I am writing this blog after two appalling events; one is the shooting in Christchurch, New Zealand and the other a shooting in Utrecht in the Netherlands. I would add to that a personal touch as just three days ago I helped with the funeral services of my brother’s partner who died of cancer. It is sad to say that none of these events is unusual. Deliberate violence; appalling accidents; debilitating and fatal illness are part of living here on this earth. Life here is not perfect because we are not perfect.
This is seen in the Lent reading for this week. People ask Jesus about the violent death of the Galileans murdered by Pilate; he in turn adds the story of the workers killed by the collapse of the tower of Siloam. People were asking the age old question “Why did this happen”, to ordinary people, to good people, to people we knew and loved and its frequent additional question “What had they done to deserve this death”. Jesus in effect answers they had done nothing to warrant death in this way. These things happen to people living on this planet.
That sounds harsh even though it is the truth. Equally Jesus’ words of warning recorded here are harsh. He says to his questioners that these people were no worse sinners than you, but unless you repent, you will all perish as they did. Was it a threat or a warning or a desperate call to look at themselves and turn to God?
I think it was an urgent plea to look at themselves; to see where they were with God; how far they had drifted away from God; how much they had forgotten his commands and his calling to worship and serve him. That is one way we can use the terrible stories in the news; we can stop and think of our reactions; let these stories question our motives and attitudes and challenge us to see how far we maybe from God’s attitude and response and act on what we learn.
Jesus then tells the parable of the barren fig tree seemingly useless, not bearing fruit and the gardener who pleads for it to be given another chance. It reminded me of the story of the true vine in John 15 and God, the gardener who cares for the branches so they will bear more fruit.
The harsh words of Jesus are not to be dismissed they are to be wrestled with, and when their truth for ourselves is faced up to and acted on we find the redemptive grace of God feeding us with his tender loving care.