Not a “Why”, but a “What Now”
Text: Luke 13:1-9
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Why do bad things happen, especially to some and not others? That’s a very common question that nearly every religion and brand of philosophy has had to deal with at some point. And, as you might expect, there have been too many answers to count; some are OK, some terrible, and everything in between. But this is a sermon and not a philosophy or comparative religions class, so we won’t be able to examine them all. But even with all the answers that have been offered through the millennia, it’s still a question that gets asked of religious teachers and leaders. I get asked this question. “Why do bad things happen? Why did this happen to me and not them?” So it’s no surprise that Jesus is asked this question during His time of teaching in His earthly ministry.
As Jesus was teaching the crowds, some of those present decided they would ask that hard question about bad things happening. There had been some Galileans in Jerusalem for one of the annual sacrifices that all Israelites were required to attend. The Galileans were known for being rebellious, even to the point of violence, against Pontius Pilate and the Romans. They also had been caught in some of the political crossfire between Pilate and King Herod. So, as an example to those who would dare to think of rebellion, and as a move in his political chess match against Herod, Pilate had some of these seditious Galileans killed—while they were offering their sacrifices. This meant that some of their own blood had been spilt onto the sacrifices they were offering at that moment. And if anything was clear about the sacrifices the Israelites were to make to the Lord, it was that human sacrifice was an abomination. It was evil enough that these Galileans had been murdered while they were worshiping, but with their last breath, they unintentionally were offering up human sacrifice to the God who had strictly forbidden it. “So, Jesus,” they asked, “What do you think of that? How could something so evil happen, even to troublemakers like the Galileans?”
Just as it would be with us whenever it comes to current events, there would have been a variety of opinions in the crowd of those waiting for Jesus’ response. Some thought the Galileans must have had it coming. If you don’t want to be killed by Pilate, don’t cross Pilate. Others may have been publicly upset, but were quietly indifferent toward it, if only because those who were killed were “only” Galileans—a further out, backwater province that was a little too close to the Samaritans and other Gentiles—not the pure-as-driven-snow Jerusalem and Judea residents. Yet others, on the opposite end of the spectrum, would have seen this a call to action, to overthrow the Romans, or die trying. And others still would have feared for the immortal souls of those Galileans, who had died in such an evil way, even committing abomination with their last breath, even if it was accidental, with no chance to be purified of it afterward. And the most cynical among the crowd would have simply thought that this was a random act of misfortune, just one more piece of evidence that God isn’t powerful enough to save those Galileans, or that He isn’t loving enough to care about them. Everyone had an opinion on it—just as everyone has an opinion on these things now—and they were waiting for Jesus to tell them whose opinion was right.
Jesus does not play that game though. He is not interested in confirming their biases against Galileans or Gentiles. He’s not interested in holding some people’s sins as higher or more deserving of evil repayment than others. He’s not interested in digging us deeper into our own fallen opinions, invented by our own fallen reason and rationales. “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans, because they suffered in this way?” Jesus challenges the people there. He challenges us too. Do not presume to be the ultimate judge of who deserves good or evil. That is not given to you or any mortal. Then He goes on, “No, I tell you, they weren’t. But unless you repent, you will likewise perish.” Then Jesus brings it a little closer to home for them. He brings up something in their own current events there in Jerusalem. “Or those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them: do you think they were worse offenders than all the others who lived in Jerusalem?” It’s not just the Galileans, it’s not just those other people who are different, the Gentiles, the unbelievers, the drug dealers, the antivaxxers, the people who we think tempt fate with whatever it is that we don’t like, it’s not just them who suffer evil things. It happens in our own camps too, no matter which camp we may be in. So Jesus says, “No, I tell you; they’re not worse sinners. But unless you repent”—notice how it brings it home with that hard word, “you”—“unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.”
God does not always give us a “why” answer for the bad things that happen. Why did this happen to me? Why is this evil allowed to happen at all? Why do some people have such tragedy, such evil touch their lives, when others don’t? And it can be frustrating to not know the why. We all want to know. It’s built into us to want to learn. And so, with many things, we can seek the why. Why does something fall to the ground when I let go of it? Why does this medicine work against this illness? Why does bread rise in the oven? We can chase the why in many situations. But here Jesus tells us that there are some times that we simply can’t. God hasn’t given us the why and He won’t. He reserves that why for His own hidden will.
The reason why God reveals some things and not others is not ours to try to grab out of His hands. The reason why some evils fall on some people and not on others is not—unless God says clearly in His Word—is not ours to wrench out of His grip either. What good would it do, anyway? Even if that hidden part of God’s knowledge was made known to us—if we knew every why in existence—would we even be able to do anything against those cosmic forces beyond our wisdom and control and power? If we knew why the tower of Siloam fell on those eighteen and not on any other eighteen people in Jerusalem, it still wouldn’t change the fact that it happened, that evil struck them.
And so, Jesus doesn’t give us a why when it comes to evil touching our lives. But He does give us what we actually need, something we can actually use. He gives us a “What now?” And that “What now?” is “Repent.” Use every evil situation that you witness as an opportunity to run back to God for safety and protection. Use every story of suffering as a reason to look to God for rescue. Luther teaches us in the 7th Petition of the Lord’s Prayer in the Catechism that whenever we pray, “Deliver us from evil,” or whenever we hear of evil striking someone, we should make the sign of the cross and pray, “Lord, have mercy on us.” It’s a quick little prayer turning us back to God, repenting us to turn back to Him for help in the face of disaster and bad news and terror, rather than leaning on our own resources or abilities.
And the reason why we use these examples to repent, to turn back to God, is because even if He hasn’t given us a why it happens, He has done something about it. He’s taken all the evil that’s fallen on us as a human race—falling towers and violence and disease and suffering and death—and He’s carried it all Himself, in His own body. He suffers the violence of Pilate and the Roman soldiers as He’s tortured for the sins of the Galileans, the people of Jerusalem, and the world, including us. He’s cried out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” as He suffers the worst evil of all, the evil earned by all mortals, as He’s separated from His heavenly Father, the source of all good. He bears all of it with us; He bears all of it for us, so that we know that evil does not have the final word. It’s already been dealt with on the cross. It’s been crucified in Jesus’ body and put into the ground. And when Jesus rose from the dead, He left all that sin, all that suffering and death and evil, in the dirt, never to rise again. He showed us that evil, no matter what form it takes or how random it strikes us, whether it fell on us because of our own actions and decisions, or if it hit like a lightning bolt—it’s limited. We have God to turn to, to repent and face. We have His cross shielding us. We have His protection around us. We have His resurrection and eternal life waiting for us when everything else is said and done.
So we repent. We turn to face God again and again. We hold to His deliverance from evil. We act as His instruments to comfort and care for those who are struck. And we look forward to the ultimate good, when evil will be blotted out forever in the light of heaven, the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come. In the name of Jesus, who has defeated evil. Amen.