Did they get what they deserved? In that question there are a few assumptions: they as apposed to us or me; and they deserve to be punished or consequenced – but me? Well, of course not. What are you thinking? And now we have another assumption that existed in Jesus’ day and breathes in our day as well. If someone experiences hardship of any kind, it must be that God is punishing them. And if God is punishing them, then they obviously are getting what they deserve. One of the sources I looked at claims that Jesus is endorsing this long standing theological outlook. This source refers to the book of Job as evidence of the existence of the theology. Well yeah, the Jewish people held onto the view, but Job is all about how wrong that view of God is. So, I could be wrong, but I don’t believe Jesus is endorsing the theology that if someone is experiencing suffering they are being punished by God.
Luke 13:1-5 is a setting scene for the parable in verses 6-9. At the same time as the previous discourse, there were some present who told Jesus about an incident where Pilate killed some Galileans. We have no record of this event. We do know that Pilate was ruthless and so the idea of him killing a group of Galileans is not a stretch. That he mixed their blood with their sacrifice most likely means that he killed them in the temple during one of the pilgrimage feasts. They were most likely guilty of some form of insurrection. The people making this report are probably wanting Jesus to make some kind of comment on those sinful Galileans. Obviously, if they had been blessed by God, if their attempted rebellion had been blessed, they would not have been killed by that scoundrel Pilate.
But does their execution mean that they were worse sinners than all the rest of Galilee? That is the wrong question. The right question is: do you need to repent? And in the reality of your need to repent, does it make sense to ask if another person or group needs to repent more than you? No. You need to repent. We are still guilty of making assumptions. We assume that we are decent people. Well, at least more decent than some people. And maybe you are not guilty of murder, or theft, or rebellion. But you are guilty. You are in need of repentance. And if you do not repent; if you get all caught up in thinking that the suffering of others is because they are more guilty than you – you will never escape your own guiltiness.
And just in case they don’t get the point, Jesus brings up an incident of his own. What about the eighteen people who were killed when a tower near the pool of Siloam fell? We don’t know anything about this event or even this tower. That’s okay. Jesus’ listeners knew all about it. Why didn’t the people use this example? It seems likely they wanted to call attention to the guilt of those inferior Galileans. There was a Jerusalem snobbery. So, Jesus had an example ready made to confront their snobbery. Was the eighteen Jerusalemites crushed by a toppled tower worse sinners than the rest of all the inhabitants of Jerusalem? The word Jesus uses here, translated “culprits” in the NASB, means debtors. It is most likely an Aramaic idiom for those who, because of their sin, are in debt to God. And doesn’t that describe each and every one of us?
I fail to see how this could be interpreted as Jesus bolstering their view of bad things happening because of sin. I know. Sin ruins lives. Absolutely. But does my dad have dementia because he is a sinner? And if so, why do so many others sinners not have dementia? Those who think that Jesus is reinforcing this thought, think the “perishing” referred to here is a this worldly punishment. So, under this view Jesus is warning his listeners to repent or they may just have a tower topple on top of them. Uhm, I don’t think so. It seems the opposite to me. He is warning against a Pharisaical belief that the poor; the downtrodden; the oppressed; the hurting; the dead and dying; are merely receiving what they deserve because, dang it all, they are in debt to God. What is this exchange calling us to? It is too easy to think about how guilty those people are. Those sinners; those reprobates. And as we are pointing fingers at them, we can conveniently overlook our indebtedness; our sinfulness. I am a sinner. God forgive me, I am in debt. I am the one who needs to repent, to feel the weight of my sin, to be overwhelmed by sorrow and regret, to throw myself at the mercy of my king. I deserve to die. Me. And until I acknowledge this truth, I will never repent. I will pat myself on the back and say, “Well, at least I’m not as bad as those Galileans who Pilate killed.” Repent my friends.