The universal fascination with knowing what is going on in the world has ancient roots. Knowing that Jesus is a well-known rabbi, some ask for his take on the hot news of the day. “There were some present at that very time who told him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices”(Luke 13:1). Pilate, the governor, has executed some Jews while they were in the act of offering their sacrifices, mingling their blood with the animal blood. Jewish sentiment is likely strongly against Pilate, although some seem to be critical of the people who have suffered. Maybe they deserved it.
“And he answered them, ‘Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans because they suffered in this way? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish’”(Luke 13:2-3). Jesus takes aim at the spiritual dimensions: don’t assume that these people deserved it. They didn’t. Then he addresses the real importance this event should have for them: “unless you repent, you will all likewise perish”(Luke 13:3). Their fascination with the event is distracting them from their own pressing need to do God’s will. Jesus then mentions another local tragedy—an accidental tower collapse—and makes the same point (Luke 13:4-5): “unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.”
What does Jesus teach us about current events?
We cannot assume that current events are about God’s judgment. These Jews assume that God has judged the Galileans for being “worse sinners” and the tower victims for being “worse offenders”(Luke 13:2, 4). They are wrong; Jesus says “no”(Luke 13:3, 5). Current events can be about God’s punishment, but we have no right to judge others about such things in the absence of revelation from God about the event.
We often try to make sense of things that make us afraid. Why are those Galileans punished and others not? How can I be certain that towers won’t fall on me? How do I know terrorists, burglars, car accidents won’t happen to me? This is the motivation behind assigning spiritual failure to these victims: I believe I can avoid bad things if I live well enough. It is notable that Jesus does not humor this spirit or give assurances. Instead, he teaches us to embrace this fear because it motivates us.
We cannot become so fascinated with current events that we forget what will happen to us. “Unless you repent, you will all likewise perish”(Luke 13:3, 5). Accidents are possible, but judgment is certain. I may suffer unforeseen troubles, but judgment is foreseen. The fear we have of awful fates should be channeled toward repentance. Jesus then tells a story (Luke 13:6-9) that speaks of the limits of God’s patience and the urgency of bearing fruit. Instead of staring in wonder at the fates of others—instead of focusing on whether they deserved it—Jesus wants our attention on the most pressing issue: Am I right with God? Certainly there is a place for compassion and concern for others who suffer, but it is possible for us to fixate on them and neglect our own spiritual house. Judgment is coming for me and the tragedies that happen to others are best understood as fuel for my own personal repentance. This is Jesus’ perspective.
Interest in current events is natural. Let’s be sure it doesn’t distract us from our responsibility to God!