Luke 13:1-5

Luke 13:1-5  -  Repent or Perish

1 About that time,
some people reported to Jesus about the Galileans
whose blood Pilate had mixed with that of their sacrifices. 
2 In reply Jesus said to them.  
"Do you imagine that these Galileans were greater sinners
than all other Galileans for them to have suffered this way?
3 By no means, I tell you.  
But unless you radically change your ways,
you will all perish in the same way.
4 Or those eighteen
on whom the tower at Siloam fell and killed them -
do you think that they were greater sinners
than all the other people living in Jerusalem?
5 By no means, I tell you.  
But unless you radically change your ways,
you will all perish in the same way.”

Luke gave no further details about the two incidents mentioned. Perhaps he knew no more, and considered further detail irrelevant to his message.

The incidents involved Galileans sacrificing – pilgrims, therefore, in Jerusalem. Pilate’s action may have been reprisal for actual or alleged seditious behaviour. Pilate was well known for his brutal, heavy-handed reaction to opposition. Certainly the Jerusalem elites, following their line of political appeasement, would have been quick to brand the fate of the Galileans as due punishment from God. 

Jesus did not declare them innocent. But neither did he see their fate as punishment by God. In the mind of Jesus, violence bred violence. Jesus’ assumption was that all other Galileans were equally sinful. He called all to repentance. His call was not a simple, vague call to behave better. In the context of the Gospel to date, it was a focussed call deliberately to step out of the destructive behavioural patterns embedded in the culture, of which they were all both the victims and the agents:

  • asserting and defending personal honour
  • labelling and demonising the marginalised
  • unreflective recourse to violence
  • collective judgement patterns and neglect of personal responsibility

He constantly called people to relate instead from the basis of mutual care and genuine love. 

Though there was the vague reference to sinners, the incident at Siloam to modern ears sounds accidental. However, in the mindset of the day, nothing was accidental. Someone, somewhere, was the cause: demon, angel or God. Jesus made the point that neither the fact of their deaths nor their suddenness had anything to do with any specific sins of theirs. They were no worse than the other people living in Jerusalem. As with the previous incident, their deaths served as a call to everyone to repent

They all met their deaths without warning. Though the text spoke in terms of extrinsic, violent sanctions for failure to repent, you will all perish in the same way, Jesus was not in fact threatening violence. His interest was to emphasise the importance of being always ready for the step into eternal life. Failure to do so would be its own punishment: life that was half-life - endured, not depthed. For Jesus, the experience of the next stage of the adventure of life beyond death was life lived fully and richly in the present: 

  • alert to the signs of the times and to the opportunities of the Lord’s year of favour, 
  • free to move beyond the collective thought patterns of the culture 
  • to assume personal responsibility for their own choices and destiny
  • and to relate interpersonally on the basis of mutual respect, welcome, care and love. 

Checking the Image of God

Jesus questioned the common assumption that suffering was the result of sin. That people responded that way was not surprising. 

Historical Precedent. The Book of Deuteronomy, assumed to be written by none less than Moses, had clearly stated:

15 But if you will not obey the LORD your God 
by diligently observing all his commandments and decrees, 
which I am commanding you today,
then all these curses shall come upon you and overtake you:
16 Cursed shall you be in the city, and cursed shall you be in the field.
17 Cursed shall be your basket and your kneading bowl.
18 Cursed shall be the fruit of your womb, the fruit of your ground, 
the increase of your cattle and the issue of your flock.
19 Cursed shall you be when you come in, and cursed shall you be when you go out.
20 The LORD will send upon you disaster, panic, and frustration 
in everything you attempt to do, 
until you are destroyed and perish quickly, on account of the evil of your deeds, 
because you have forsaken me. [Deuteronomy 28:15-20]. (The rest of the chapter continues to outline the dire consequences of sin!]

In today’s world the assumption endures. (AIDS has been seen by some churchmen as God’s punishment for homosexual behaviour!) What image of God lies beneath the assumption? 

Jesus had preached the Lord’s year of favour. He had spoken, and would continue to speak throughout the rest of the Gospel, of a God who loves and calls into intimate relationship. Does a loving God also punish?

Alternative View. The loving God made creatures from love, calls them to a destiny of love, and has made clear that the way to achieve that destiny is to surrender to God’s energetic flow of love and to be carried along by it. Human creatures are saturated in love. Love is “hard-wired” into human nature. Not to love is to be out of harmony with human nature. This disharmony is readily experienced as suffering, though it is possible to live distracted from the experience and not clearly aware of it. To turn away from love, that is, to sin, is to reject God’s offer of intimacy and to live in conflict with the truest human depths. Such dissonance is self-inflicted, not caused by a spurned or spiteful God. It is the intrinsic consequence of sin.

Yet, why do innocent people often suffer? Suffering seems to deny either the omnipotence of God or the tender care of God? Jesus did not answer the question directly. 

The answer may be found, however, more in the necessarily limited nature of the cosmos than in the infinite power and goodness of God. In a limited world of living, conscious persons, naturally unfolding events can lead to suffering and be interpreted as evil. 

Free human persons can choose to act in ways that contribute to their own suffering or that of others. It seems that God prizes human freedom, the condition of love and of intimacy, even at the price of suffering and death.

Natural geological happenings, and simple unintentional accidents, can cause human hurt and death. The prevention of such outcomes would require the direct (and contrary to nature) intervention of God. Yet if the normal and natural connection of cause and event were regularly interrupted, scientific advances would also be made impossible and the quality of life would deteriorate, with even more pain and death.

Death, like birth, is the normal step into a new way of living. As such, it need not necessarily be viewed as abnormal or evil, even though its circumstances be painful for those involved. Growth to maturity constantly calls for metaphorical death to self-centredness. It is painful. Such is the limitation of being human and not infinite.

Causing or Permitting. Christian faith affirms the presence of a loving God in everything that happens. While giving “being” to all that is and to all that happens, God does not directly cause or even wish everything that happens. Yet God’s presence is always life-giving. The apostle Paul expressed his faith thus:

We know that all things work together for good for those who love God. [Romans 8:28] 

God allowed the natural unfolding of cause and effect to lead to Jesus’ crucifixion and death without directly intervening in any way to prevent its happening. God was not absent. God was indeed acting powerfully, but within the limits of human choice and freedom. The author of the Epistle to the Hebrews wrote:

7 In the days of his flesh, Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to the one (God) who was able to save him from death, and he was heard (by God) because of his reverent submission.
8 Although he was a Son, he learned obedience through what he suffered;
9 and having been made perfect (by God), he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him. [Hebrews 5:7-9]

According to the author’s interpretation: 

  • God heard Jesus’ prayer
  • God saved Jesus from death (not in the sense of Jesus’ not dying but that, from within the very experience of death, God saved Jesus and led him into even fuller life)
  • God empowered Jesus to become perfect precisely through his love-filled way of dying: uncompromisingly trusting, loving and forgiving.

For every person death can be the actualisation of their deepest trust and love, their becoming perfect, empowered by a loving and provident God constantly at work in their hearts and minds.

Next >> Luke 13:6-9