside of you and instead leaning on the answer that God gives you from outside of you. And that answer, that way of escape, that source of life is Jesus Christ himself. He is where you turn when you turn in repentance. You turn from self to Christ.

What about that Galilean, the Galilean? That should be our question. Jesus of Nazareth, the man from Galilee–Jesus, the one traveling from Galilee to Jerusalem for the high holy days, for the Passover–Jesus is going right into Pilate’s lair there in Jerusalem. And yes, Jesus of Nazareth will be the Galilean whose blood Pilate will mingle with his sacrifice. Indeed, Jesus’ blood will be the sacrifice! Christ will offer up the perfect sacrifice to God. His holy precious blood will cleanse us from all our sins. He, Jesus, the sinless one, the only one with no sins of his own for which he should die–Jesus will take all of our sins and pay the final sacrifice for them all.

Jesus of Nazareth “suffered under Pontius Pilate.” Do you think that this Galilean was a worse sinner than all of us, because he suffered in this way? In a strange sense, yes! Jesus became the worst sinner in the world, the worst one who ever lived, the only sinner in the world, on that day when he bore the world’s sin on the cross in our place. “For our sake God made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” The divine judgment fell on Christ, so that it would not fall on us and crush us and bury us under the rubble.

And so the good news for you today is that there is no more divine judgment to be levied against you! Your sins are forgiven! If bad things happen to you–and you will die, in some way–it won’t be because God is condemning you and sweeping you off to hell. Rather, because of Christ’s atoning sacrifice, you and I will rise out from under the rubble of death, rise to live with Christ our Savior forever. For he has conquered death, even as he has paid the price for sin.

Yeah, what about that Galilean? That’s where we will focus our attention! “Oh come, let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith.”

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Published in: on March 6, 2010 at 11:10 pm  Leave a Comment  
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