Jesus, did you hear about the massacre at Virginia Tech? Thirty-three students and professors were gunned down. Why did those students die and not others? What did they do to deserve such a death?
The blame game began almost instantaneously. You've already heard this played out on the internet and on tv, and I'm not going to link to them. They died because they were cowards. They died because of video games. They died because of the failure of our mental health system. They died because of anti-depressant drugs. They died because society won't allow students and teachers to arm themselves.
And from the Chimperor himself: They died because they were in the wrong place at the wrong time.
Jesus isn't surprised by these questions. He's heard it all before. When they were walking along a road and encounter a blind man, his disciples asked him, "Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?" (John 9:2) Later some people tell Jesus about how the Roman soldiers slaughtered some gentiles and mixed their blood with the Jewish sacrifices.
"What?, responded Jesus, "Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans because they suffered this way? I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish. Or those eighteen who died when the tower in Siloam fell on them—do you think they were more guilty than all the others living in Jerusalem? I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish." (See Luke 13:1-9)Jesus knows that there is fear hidden behind our blaming. And certainly survival’s guilt is a phenomenon with which we have grown distressingly familiar as we mark the tragedies at Waco and Oklahoma City and Columbine this week. It may not be flattering to know this about ourselves, but this impulse also tempts us to congratulate ourselves for our own well-being. Are we fortunate? Virtuous? Blessed? In Luke’s story Jesus turns away from such individualistic explanations. Those who have died were no worse than any others. Their fate, according to Jesus, may not have been their own fault, yet those who fail to repent — to turn toward life abundant — bring judgment upon themselves.
I like how the commentator from Out In Scripture puts it.
Jesus implies what we know is true: blaming the victim never helps anyone, and more often than not, it provides empty excuses to withhold compassionate service to those who suffer. Jesus, the bearer of peace, calls all people to repent — to turn away from a culture of violence, retribution and scapegoating and turn toward life, shalom, and peace.Meanwhile we're debating gun control and how soon we could arm our teachers.
Fortunately, in the midst of this grave warning, Jesus also injects a word of hope for us. He weaves a story about a man who has planted a vineyard. (See Luke 13:6-9) Finding no fruit on a fig tree for three years, he orders the gardener to cut it down. The gardener resists, suggesting that the landowner wait one more year while he worked in a little fertilizer to see if the fig tree might bear fruit.
Thanks be to God for God’s patience with us and with our judgment-oriented society!
TAGS: Virginia Tech, Columbine, Theology of Judgment