Monday, March 18, 2019

Bad Things Happen To All People

For fun, I keep a running list of all the propers on which I have not yet preached. I've been ordained for almost 13 years, and, in that time, I've preached on The Last Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 29) in Year B four different times, but I still haven't preached on The Third Sunday in Lent in Year C...until this coming Sunday. When I made the preaching schedule for March, I had that in mind, hoping to cross it off my list, but, now that I look at the lessons, I'm not sure I want to. "...there were some present who told Jesus about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices." Seriously?

It's Monday morning, and I haven't done any exegetical study yet, so I don't know whose blood was being mingled with what sacrifices, nor do I know anything about the tower of Siloam that fell and killed 18 people, which Jesus mentions later in the reading. All I have are first impressions, and my first impressions are that this is a difficult passage. So, historical research aside, let's break it down.

The passage begins with "At that very time..." At what time? Why is the continuity important? Luke wants us to know that this teaching is connected with something that came before, but what? At the beginning of Luke 12, Jesus warns his disciples about the hypocrisy of the religious leaders of their day. Then he encourages them to acknowledge him even under the threat of persecution. He answers a question about inheritance by telling the parable of the rich fool, who thought he had it made but then, despite all his plans for the future, died that very night. Jesus then explains to his disciples that they should not worry about their material needs. He urges them to keep watch. He names his ministry as one that will bring division to the earth. He asks them to interpret the signs of the present age and finishes chapter 12 by exhorting his hearers to settle their disputes when they have the opportunity.

"At that very time, there were some present who told him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices." Notice that Jesus teaches them to stay focused on what it means to follow him, to live in the next age, to recognize the coming of God's reign, and to do whatever it takes to inhabit the rule that Jesus brings to the earth, and the response of the crowd is to point out this bizarre sacrilegious practice. Because of Luke 12, I hear them saying to Jesus, "Some people have been killed and their remains desecrated by the unholy Roman occupiers. Is that a sign of the coming judgment?" And Jesus' responds, "It's not a sign of judgment against them but universal nature of judgment, which is upon us." The parable that follows--that of the tree failing to bear fruit--is a message to all of us that we must bear fruit.

Tragedy comes to everyone, Jesus seems to say. Whether you're slaughtered by Pilate or die in a construction accident, the message of repentance--of returning to God--isn't reserved for those whom we think deserve it but for everyone. Do you think God's judgment means bad things will happen to bad people? You're thinking too small. Everyone must bear fruit. Judgment isn't bad people getting their due. It's all people and all things being folded into God's reign of righteousness.

Of course, I need to do some homework and figure out the best I can what the crowd and Jesus were talking about. There may be something else going on. For now, though, this feels like a "gotcha" passage that is designed to remind all of us that the coming of God's reign--God's judgment--means that we have spiritual work to do. That sounds like a sermon on bearing fruit and repentance as the act of amending our spiritual soil by returning to the one who makes us holy, good, and fruitful. But we'll see. After all, I've had 13 years to get ready for this sermon, and it's only Monday.

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