Homily for the 3rd Sunday of Lent, Luke 13: 1-9; 1 Corinthians 10: 1-13
“do you think those Galileans who suffered in this way were worse sinners than all the others? No, I tell you! – Jesus
– God doesn’t use pain and failure to punish us. God is always calling us home.
In 2005, a flood ripped through the city of New Orléans, killing many people and destroying the lives of many more. If that wasn’t bad enough, some evangelical Christians made the suffering even worse by blaming the victims. Franklin Graham said Hurricane Katrina was God’s judgement on a wicked and sinful city.
Christopher Hitchens wryly observed that, if so, it was a very strange judgement; can you guess which part of New Orleans was unharmed by the flood? That’s right, the red light district.
‘It is impossible for the infinite God of Love to will evil, physical or moral, even in a provisional or transitory way” David Bentley Hart, ‘The Doors of the Sea’
Does anyone seriously think that the people of New Orleans, or any other disaster hit area, are worse human beings than everyone else? No! Life is amazingly fragile and random, for all of us. It doesn’t work like that.
But, here’s where it does get a little more complicated. Our human choices do have an impact on the world around us. Our behaviour can make the land and the oceans sick. Climate scientists have modelled how man-made global warming is leading to higher rainfall, rising sea levels, more unstable weather patterns, more floods and more hurricane Katrinas.
No, the people of New Orleans were not more sinful than us. But unless we change, unless we start learning how to live in a more just and sustainable way, we’re all going to see more of these things.
A few years before our gospel story today, some people in Galilee got caught up in a set of random acts of violence and disaster. People said ‘well, have you seen how Galileans behave? Wasn’t that God’s judgement on them?’
No says Jesus, it doesn’t work like that. Those poor Galileans no more deserved to suffer than anyone else. But, He says, “unless you repent, unless you turn away from the obsessions and behaviours that are stirring up violence and hatred in this land, you’re going to suffer in a way that’s just as bad”.
There’s already enough suffering in the world, but we know how to add some more! Blaming victims for their pain is just one way. In our second reading today, S Paul talks about sexual immorality – and he’s not talking about what goes on behind the bike shed during break time. He’s talking about the routine abuse and intimidation of women and children, about the predatory behaviour of men in a culture that was happy to tolerate it. And S. Paul talks about idol worship. Worshipping idols – nationalism, money, possessions – leads to even more suffering and death.
‘Christians!’ says Paul, ‘have no part in this! Show people there’s a different way. Repent!’
Repentance is saying no to all that leads to death, to all that brings ugliness and sorrow to our world. Repentance is saying yes to life, and coming home to God. We all need to repent. Every day. It can feel overwhelming when we realise this. But we have Jesus.
Do you have lots of mistakes, lots of shame, lots of failings in your life, lots of…. it begins with ‘c’ and rhymes with ‘cap’ ? – do you have a lot of that? Well, God has a very good use for it
‘No! Don’t cut the fig tree down’, says the gardener (the Gardener – Mary Magdalene will tell you about him). – ‘I know it’s never produced any fruit – but! I’m going to work with it and put lots of manure into its soil. I will turn all that cr – all the failure and pain and tears into the very stuff that’s going to bring it life.
He’s a gardener, that’s what He does.
The economy of grace. God doesn’t use pain and failure to punish us. He takes hold of these things, and turns them into a source of healing and life. God is always calling us home.