Then Jesus turned to the crowd and said, “When you see clouds beginning to form in the west, you say, ‘Here comes a shower.’ And you are right. When the south wind blows, you say, ‘Today will be a scorcher.’ And it is. You fools! You know how to interpret the weather signs of the earth and sky, but you don’t know how to interpret the present times.” [Luke 12:54-59 (NLT)]

After admonishing the crowd surrounding Him for being able to predict the weather but being oblivious to the signs of the arrival of God’s Kingdom, Jesus told a parable about getting right with God before judgment. As He was speaking, he was told about a recent incident in which Pontius Pilate ordered his soldiers to murder some Galileans while they offered their Temple sacrifices. On Monday, in “The Man from Galilee,” I wrote about the stereotypes Judeans had of Galileans; along with thinking them to be uneducated peasants, many Judeans regarded Galileans as trouble-making rebels against Rome. Indeed, Galileans had revolted after Herod the Great was named King, and, in 6 AD, another rebellion was led by Judas of Galilee. Indicating Rome’s expectation of armed resistance from Jesus and his Galilean disciples, a contingent (around 500) of heavily armed soldiers were sent to arrest Him in Gethsemane. Jesus even asked if they thought him a dangerous revolutionary. While turning the other cheek and loving one’s enemies was a revolutionary concept, that was not the kind of revolution people expected from a Galilean.

Understanding the crowd’s bias makes it likely that their specific mention of the murdered men being Galilean indicates their suspicion that the men may have been trouble-makers who deserved their deaths. Perceiving the crowd’s smug viewpoint, Jesus asked whether those Galileans deserved their brutal deaths more than any other Galilean and immediately answered His own question with a firm, “Not at all!” Turning the tables on his questioners, He mentioned a recent disaster that had horrified the nation when eighteen men were crushed to death after a tower they’d been building collapsed on them. He then asked, “Were they the worst sinners in Jerusalem?” before repeating His caution to repent lest His listeners perish as well.

As long as life goes smoothly for us, it’s easy to self-righteously think that those who suffer deserve God’s judgment. After all, that’s what Job’s friends mistakenly thought about his afflictions. When life takes a turn for the worse and we’re on the receiving end of tragedy as it did for Job, that reasoning flies out the window. None of those laborers were any more deserving of their deaths than were the “Galileans.” By the same token, none of them were less deserving of their suffering, even if they all were truly evil people.

Whether the devastation and loss of life from events like Hurricane Ian or the unbearable horror of a school shooting like Uvalde, experiencing tragedy has nothing to do with one’s righteousness. The Book of Job makes it clear that even the most righteous among us have no right to question God. Suffering, disease, and death originate from God’s curse because of that first sin. Even terms like “innocent child” and “good person” are relative terms since we all are sinners and deserving of God’s righteous judgment.

Tragedies show us that life is fragile and that we must get right with God before we die and face judgment. If nothing else, catastrophe and misfortune should drive us to repentance and Jesus warned the crowd to do just that: “Repent of your sins and turn to God.” It is repentance that keeps us from perishing—not from suffering and certainly not from dying—but from perishing!

“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.” [Luke 13:2-5 (NLT)]

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