Jeremiah 1.4-10; Psalm 71.1-6; Hebrews 12.18-29; Luke 13.1-17
THE LIFE OF FAITH IN A FRAGILE WORLD
Introduction: How should we respond when bad things happen? A sudden accidental death; an earthquake; the Darwin Cyclone; the Granville train disaster; a child goes missing and is not found; the markets collapse…
This is a pretty fundamental human issue. Not surprisingly then, the Bible has a bit to say on it. The Book of Job is a classic text on the ‘problem’ of personal suffering. You know the scene: Job is an exemplary man in every way, yet God allows him to be put through the ringer, with the loss of all his resources, and his children, and his health. The Book of Job consists of set piece statements about the experience of Job, and what God is doing with him. His three friends, Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar give expression to the common Israelite/Jewish outlook:
‘Think now, who that was innocent ever perished? Or where were the upright cut off?’ (Job 4.7); ‘Does God pervert justice? Or does the Almighty pervert the right? If your children sinned against him, he delivered them into the power of their transgression. If you will seek God, and make supplication to the Almighty, if you are pure and upright, surely then he will rouse himself for you, and restore you to your rightful place…’ (Job 8.3-6).
In John’s Gospel we hear the disciples ask, in response to coming across a man blind from birth; ‘Who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?’ (John 9.1ff).
In our own day we hear of superstitions (black cats, walking under ladders, things happening on the 13th day of the month) to explain bad luck. Chinese popular culture is enslaved to the idea of luck. Other Eastern religions propose reincarnation as a resolution of the problem of evil in this world. So, what should our position be?
- Another Interruption: ‘At that very time there were some present who told him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices’ (13.1). It is a shocking incident, though plausible. Jesus rejects the usual view: ‘Do you think that because these Galileans suffered in this way they were worse sinners than all other Galileans?’ Jesus rejects the common attitude: no, they did not particularly deserve it. All people are equally under judgment unless they are penitent toward God, unless they embrace the Kingdom. Jesus reinforces this by relating another incident of random violence, this time without an obviously human origin: ‘Or those eighteen who were killed when the tower of Siloam fell on them—do you think they were worse offenders than all the others living in Jerusalem? No, I tell you; but unless you repent you will all perish as they did.’
That is, people at random, and religious people in particular, are vulnerable to the disorder that is in the world. So, the Godly person recognizes three realities:
i) The permissive will of the sovereign Lord God
ii) Penitence as a constant underlying disposition
iii) Trust in the salvation to which those of the Kingdom can look forward
- A Related Parable: the following parable is tied to what Jesus has just been saying, as is conveyed by the word ‘then’, a strong connective of these two sections. This parable sounds familiar, agricultural, concerning a fig tree and its fruit or lack of it, and the debate between the owner and the gardener about its future. It is clearly a further warning to the listening crowds about their position with the Lord God. Three points again may be derived from the parable:
i) Repentance will have its evidence;
ii) God’s patience is not unlimited, so
iii) Do not presume upon God’s mercy
- Conclusion: The Life of Faith in a Fragile World: The faithful person lives in the present, but does so in the light of the future, or the end and the goal of history. The end will be just, and therefore of comfort and security for the community of Jesus, the children of the Kingdom. Judgment and vindication will come in God’s time. We are to be ready at any time to meet the Lord, even if we are murdered in the middle of church or killed by a collapsing tower. We all die, so we live humbly before God, every day being a gift and a trust.
But even as we contemplate the seriousness of ‘this mortal coil’, let us note the third part of the Gospel today, where we heard the mercy of Jesus toward a crippled woman, and his healing of her on the Sabbath day. Here is ‘a postcard from heaven’. The Sabbath represents the end, the climax, the purpose of Creation, how things will be for the Community of Jesus. It reminds and assures us that God’s purposes are good for the people of God.
We live fragile lives in a fragile world. Living in the light of our Lord’s teaching today, walking with him along the way, lies the deep assurance Christians call Joy.