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!
One question governs Jesus’ interactions and work. It boils down complex theological questions to their essence. It gives practical guidance for how to go forward.
Jesus’ burning question is “What does God want?”.
It is his prayer. Jesus teaches his disciples to pray, “Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven”(Matt 6:10). As he prays for God’s will to be done, it is only natural that he then proceeds to do God’s will himself. He prays for God’s will to be done even over his own (Matt 26:39). In prayer, we remind ourselves of the central question: What does God want?
It is his mission. “For I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will but the will of him who sent me”(John 6:38). So many of Jesus’ statements of his mission—to seek and save the lost (Luke 19:10), to lay down his life (John 10:17-18), and to serve rather than be served (Mark 10:45)—are directly tied to the Father’s will. Every action is filtered through the lens of his mission. What does God want?
It is his standard for judgment. “I can do nothing on my own. As I hear, I judge, and my judgment is just, because I seek not my own will but the will of him who sent me”(John 5:30). There are judgments we must make about life, potential actions, and other people. The only way to ensure proper judgment is to ask the question: What does God want?
It is his passion. “My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to accomplish his work”(John 4:34). God’s will drives Jesus. It fills and sustains him. When Jesus forces the moneychangers out of the temple, he asks, “Is it not written, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer for all the nations’?”(Mark 11:17). He is adamant that those who buy and sell in the temple ask themselves the question: What does God want?
If we adopt this question, it will help us. It is an aid to our Bible study, helping us zero in on the key issue in any text. It will help our daily interactions, where discernment is needed to decide the best actions. It will give assurance that we are living in the will of God. It will strengthen us in times of temptation.
In Scripture we have access to the will of God, revealed and expressed in terms we can understand (2 Tim 3:16-17). Let’s make Jesus’ burning question our burning question. What does God want?
Jesus is a guest in the home of Mary and Martha. Mary sits and listens to Jesus’ teaching while Martha is busy with domestic duties. Luke comments that she is “distracted with much serving”(Luke 10:40). At one point she grows so annoyed that she interrupts Jesus, telling him to make Mary help her. Jesus rebukes Martha: “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things, but one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her”(Luke 10:41-42).
Distractions are major problem in our time. We struggle to focus attention on any one thing—and this has consequences in relationships, work productivity, and spiritual development.
The distracted mind struggles to view others rightly. Because Martha is distracted, she only notices Mary as not helping her. “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Tell her then to help me”(Luke 10:40). Martha is self-focused because she is overwhelmed with her tasks. An undistracted mind would appreciate that Mary is learning and growing from the master; a distracted mind is only frustrated.
The distracted mind often misunderstands and abuses spiritual things. Not only does Martha interrupt Jesus, she also tries to use him for her own purposes. “Tell her then to help me”(Luke 10:40). Jesus has become a pawn Martha uses to get her way. This is not his mission. He does not indulge her. When we have the focus to carefully consider spiritual things, we have more respect for them; the distracted mind can easily misapply. Spiritual things demand careful attention.
How do we minimize distractions?
We must move past viewing actions as only right and wrong. Martha is distracted with much serving. Serving is good! Yet it is not as good as learning from Jesus. We often justify our scattered lives and thoughts by arguing, “There’s nothing wrong with it!” Martha could say the same. Things can be innocent, yet not be helpful. Things can be innocent, yet we can still be enslaved by them. Things can be innocent, yet move us away from the Lord. Serving is good, but if it is keeping me from doing better things, it has become a problem.
We must distinguish between what is urgent and what is essential. “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things, but one thing is necessary”(Luke 10:41-42). Dishes need to be washed. Serving needs to be done. Often such things feel urgent. We have to pay the bills and get to work on time and keep our commitments. Yet when we strip away the urgency, only one thing is essential. Communing with God and strengthening our relationship with him is the priority. Everything else, good as it may be, may simply be a distraction from the essential.
We must do the necessary thing first. Very often priority is about timing—what we do first. We do important things first to ensure that they get done, no matter what else happens. There is discipline here because we feel that this is something that must happen. It is non-negotiable.
A simple application of Jesus’ teaching is to set aside a time in which we can learn from, pray to, and connect with God. I encourage people to do that early in the day because it both sets a tone for the day and ensures that it never gets crowded out of our schedules.
Distractions are an ever-present reality, yet Jesus wants us to find and pursue the one necessary thing.
Jesus prepares his apostles before sending them out to preach: “Behold, I am sending you out as sheep in the midst of wolves, so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves”(Matt 10:16). This is a high calling. It is hard to balance these two attributes—wise and innocent.
Jesus wants us to be wise and careful. Some people are dogs and pigs. “Do not give dogs what is holy, and do not throw your pearls before pigs, lest they trample them underfoot and turn to attack you”(Matt 7:6). They will take your kindness, love, and even the message of peace you preach and trample them—then come after you. Some people are pretenders, wearing “sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves”(Matt 7:15). The danger here is obvious. When we are “sheep in the midst of wolves,” caution is essential.
Jesus also wants us to be innocent, trusting, and childlike. A child is his vision of the greatest in the kingdom: “Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven”(Matt 18:4). He wants his disciples to respond with kindness when others hurt them (Matt 5:38-42). We forgive when our brother sins against us seven times in a day (Luke 17:4). These verses speak to a deliberate optimism. He does not want our familiarity with the danger of the world to keep us from being “innocent as doves.”
My observation is that most people tend to emphasize one of these attributes and neglect the other. We live enough of life that we gain lots of wisdom—yet struggle to believe the best of others, give of ourselves, or even to continue to trust God to answer prayers of faith. Or we grow hopelessly naïve—blindly ignoring negatives, putting ourselves (and others) in positions to be hurt needlessly, and offering prayers that ignore God’s answers of no. Jesus wants us to be both “wise as serpents and innocent as doves.”
A few questions to help us with the balance:
We continue to live in a world that is dangerous for us physically, emotionally, and spiritually. We are sheep in the midst of wolves. Are we wise AND innocent?