Do you suppose that they were more guilty than all the other people living in Jerusalem? They were not, I tell you. (Luke 13:4)
This Gospel has a very modern feel to it. It sounds as if Jesus has just been watching the news. Or listening to it.
The headlines: "Massacre during evening Sacrifices - Pilate warns that anti-Roman agitation will not be tolerated." "Tower falls on workers at Siloam - many feared dead". It is not so very far from what we hear today. Holidaymakers killed or injured in Egypt - victims of suicide bombings in Baghdad.
And then - just as now - people want to know why. Why did God allow this to happen? The question is put in a different way in Jesus time, but its basically the same question. They asked whether these were bad people. We are often confronted with the challenge "How can you believe in a good God if such things take place?"
In this year of Faith we do well to consider these hard questions. They are ones which are often thrown at us - almost as if they were proof of the non-existence of God. How can we reply? Do Jesus' words in this Gospel help us at all.
At first it may see that they do not. Jesus’ answer may at first appear a little puzzling, for they answer a question which is a little different from the one we ask. But look again - what Jesus says does say is helpful, and it is filled with hope.
Firstly, he rebukes those who think these terrible events occurred because these were bad or wicked people. The worshippers, the tower builders, the holidaymakers, are no different than the rest of us. God doesn't act like this. We might be outraged by the idea, and the people of Jesus time clearly struggled with it, but still we might ask what have I/they done to deserve this? Why me?
Nothing. Of course nothing. They have done nothing wrong - no more than anyone else. No, Jesus says. This is not punishment. God does not strike them down through the wickedness of men or the whim of natural disaster. They are no worse than any of you, and possibly even better.
And there is another thing. And this is source of our joy. Jesus says that all is not lost. God offers hope, rescue, salvation. We must repent. We must turn again to God. We must realise that we are not the masters of our own destiny. And if we do there is hope, and more. Disaster and affliction and persecution make us think again. Consider your lives, Jesus says, live according to God’s will. Because then there is a very real hope.
While the rich and comfortable of the world might look upon such disasters and attrocities and say to us “How can you believe in God?”, the people who are afflicted by such events have no such luxury. They light their candles, lay their flowers, say their prayers. They are ferventhe in the midst of ther sorrow to worship this wonderful God.
No, the Gospel is not about punishiment. And God is still the God of love. The Good News is about mercy and hope for those who love God from their hearts, and turn to him in truth.