Spared from Tragedy

  • Jeff Crotts
Building rubble

Tragedies happen all the time where people suddenly die.  I was doing yard work yesterday out in the yard, looking at my house and somehow I was prompted to remember that nearly two and half years ago we had a 7.2 earthquake.  I guess looking at my house across my pretty big backyard I was reminded of how it felt to be inside, quaking and rolling, feeling like I was on the high seas, wondering if and when it was going to stop.  Also, wondering (almost a minute in) if our house was going to hold together.  We were all thankful when it was over and relieved to hear that no one died or even injured.  So, by massive contrast, in 2010 in Port-au-Prince Haiti, a 7.0 earthquake struck, and the death toll estimates that between 150,000 and 300,00 died from this.  Counts vary depending on geography, proximity, and timing how you count what actual number is, but suffice it to say, it was a catastrophic, horrifying event.  Why so many died there as opposed to here has to do with their population density compared with here and building construction.  After the earthquake of 1964, where a 9.4 took the lives of 115 in Alaska another 16 between Oregon and California, construction here was significantly beefed up.  By contrast, the Haitians were vulnerable, their homes being made of concrete without rebar.  Homes made of rock and sand with no rebar, literally melting and killing most everyone inside.   

So, why did something on this scale happen to the Haitians and not the Alaskans?  Was it because we are any better off, perhaps more prepared, or skilled?  Well, not really.  Think about the fact that a much larger earthquake, maybe a 10.4, could have hit Alaska, eviscerating and leveling everyone’s home and life.  Or, a much smaller quake could have struck Haiti in 2010.  What about the idea that Haitians by in large are not known for being evangelical Christians?  In fact, they are known for having a history of Haitian Vodou pronounced Voodoo which is a synchronized religion between Roman Catholicism and spiritism.  Basically, the tribal slaves who came from West Africa combined their religion with what Roman Catholic missionaries taught, thus combining to make people who pray to God and the “spirits” for health, justice, and favor.  Knowing this as an evangelical Christian, you might be tempted to believe God judged Haiti for their false religion compared to sparing us who are known for our Christian religion.  Whether you would admit it, a lot of people, Christian and non-Christian take this viewpoint.  In a more common issue today, the topic of racism and violence is regularly in the news.  People are regularly being shot and killed in what appears to be both acts of random violence and vicious murders.  You might be tempted to think, this would never happen to me because I am too godly.  God has given me the wisdom to not fall prey to this kind of thing.  Or, God will protect me because I am his child.  I argue that Jesus teaches that no one is really exempt from a sudden tragic event.  Whether you are someone practicing Vodou or a Sunday school teacher in what appears to be the safest community on earth. In fact, the text I want to unpack targets the pride in our hearts where we create a façade of safety in our own minds believing we are better than other people whom God allows tragedy to strike.  “That would never happen to me because I am not nearly as sinful as they are.”  

Here is how Jesus addressed this form of pride from Luke 13:1-5.     

1 There were some present at that very time who told him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices.

So, we do not have a historical record for this event, but we should guess this tragedy was well-known during Jesus’ day.  A news report like this is like hearing about another school shooting!  Or, a church shooting.  This time the shooters are governing authorities.

The Galileans may have been Zealots perceived as practicing their sacrificial religion as a matter of protest.  A revolt of sorts against Pilate.  Pilate perceiving defiance, slaughters them onsite, inside their own temple.  This would be considered blasphemy against the God of the Jews, and I think people brought this up to see what Jesus would say.  Thinking he would either side against Pilate as a gross murderer or these Galileans for secret sins inviting this kind of deserved treatment. 

Like Job’s counselors, this small questioning crowd offered Jesus only one option; to take a posture of judgment.  Judging either Pilate and/or judging the Galileans.  As always, Jesus takes a third and unexpected position for why this happened. 

2 And he answered them, “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans, because they suffered in this way?

Jesus holds up the mirror, asking this indicting question.  In essence, Jesus asks, “Who are you to judge, do you really believe you are any better off spiritually than the Galileans?”  “Are you any less sinful than they were?” 

3 No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.

 Jesus then completely turns the tables calling his inquisitors to repent.  I assume this takes them off guard as they were trying to see how Jesus would respond, not having to take stock for they should respond.

Again, Jesus exposes how human nature retreats to a façade called, “self-protection” by judging others. “Tragedies like this one would never happen to me because I am not like them!”  This is a foolish form of “control” that is out of control.  Jesus’ point is that as bad and gruesome this was, this is nothing in terms of God’s coming judgment for unrepentant sinners.  The caution and warning are simple: “Do not judge them, judge yourself!” 

4 Or those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them: do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others who lived in Jerusalem?

 Jesus ups the proverbial ante by taking up an equally known tragedy but one with no human malice whatsoever.  This is the category called, “An act of God” when people die suddenly by hurricane or tornado.  This tower of Siloam, located nearby Jerusalem was meant to keep watch over the aqueduct system with served the city.  A town must have fallen (by an earthquake? Or, by bad construction?) killing all inside or underneath or both.  Jesus raises the same question, this time with a deeper dig on the heart.  So, what do you say about these people who died just by being in the wrong place at the wrong time?  Are you better than they are?  Are you above something like this happening to you?  Jesus says not at all.  Quick and sudden tragedy is just that, tragic!  As horrible as sudden death in this life, there is something equally sudden but infinitely worse.  God’s future judgment against your sin.  Allow me to use bad English – “Don’t judge others, judge you!”  Turn away from propping yourself up and humbly turn to and lean on Jesus Christ for forgiveness and grace.