About this time Jesus was informed that Pilate had murdered some people from Galilee as they were offering sacrifices at the Temple. “Do you think those Galileans were worse sinners than all the other people from Galilee?”
Jesus asked. “Is that why they suffered? Not at all! And you will perish, too, unless you repent of your sins and turn to God. And what about the eighteen people who died when the tower in Siloam fell on them? Were they the worst sinners in Jerusalem? No, and I tell you again that unless you repent, you will perish, too.”
In today’s Lenten reading, Jesus is told of some Galileans being killed by the government. It’s not clear who Jesus’ audience is at that moment, but they ask him, “Did these people die because they were great sinners?” Jesus responds, “Not at all.” And later, “No.”
Now, if you’re like me, you read this passage really quickly because you’ve still two whole chapters to go in today’s reading. And a story like this doesn’t necessarily stand out because Jesus doesn’t heal anyone or offer a new teaching. But, let’s not miss what’s going on here.
A bunch of people die.
A bunch of people ask why.
And the assumption is God let them be killed because of their sin.
Jesus responds, “Not at all…no!”
In recent weeks, I’ve argued that what we think about when we think about God is the most important thing about us. I’ve said this because our ideas of God shape us. The angry pastor has an angry God. The overbearing father worships a strict, judgment-prone Deity. The generous, grace-filled aunt sees God as love itself. And in the story above, a group of people assume God allows other people to be killed because of their sin. Put another way, they think God punishes sinners, even to the point of death.
We should note Jesus’ immediate response, “Not at all.” He basically says you’ve missed the point entirely. But before we go there, let’s recognize that these people think God punishes sin with a sort of death penalty. Now, what do you think this belief does in them? How do you think they treat other people they deem as “great sinners”? What did they ultimately do to Jesus?
If your God kills, you’re going to kill.
If your God punishes, you’re going to punish.
If your God is a monster, you’ll be one too.
Jesus pushes back, and says, “No, not at all.” He flips the conversation around, and says, “Unless you repent, you’ll perish too.” He’s not contradicting himself; he’s saying that if these people don’t stop judging, killing, and scapegoating one another, they’ll surely die.
Let me ask you: do you think God kills people because of their sin?
If you do, how has this belief shaped you? (it has)
How has this belief shaped our society?
How is it shaping our world?
What we worship, we become. The God we imagine, we embody.
One more time: did God kill these people because of their sin?
Jesus responds, “Not at all…no.”
- Kevin Knox
(The image is 'The Return of the Prodigal Son' by Rembrandt)