As Jesus makes his way to Jerusalem from Galilee, people want to give the Jesus the latest news and it is not good: The Romans (Pontius Pilate) have been mixing the blood of Galileans in their sacrifices. Jesus' comeback counters the moral implications behind the report. Those who suffer are guilty of some offense. But Jesus tells them, the Galileans who suffered and were murdered by the Romans were no greater sinners than the Galileans who didn't suffer that fate. Jesus knew that when bad things happen people seek a moral explanation- someone must be blamed and put at fault: Sinful people, Pilate, someone.
So Jesus brings up the collapse of the tower of Siloam where 18 people died. (This sounds like the recent collapse of the building in Taiwan from poor building methods.) Jesus doesn't try to put the blame on anyone-- like the bumper sticker: S--- Happens. Do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others living in Jerusalem? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all perish just as they did.
The repentance Jesus is speaking about has to do with their and our thinking about death. Human culture is fascinated with death. Death must be avoided at all costs. This way of thinking about death, the emotion and fear it generates in us, cause us to do things that just brings about more death and destruction.
Terri and I recently watched a movie on Netflix called the "World Trade Towers." The scenes in the movie were full of death and destruction: so many workers in the towers going about their daily tasks trapped by the attack and so many heroic first responders trying to get people out of the towers as quickly as possible, but getting trapped themselves. There was a time when it was too dangerous for the rescue effort to continue. A US Marine decided to go to New York to help in the effort. No one looks better than a sharp-looking Marine in battle fatigues. When the search for survivors is called off for being too dangerous, this brave Marine walks through the barriers and continues the search for survivors. A few others join him. The Marine's efforts are rewarded when he finds two Port Authority police officers trapped still alive. The audience is filled with relief and pride as the officers are extricated from the ruble and reunited with their waiting families.
The most significant scene in the movie for me was when the camera was directed on the Marine again after the rescue. He says to the camera: We will avenge all this. The film ends with pictures of the surviving officers with their families and what they did after 9/11 (retired) and when it comes to the Marine it said that he did two tours of service in the Iraq war. Ironically of course, avenging 9/11 by attacking Iraq (no Iraqis flew the planes into the towers, but Saudi nationals) brought about the deaths of over 350,000 mostly innocent people and the number continues to increase in the war's aftermath and spread.
Where our human culture sees death, death, and more death and requires death to be avenged, Jesus sees only life, life, and more life. When we say: Look how many have died, what are we going to do about it? Jesus don't you care- help us get even! If you can't do something about terrorism, we will do something about it in your Name!
We can't say it out loud, but Jesus scandalizes and disappoints us. Death and violence is all around us and Jesus doesn't seem to care. Why is this? Jesus knows our fascination with death doesn't come from him- in the Resurrection Jesus conquered death once for all- he lives still. The fascination and all desire to avenge death come through the enemy of life- Satan. When we see death- Jesus sees only life. What is most important for Jesus and where he puts his emphasis and teaching is on our reaction to events. He offers us a change of desire away from revenge for death and tragedy to mercy, forgivenss, and love. Jesus came to take away our romantic fascination with death and instead show us how to live. We are caught up not in what others think or their calls for revenge, instead finding our identity in following Jesus' path to life. If we are going to boast, we boast in the Lord.
It's Lent. The only thing that can and will break our romance with death is the Cross. Jesus becomes a victim of our human culture, enamored with death, so that we might give up the need to create other victims. We find ourselves like the fig tree in the Gospel. It's not bearing fruit as it should. The owner of the tree wants it to be cut down. But Jesus is the gardener who pleads for more time. Let me dig around it, fertilize it, give me a year to see if it will bear fruit (remembering that a thousand years in God's time is a day).
Some people see God more like the owner of the tree. If there's no fruit- cut it down. Sadly, some Christians believe in that kind of God.
Jesus, the perfect revelation of the Father and interpreter of the Scriptures, is different. He pleads for more time for us to bear fruit and learn to live free from the fear of death. Every time we gather as a community for the Eucharist, the Risen, ever-living Jesus, is in our midst leading us away from death to Life. Christ has died, Christ is Risen, Christ will come again!