Luke 13:1-5, paraphrased
While Jesus was teaching one day, someone asked him about a terrible thing that had happened: Some people were offering sacrifices to God, in the region of Galilee, and Pontius Pilate, the Roman governor, sent his soldiers to kill them. What were those people doing wrong, that such a terrible thing happened to them?
Jesus answered, “Do you think the suffering of these Galileans proves that they were more sinful than all the other Galileans? No! Or what about the tower that collapsed the other day, the Tower of Siloam, and killed 18 people – do you think those 18 people were the worst 18 people in Jerusalem? No! Death will come to everyone. Stop looking for scapegoats and easy explanations. You can’t get on God’s good side somehow and avoid the hurts and losses that are part of being human. Instead, change your heart and change your life, to serve God and your neighbor with the time you have.”
This is probably nobody’s favorite story about Jesus. He’s saying some hard things here. But he’s right.
When bad things happen to people, it hurts. So we look for a way to not care. It’s far away. They’re a different kind of people than we are. They’re used to it; stuff like that happens to them all the time. They should have known better. In fact, they had it coming. Have you ever felt that inside yourself? Seen somebody in trouble, and heard some tiny nasty voice inside yourself say, Well, maybe if they’d made different choices…
Jesus says, Tell that voice to shut up. We all make bad choices sometimes. And we all hurt sometimes. Stop looking for ways not to care about your neighbor.
But there’s another question here, right? Why do bad things happen at all? Why did those soldiers kill those people? Why did that tower fall on those people? Why would God do that?
But let’s think about those questions a little harder. Why do you think the tower fell? Do buildings usually just fall down?… If a tower fell down today, here, in America, what would you wonder?You’d think maybe people didn’t build it very well, right? That the people who made this disaster happen were the people who wanted to build a tower as cheaply as possible – and the builders who were willing to do a sloppy, careless job – and the safety inspectors who looked the other way. You might not think about it much when you’re a kid, but we have lots and lots of ways we make sure our buildings are safe and WON’T just fall over on people. (That’s part of why it’s going to cost us $200,000 to put in an elevator – because we don’t just want an elevator; we want a SAFE elevator!)
But sometimes people get sloppy about making sure things are as safe as they should be. Usually because of money. The grownups have been reading in the news this week about a company that makes airplanes, and how the government decided mostly to let the company decide for itself whether its airplanes are safe to fly. Well, guess what? The company wants to sell airplanes, so they were maybe not quite as careful as they could have been.
Why did that tower fall, in Jerusalem? Because of people. Not because of God.
Okay, what about the soldiers killing those people while they were worshiping God? Was that God’s idea? Whose idea might it have been? …. Those are some good guesses. There isn’t much about this story in other historical texts. That doesn’t mean it didn’t happen; it means that it didn’t seem very important to the people who were writing history back then. So we don’t really know what these people did that upset the Romans. But I think it’s safe to say that this tragedy happened because of people. Not because of God.
God made us free. That’s really important to understand. We’re not dolls. We make choices, individually and all together. And our choices have consequences. I bet you’ve had conversations like that with your grownups! But it’s true for grownups too.
Sometimes people make choices that result in hurtful things. We use our free will to pollute the air and the water. There’s a town in Michigan, called Flint, that had dangerous levels of lead in their water, the water that comes out of the faucet. Lead is poisonous, especially for babies and kids. The problem for the kids in Flint isn’t that God didn’t care about their safety. It’s that people didn’t care about their safety. There are so, so many examples like that.
I’m going to ask you a couple of important questions now. When humans create systems and situations that hurt somebody – like the bad water in Flint, or not building enough places for people to live, or even changing the climate of our planet so there are worse and worse storms – who is more likely to be hurt by it, poor people or rich people?
That’s right. Usually poor people, because they don’t have the resources to get out of the situation and protect themselves.
Here’s the second question: Does God love rich people more than God loves poor people?
No. No, God loves people who are poor. God loves kids living in places of war. God loves families on the run from violence. God wants all God’s children to have safety, kindness, and hope.
Living the way God asks us to live, loving God and loving other people, doesn’t mean we get out of the hard stuff. It means we choose to take care of each other when we hurt – and to work to make things better. We are all in this together. And we have to work together, to change our cities, our country, our world, so that there are fewer systems and situations that hurt people.
God made us free. We make choices, and our choices have consequences. What are some choices we can make to make things better for everybody?…. Those are all good ways we can use our freedom and our choices to join God in making the world better for all God’s children!
When our hearts feel heavy because of hard things happening in the world or to people we care about – or to us – one thing we can do is pray about it. Hold it up to God, and ask God to take care of those people – and help us carry our heavy hearts – and show us what we can do to help. We’re going to spend some time praying now – and we’re going to try praying in a lot of different ways….
Further Reading: Rabbi Danya Ruttenberg on theodicy… https://twitter.com/TheRaDR/status/1090360431556866048