The Grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Love of God, and the Fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all. Amen.
Luke 13:1 “Now on the same occasion there were some present who reported to Him about the Galileans, whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. 2 And He answered and said to them, ‘Do you suppose that these Galileans were greater sinners than all other Galileans, because they suffered this fate? 3 I tell you, no, but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish. 4 Or do you suppose that those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them, were worse culprits than all the men who live in Jerusalem? 5 I tell you, no, but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.’ 6 And He began telling this parable: ‘A certain man had a fig tree which had been planted in his vineyard; and he came looking for fruit on it, and did not find any.’ 7 And he said to the vineyard-keeper, ‘Behold, for three years I have come looking for fruit on this fig tree without finding any. Cut it down! Why does it even use up the ground?’ 8 And he answered and said to him, ‘Let it alone, sir, for this year too, until I dig around it and put in fertilizer; 9 and if it bears fruit next year, fine; but if not, cut it down.’”
When tough times come, people want answers. In the worst moments of our lives, we want answers, especially when it comes to the “why” questions. “Why did this happen to me or us?” That questions often leads to a more precise question. “Is God punishing me?”
Today’s Gospel lesson deals with just such a question. The question is an important one. It is one of the two questions that has been a source of trouble for Christians from the beginning. It is so important that theologians have a special name for questions like this. Theologians call this the “Question of Theodicy.” To put that in plain English it goes like this. “If God is all knowing, all powerful, and all good why then is there evil in the world?” “Why do bad things happen to good people?”
When Jesus walked the face of the earth, the common belief among the Jews was that bad things didn’t happened to good people. If a person was truly good, then life for said person would also be pretty good, relatively speaking. If catastrophe did strike someone, it was because the person or people had done something bad. Being good produced good things and being bad produced bad things. Think of this as a version of Karma. God that punishes sins and bad deeds in the here and now and rewards virtue and good deeds in the here and now.
Other ancient cultures dealt with the question of theodicy in other ways. Greek and Roman gods just weren’t all powerful, all knowing, or all good. The gods of Greek and Roman mythology were not partiuclarly good. They had the same character flaws that plagued human beings. The gods were just as selfish, vindictive, and immature as human beings. The only difference between the gods and their reluctant subjects was that each god was vested with some kind of super human powers, which made their pettiness and nastiness all the worse.
Jesus undoes both these explanations. As a matter of fact, He undoes every theory and explanation that attempts to answer the question, “why do certain kinds of bad things happen to certain people.
So let’s tend to the first order of business – let’s deal with the “good people” part of “why do bad things happen to good people?” “Good” is a relative term. It is used as a comparison between people. Someone is good in comparison to toerh people, some of whom might be just down right bad. In today’s world such comparisons have been almost meaningless. We use to have a common understanding of what it meant to call a person or people or culture “good” and another “bad.” But today that which is bad is defended as “good” and that which is “good” is labeled bad.
The Bible doesn’t teach us to compare ourselves to other people. That’s now how good and bad, righteousness and unrighteous work in the Bible. The Bible teaches us what God created us to be “good,” and what it is that we have become, sinners, bad, “unrighteousness” people. It shows us that the baseline for good is God Himself. A person is called righteous in the Old and New Testament when he possesses true Christian faith and unrighteous when he or she lives in belief and sin.
Thus, we stand in sharp contrast to godliness, goodness, and righteousness. That is why Bible believing liturgical Christians often begin the Divine Service with a confession of sin that makes it clear that we are not only not “good,” but we are “by nature sinful and unclean. We have sinned in thought, word and deed, by what we have done and by what we have left undone and justly deserve Your present and eternal punishment.” See the fallacy of the question, “Why do bad things happen to good people?” There aren’t any “good” people, not in the way the Bible evaluates people. [Psalm 51:5] “Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me.”
[Romans 3:9-12] “We have already charged that all, both Jews and Greeks, are under sin, as it is written: ‘None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one.’”
[1 John 1:8, 10] “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. … If we say we have not sinned, we make [God] a liar, and his word is not in us.”
Now on to the question of Theodicy, “If God is all knowing, all powerful, and all good, then why does evil exist and bad things happen?” “Now on the same occasion there were some present who reported to Him about the Galileans, whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices.” From the statement it appears there had been an incident where Pilate ordered soldiers into the temple to kill the Galileans who were inside preparing their sacrifices.
Jesus answered their question with a question of His own. “Do you suppose that these Galileans were greater sinners than all other Galileans, because they suffered this fate?” The answer to this question is that is exactly what those Galileans thought.
They were operating on the idea of karma. If you do good and are good, you will be rewarded accordingly. There are a lot of bad stewardship programs built on that idea. If you put more in the plate, if you do more good things, God will reward you in the here and now by putting more money in your pocket. Jesus puts such an idea to death. This is nothing more than another version of works-righteousness. “I tell you, no, but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.” Jesus is clear, “I tell you, no.” The Galileans who were killed in the temple by Pilate’s soldiers were not greater sinners.
What Jesus does do is He uses the situation to a call sinners to repentance. Repentance by the way has nothing to do with karma. Repentance is not a work that brings about positive payback, karma. Repentance is an act, an expression of true Christian faith, which includes within it the acknowledgment that we bring nothing good to offer. We have nothing good to offer in order to get anything good in return.
Luther’s Small Catechism, © 1991 CPH, (pp. 222-223, 226). “Those who repent and ask forgiveness are to be forgiven.” “Only repentant believers receive the forgiveness.” “Repentant believers are those who are sorry for their sins (contrition) and believe in the Lord Jesus Christ as their Savior (faith). “Unrepentant sinners, that is, those who are not sorry for their sins and do not believe in Jesus Christ, are not to be forgiven as long as they do not repent.”
The Augsburg Confession adds to this “Then good works, which are the fruits of repentance, are bound to follow.” (Augsburg Confession XII 6)
Jesus is not addressing good works or good people. He is teaching all of us, especially pastors to see even the worst times as occasion that call us to faith and repentance.
3 “I tell you, no, but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.” The Greek word here for “perish” (apolumi) and is used throughout Scripture. It refers to eternal death. It does not simply mean “legally dead.” It means spiritual death and all that horrible state includes. Jesus is simply calling on His hearers to recognize their own sinful , their own helpless condition, and the fleeting nature of life in this world.
Jesus adds to the example of the Galileans with an example of His own. In the example cited by the Galileans people died at the hands of other people. People under orders from a Roman government official. Jesus’s example seems to be even more arbitrary. His example is an example of an accident and of people who weren’t the worst among the people in and around Jerusalem.
“Do you suppose that those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them, were worse culprits than all the men who live in Jerusalem?” Jesus knows of what He speaks. He knows that He will in fact face off against the worst of all culprits in Jerusalem because they will inflict a terrible death on the only good Man in all the earth.
After He offers the additional example, He repeats the call to repent 4 “Do you suppose that those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them, were worse culprits than all the men who live in Jerusalem? 5 I tell you, no, but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.’”
Having made the point that there is no such thing as Christian karma and that all such events ought to produce a sense of humility, sin, morality, and repentance, Jesus makes it all personal. He tells them a parable about a fruitless tree.
The point of this parable? God chose the Hebrew people and planted them in His vineyard (church) and they were not bearing the fruit of faith. Yet, the “Vinedresser” was giving them more time to repent. Mercy, not karma is what the Owner and the Vinedresser offer.
The question comes naturally, “Why do bad things happen to certain people.” But when it come to mortal men, it is a useless question. These things belong to the hidden will of God. In the Bible we only have the revealed will of God.
The Word of God does not give us the answer why certain things happen to certain people. It only gives us the answer as to “why all those bad things happen to the One and only Good Man.”
Jesus fasted and was tempted in the wilderness. He was opposed at every turn by evil men. He was betrayed, denied, mocked, beaten, flogged, crucified, and worst of all forsaken by His heavenly Father. [Matthew 27:46] “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” At that moment Jesus becomes the tree in the parable that had to be torn out and cast away. In that moment He became the “perished”-apolumi One. That was the very condition He warned against in the Gospel lesson.
“As I live, declares the Lord God, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from his way and live; turn back, turn back from your evil ways, for why will you die, O house of Israel?” (Ez. 33:11)
All that happens, happens for one overriding reason. To call and bring people to repentance. That is as much as we can know when bad things comes our way and it is faith that fills the void.
The Cross of Good Friday is the strong Tower. The Name Jesus Christ is the Rock of our Salvation. the foundation upon which the church is built and not even the devil will over come it.
May the Peace that surpasses all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.