In today’s gospel, Jesus himself makes an incredibly significant statement about the nature of suffering and tragedy. Hopefully you picked up on it, but I will remind you about it.
At the beginning of the gospel, a group of people come to tell Jesus about a certain group of Galileans “who blood Pilate mixed with some of their sacrifices.” There seems to be little historical reference to the event that Luke mentions. But from other historical evidence, this probably refers to a rebellious group of Galileans who refused to pay taxes to Caesar, and so one day when this group went to offer sacrifice in the temple, Pilate had them killed. So St. Luke says it rather poetically, that “their blood was mixed with the blood of their sacrifices.”
If an event like this happened to us; oh, let’s say something like a tornado, flood, or hurricane – some of us might start thinking that maybe God was angry with us. Maybe somehow we deserved it, or at least somebody did. Maybe God planned it that way. After all, he’s supposed to be in charge of everything, right? Well yes, but we need to be very careful how we throw those statements around.
Jesus says very specifically: “Do you think that because these Galileans suffered in this way they were greater sinners than all other Galileans? By no means!”
Jesus even gives another example. He refers to a tower that fell on 18 people in Siloam and killed them. He asks further, do you think that those people were more guilty than everybody else in Jerusalem. Again, Jesus responds, absolutely not.
Here is the Son of God himself telling us that accidents happen. What happens to you is not necessarily the “will of God.” God set this world in motion with certain natural laws, and special laws when it comes to free beings like human beings and angels. If certain beings are free, that means that they are free to mess things up as well. A mechanic is free to botch up an engine that ends up killing someone. A politician is free to make bad laws that hurt innocent people so that he can line his pockets. A parent is free to ignore or abuse his or her own child and wreck his or her entire life. A person is free to drink too much and run a family of four off the road. We are free to do these things. Are these things God’s fault? Can we say that these things are God’s will? No, we cannot. Jesus says exactly this in the gospel today.
There are more wills that exist than just God. God created billions of free wills. That’s why it’s so important that we try to line our will up with only will that is a perfect will.
But what about natural disasters, you might ask? Nobody can really cause them. Human mistakes can’t cause them? So maybe they are God’s will? Again, we need to remember that Jesus says that accidents happen. But let me try to make a point about natural disasters. I want to remind you of something that God said in the very beginning when Adam and Eve messed everything up for the rest of us.
“Because you ate of the tree that I told you not to eat, cursed be the ground because of you, and you will toil on it all the days of your life. It will bear forth thorns and thistles for you…” (paraphrase)
There is an amazing thing going on in this statement. God is actually telling Adam that because of his sin, it is going to change the very earth. Before, the earth was perfect. Now, it’s going to have thorns. Working it is going to be much harder. His work is going to make him tired. Sin has sunk into his very body, making him weaker. Could it be possible that natural disasters are actually a result of the sins of everybody across the world sinking into the ground and rising to the heavens, messing up the very earth? It’s worth thinking about. Y’all, this is far worse than the pollution that environmentalists talk about. This is real pollution—pollution that can cause tidal waves, hurricanes, tornadoes and all sorts of other accidents that have no conscience and really don’t care what they damage. And that is why bad things can happen to good people, and that is not necessarily “God’s will” that many of these bad things happen. He’s given us a world to take care of and many of us have failed to do so. And because many of us have dropped the ball, the innocent people that we could have helped suffer.
But let’s get back to the gospel. Jesus makes a point about suffering that is related directly to what we do and what God’s will is for us: he says TWICE, “You can be sure that if you do not repent, you will all perish as they did.” In other words, bad things may happen to us and it may or may not be our fault or God’s fault, but we can be absolutely certain that if we do not turn from our evil way back to God, DISASTER WILL OCCUR. The ultimate disaster, of course, is actually losing our souls. Jesus is not just making a threat. He is telling us that we can be CERTAIN that this will happen unless we take repentence seriously.
Jesus connects this point directly with the parable about the fig tree. There is a landowner who goes to the fig tree for three years looking for fruit but finds none, and wants to cut it down. The gardener begs the landowner to allow him to cultivate it one more year and if the landowner finds no fruit on it, then he can cut it down. The landowner is the father. The gardener is Jesus. How do we know that? Recall that when Mary Magdalene sees Jesus in the garden after the Ressurection, who does she mistake him as? The gardener. And Jesus also tells us that he prunes any branches that do not bear fruit. Who prunes branches. A gardender.
And what fruit must we bear? Galatians says, “”But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.”
The fruit that we are supposed to do is ultimately anything that we do while connected to the vine, which is Jesus himself. Christian life can be hard. It can be full of accidents, suffering, and the difficulty of repentance. But this is how try to grow our little Eden in a fallen world. Haven’t you ever tried to garden? Do you know what happens to a garden when it is left to itself without cultivation?—it turns into a wildnerness or a jungle. THE NATURAL STATE OF OUR SOULS IS ONE OF CHAOS AND JUNGLE WITHOUT DAILY CULTIVATION OF THE GARDEN OF OUR SOULS.
Who knows what sort of fruit we are supposed to bear? But how connected to the vine are we? How are our Lenten observances? What does our daily prayer life look like? How do we treat our brothers and sisters? Do I attend mass at least once a week and go to confession when I need to? This is to be connected to the vine; and as for the fruit – well, that’s supposed to be a surprise between you and God. And Aren’t you ready for a surprise? I know I am….