Buckle up, boys and girls, this is going to be a bumpy ride. I have no choice really because Jesus sets the tone and the agenda for it and it is rather inescapable.
O.K., well let me correct myself here. It isn’t so much that Jesus sets the tone and agenda as someone raises the issue for him to address, and in typical Jesus fashion he chooses to go where we’d prefer he didn’t go, which means of course that your Pastor is about to go where you’d prefer he didn’t go either!
See, here’s the set up. Jesus is on his way to Jerusalem to complete the task that has been laid before him by God. He is about to go and confront the religious and political leadership of the day.
It will not go well for him.
We know that.
Just a week ago we heard the Pharisees try to warn Jesus off from going to Jerusalem and confronting politics and religion, or they tried to anyway, warning him that Herod was out to kill him.
Jesus responded to that by calling Herod an “Old Fox”… not a compliment in those days, and proceeded to keep right on marching.
So Jesus has already tipped his hand that he’s not afraid of taking on controversial events with overt political ramifications.
Jesus, however, almost always does that with an uncomfortable twist for those who are listening, and that is the case again today.
So, while Jesus is on his way to Jerusalem to confront Pilate and Herod, a group of those traveling with him brings up this very contemporary situation. It is a 6 o’clock news kind of tragedy.
We’ve lost the details of this event to history, but evidently a group of Galileans (those would be Jesus’ kind of folks) were on their way to Jerusalem. Something happened along the way. There is a bloody slaughter at the hands of Pilate’s soldiers, where the travelers and the animals they have with them to offer as sacrifice in Jerusalem all end up in a common pool of blood.
It must have been a horrific scene.
At least as horrific as the classroom in Columbine.
At least as tragic as the bedroom of the child shot in the head here in Kansas City while he slept in his own bed, or any given night when gun violence rains down in the neighborhoods around here.
Certainly as bloody awful as the elementary school in Newtown, or the Excel plant in Hesston.
No place is immune from violence and tragedy.
We don’t really know why those travelers came up to Jesus to tell him about the tragedy of the day.
Maybe this is a second attempt to dissuade Jesus from going to Jerusalem. Not only is Herod out to get you, but look at what Pilate is capable of doing without remorse or a second thought! Steer clear of Jerusalem Jesus, the way we steer clear of the Troost corridor.
Or maybe they were hoping that Jesus would make some sense of this tragedy. Tell them what it meant, how to stop it.
Maybe they figured that if they told him about it, Jesus would come out in favor of “Sword and Spear control” in Judea.
Or, maybe Jesus would denounce the government, or call for better enforcement of the “Pax Romana” which should be for all people. Maybe Jesus could be the start of the “Galilean Lives Matter” campaign while he is going along.
What is striking is what Jesus does do, the twist he gives this, because rather than commenting on the tragedy, solving it, or explaining it, he instead asks a deeper question.
“Do you think that because these Galileans suffered in this way they were worse sinners than all other Galileans?”
There is the deeper question, the one that fishes for motivations. Is the issue the character of the people who got killed, did they do something to bring this upon themselves? If so, what was it so that we can avoid it?
Jesus then doubles down and brings up a headline of his own, how about a tower falling and crushing innocent bystanders? Were they worse sinners for being in the wrong place at the wrong time?
And in both cases there is this call to repent, which is curious, because just what am I to repent of?
I didn’t kill the Galileans!
I didn’t knock over the tower!
I don’t think I contributed to any shoddy workmanship that might have brought the tower down, or any anger or frustration that may have been pent up in the Roman soldiers or Pilate! What does Jesus mean by this call to “repent or you too will perish just as they did?” We all die eventually, so what is it to die “as they did?”
When the bible talks about repentance, there are really two uses of that word.
Most of the time Metanoia (Repentance) is connected up with the word for “sin”.. which is “harmatia.” That’s a word taken from archery, it means simply “to miss the mark.”
In this construction Repentance is really about how one does a “course correction.” Repentance is about turning around, or altering your direction.
But there is another deeper use of that word “Repentance.”
You find it in the Old Testament, and it is connected to God. It has to do not with simply changing not one’s direction, but really changing one’s mind -it is about transforming one’s thoughts about something.
So we read for instance in Exodus 32, about God being ready to wipe the Israelites out at the foot of Mt. Sinai right after bringing them out of Egypt because they had reverted to their old ways and are dancing around a golden calf while Moses is up on the mountain getting the Commandments. Moses has to “talk God down” and persuades him to “change his mind.” It’s not just a change of direction, it is a completely different assessment of what to do.
Or in the book of Jonah, God has sent the prophet to preach to Nineveh so that they might repent, and it is Jonah who doesn’t want God to change his mind, he wants to see those Ninevites burn!
Jonah delivers this nine-word sermon and the Ninevites do “repent” in sackcloth and ash, down to the animals, and so God also “repents” of the destruction intended.
God has a change of mind about the people of Ninevah. They go from being “that great city” and “those people” to being “my people.” The ones I created.
Is this what Jesus is pressing for along the way to Jerusalem? A complete change of mind, a transformation on how we look at things?
“Unless you repent… you will perish just as they did… stuck in the mindset in which they died! A mindset of futility, of violence, or senselessness and tragedy. A mindset in which day after day is filled with one senseless tragedy heaped upon another.
What if what Jesus is warning about here is human preoccupation? How we get “stuck” in patterns of thought and action.
Whether you are Pilate so preoccupied with keeping order that you will send out soldiers to kill and slaughter, or the Galileans preoccupied with asserting your right to go to Jerusalem and worship, or the bricklayers preoccupied with just making a buck and not perhaps doing a quality job, or the bystanders preoccupied with asserting your right to stand where you want to in order to watch the tower going up…. Unless you repent of such self centered preoccupation, you will perish in your own insistence and your own preoccupations… whatever they are!
There is a need for deeper repentance than we imagine.
The Galileans didn’t die because of lax sword and spear laws any more than they died of corrupt or brutal rulers exactly. They died and the blood pooled because that’s what happens in a world where violence and insistence on one’s own way is the only solution to problems. The only way to resolution to issues that is ever entertained is the exertion of one’s will over the other … insistence on one’s own way.
In other words, they died because no one could repent!
The Galileans couldn’t turn back when the warning was given.
The Roman Soldiers couldn’t hold back once the infraction of the hard line was made.
A world in which there is “no repentance” grinds you see, in its inexorable way, and it will chew up everything in its path because there is no turning aside, or turning around or changing of direction or deeper still… no transforming of the mind that might allow you to see another way!
This is the truth Jesus points to, and it is one that bears itself out in our world as well. Another shooting, more wringing of hands, another call for something to be done, but no conversation about how to proceed, what each party may have to give up or give in or ascent to in order to arrive at a solution that just might be as distasteful for all involved.
So it does not matter if there is a call for common sense gun legislation, without repentance; –deep repentance all that happens is the drawing of battle lines and the insistence on individual rights and freedoms, even while the blood pools at your feet.
It does not matter if you have a good guy with a gun stopping a bad guy with a gun, the result is still the same, — blood pooling at your feet and blood of the innocent and the guilty all mingling together because that is just the way it is when no one will yield.
Deep repentance is required, from the letting go of the John Wayne stereotypes to the pursuit of personal protection.
Deeper repentance is required. The marginalized of society and those locked out of opportunity will need to be addressed, so that there is hope again.
Deeper repentance by all, until we begin to have the mind of Christ, and begin to take on the Christ like attributes of humility, service, tenderness, and understanding. For unless we begin to do that, the tower will continue to fall, and the spears will continue to fly and the blood will continue to pool around our ankles for that is what happens in a world that can only insist on its own way.
This is why Jesus is on his way to Jerusalem to die, to lay down his life.
This is what God in Christ Jesus shows us how to do; calls his followers to do. They are to put away pride, and arrogance, and insistence on their own way so that something besides the relentless chewing up of the “way this world works” can begin to happen.
There, I went where you did not want me to go. I brought up politics, and violence and individuals rights, and guns and all kinds of things that are supposed to be “off limits” from the pulpit.
But I really have no choice, for Jesus is on his way to bring in Kingdom, and invites you to join him.
It is a kingdom is NOT OF THIS WORLD, and any pretense that it can be,..that we can insist on our own way and still follow Christ, is simply falling short of the following of the Christ who lays down his life… for you.