Monday, February 22, 2016

The Luke 13 Blues

I went back and checked: of the four different times I've preached on Lent 2C, I focused on the OT lesson 3 times (including yesterday) and the gospel only once. It turns out that I've never preached on Lent 3C, and I'm not preaching this Sunday, but, if I were, I'd be focused on the OT text again (Exodus 3:1-15). Why? Because Luke 13 stinks.

Last week it was Herod the fox trying to kill Jesus and Jesus offering a cryptic reply about needing to go to Jerusalem in order to be killed. This Sunday, we back up to the beginning of Luke 13 and read about Pilate mixing the blood of Galileans with their sacrifices. Last week, as I struggled to make sense of the gospel lesson, I wrote about this passage as a bookend to the bit about Herod the fox. It seems that Luke 13 is set in this strange framework of political authorities who want to kill godly people. We know that Jesus is headed down that road, but we're not there yet. Instead, we have to deal with Jesus deflecting those warnings from an immediate concern to a longer-term issue. But, still, does the passage have to be this strange?

When asked about Pilate mixing the blood of Galileans with their sacrifices, Jesus replies, "Do you think that because these Galileans suffered in this way they were worse sinners than all other Galileans? 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." Wait, what? Worse sinners? Where did that come from?

Maybe this is a teaching about the nature of sin, repentance, and punishment. Jesus seems to be rejecting the notion that those who met a grisly end were being punished because of notorious sins. "The same thing will happen to you," he offers to the crowd, "if you don't likewise repent." But surely he doesn't mean that those who don't repent have towers fall on their heads. What's going on here?

And then it all wraps up with a parable. Thank goodness for a parable. As I've written before, I love parables. I take them as clarifying statements on complicated teachings. And this parable seems straightforward enough: man wants figs; for three years fig tree hasn't produced; man says cut it down; gardener says give it one more year. Bingo. Repentance is an opportunity to bear fruit. I don't know if this is the point, but I'm looking for any sort of foothold here.

People get upset about tragedy. Human nature looks for causality even when a cause-and-effect relationship doesn't exist. (Go read Job.) Although towers falling and blood mingling may not be the consequence of sin, sin does have its own consequences. And repentance is how we have a fruitful, not-cut-down life.

But don't ask me. If it were up to me, I'd preach on Moses and the burning bush.

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