“The Blood of the Galileans” (Luke 13:1-9)

Third Sunday in Lent
March 20, 2022

“The Blood of the Galileans” (Luke 13:1-9)

Whenever there’s a terrible tragedy in the news–a bombing that kills women and children in Ukraine, the police officer shot and killed in Bonne Terre on Thursday, a tornado that levels a town–people search for answers. They’re perplexed. They don’t understand. “Why?” they ask. “Why did this awful thing happen?” And they look for someone to blame. They blame the perpetrator, if it’s a crime. Sometimes they blame the victim, thinking they must have had it coming to them. Sometimes they blame God, who let this evil thing happen. Those are the standard reactions people have these days. But this is nothing new. Back in Jesus’ day, people speculated about why terrible tragedies occur. We see that in today’s text on “The Blood of the Galileans.”

In our text, some people are telling Jesus about a terrible tragedy that was in the news. It involved people from Galilee, which is where Jesus was from, so they figure this would be of interest to him–especially since those Galileans were killed in Jerusalem, and now Jesus is traveling that way. Plus, Jesus, being a man of religious insight and known for speaking his mind–well, people would want to get his take on the story.

And it was an intriguing story, with lots 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’s pretty awful! We don’t have any other information on this incident, but what happened was this: Some Galileans had traveled to Jerusalem for the holy days. And they went to the temple.

The nation at that time was ruled by the Romans, and in Judea, the Romans had put in as governor a man by the name of Pontius Pilate. Pilate’s job was to keep order there, especially in Jerusalem, the most important city of the Jews, whose population would increase dramatically during the holy days. Pilate would be on the lookout for anyone who might stir up trouble. And he would not be averse to using force to put down any suspected insurrection. The Romans did not mess around.

Well, for some reason Pilate had reason to suspect those Galilean pilgrims worshiping at the temple. So he sent in his troops, right into the temple courtyard, where those Jews were offering up their sacrifices. Pilate’s men struck them down and killed them. The blood of those slain pilgrims was mixed in with the blood of their animal sacrifices.

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

So now the “why” questions arise. Why did this evil deed happen? But instead of just directing their wrath against the Romans, the people talking to Jesus thought those Galileans themselves must have had it coming to them. Their brutal death was some sort of divine karma for sins they must have committed.

Jesus addresses what they were thinking. He says: “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans, because they suffered in this way? No, I tell you.” Then Jesus takes it a step further. He brings up another news story: “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.”

The people talking to Jesus saw those deaths, and they concluded it was a form of divine justice. God let those people be struck down because of some sin they had committed. But to automatically draw that conclusion, Jesus says, twice, “No, I tell you.”

What about those Galileans struck down by Pilate? What about those Jerusalemites buried under the tower of Siloam? What about people in our day who die sudden, tragic deaths? 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, there is someone pretty obvious to blame, the perpetrator.

But the attributing of blame is a tricky business. In some cases, you can almost draw a line between certain behavior and a terrible result. A guy builds a meth lab, it blows up, the guy is killed–pretty clear connection. But in other cases, there may not be any immediate consequences to bad behavior. A rich pornographer may live a long healthy life and face no consequences. But then, a sudden illness can strike down a young wife and mother. The “karma” makes no sense. The “fault lines” are not so clear. Divine payback is hard to read. Why do the righteous suffer and the wicked prosper?

So the next natural question is this: Why did God allow this to happen? That’s the favorite question of our age. People want to blame God. They want to put God on trial. “I can’t believe in a God who would allow this to happen!” And then fill in the blank with whatever the latest terrible thing in the news is. A natural disaster, a child’s death–as though any of these things were something new or unusual–you always 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 billions of deaths to happen, over thousands of years? Pretty much everybody and everything on earth is going to die. Where is God in any of this?

Whether we blame God, blame the victim, or blame the perpetrator–we like to 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. So that’s where Jesus directs our attention when we’re tempted to ask, “What about those Galileans?” or “What about the tower of Siloam?” Jesus answers us and says: “What about you? Are you any better they were?”

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 should take heed. You too are sinners. If it’s a matter of divine justice, then you ought to be concerned about how you will fare in God’s courtroom. You see, it’s not God who is on trial, it’s you! How do you stack up, when measured against God’s law? You see, in the comparison game, it’s not you versus other people; it’s you versus God’s law! And that’s a game you cannot win. “No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.”

Instead of making ourselves feel better by looking down our noses at the bad people; instead of trying to keep God’s judgment at arm’s length, out there–instead, Jesus does us the favor of calling us to repent. That’s a good thing. Jesus wants each one 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 God does not want us to perish. That’s why he calls us to repent! “Turn from your sins and live!” God calls to us today. And it won’t be because you were so sorry and you’re trying so hard to do better. That won’t cut it. No, to repent means to turn from looking inside yourself for an answer and instead looking to God for the answer he gives you. And that answer is Jesus Christ himself. He is where you turn when you repent. You turn from self to Christ.

Jesus of Nazareth–he is the answer to our questions. This Galilean–Jesus, who is traveling from Galilee to Jerusalem for the holy days, for the Passover–Jesus is going right into Pilate’s lair in Jerusalem. And there Jesus of Nazareth will be the Galilean whose blood Pilate will mingle with his sacrifice. Indeed, Jesus’ blood will be the sacrifice! The perfect sacrifice for all our sins–this is what Jesus will offer. His holy blood will cleanse us from all our sins. Jesus, the only one with no sins of his own for which he should die–Jesus will take all our sins and pay the final sacrifice for them.

Jesus of Nazareth was crucified under Pontius Pilate. Do you think that this Galilean was a worse sinner than all of us, because he suffered in this way? Well, in a strange sense, he was! Jesus became the worst sinner in the world, the worst one who ever lived, 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.

Friends, the good news today is that there is no more divine judgment to come crashing down on you! Your sins are forgiven! If bad things happen to you–and they will, you will die someday–it won’t be because God is condemning you and sending you to hell. No, because of Christ’s all-availing sacrifice, you and I will rise from under the rubble of death; we will rise to live with Christ forever. The blood of this one Galilean has atoned for your sin and gained for you life everlasting!

Published in: on March 19, 2022 at 8:17 pm  Leave a Comment  
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