Do you ever read a story in the scripture and wonder what the people in the story, the people at the time of Jesus for instance, were thinking? Well in today’s Gospel you don’t have to wonder. The news recounted in the Gospel of Luke- of the heartless violence of Pilate and of sudden death from a fallen tower- could have been ripped from today’s headlines.
Fifty people killed while at prayer in New Zealand, killed it seems simply out of hatred. Hundreds dead in Mozambique and Zimbabwe from a hurricane, a cyclone. I write this homily in trepidation of what new tragedy will be in the news before I have the chance to deliver it.
What is our reaction to news of violence and sudden death we hear or read about? It is natural, all too natural to think about such things as having happened to ‘them’; to other people ‘over there’, whether ‘over there’ is another continent or the next town over; whether ‘other people’ means another ethnic group, class or religion, or in some other way differentiated from us. Jesus pushes aside such presumptuous conclusions and challenges his hearers, who might be feeling content and comfortable, to examine their own lives and make changes when and where necessary. What an appropriate gospel for Lent!
Are we not like the people in Israel at the time of the Gospel? When we see scenes of violence on our television screens, we perhaps naturally suppose that the people over there are not us, thinking ourselves exempt from the possibility of facing imminent judgement.
Jesus is blunt. By no means are we any different or any better deserving of a life free of violence or sudden death. Preserve us, Lord, from that kind of complacency. We too do not respect those whose politics are different from ours; we too have our racism and our religious intolerance, and if we do not repent, we will perish.
Even when we when we help others, we naturally do it as something ‘we’ give ‘them’- them- the poor, the needy, the less fortunate. Preserve us, Lord, from that kind of complacency. Do we not see that in comparison to God, there is not one of us who is not living in desperate poverty- poor in faith, needy in our love, living in total dependence, poorer than the very grasses and flowers that bloom and fade at the will of our creator? Jesus is blunt: “But I tell you, if you do not repent, you will all perish as they did!” By no means are we any different or better deserving of a life free of want or humiliation that those we label the poor or needy.
Then there are the times when we see people in our lives purely as producers and are impatient when we do not get results from them. If we do not see fruit we get angry and want to cut the tree out of our lives as useless and only taking up space. When something doesn’t work, we throw it away and get a new one. Preserve us, Lord, from that kind of complacency .Do we not see that each of us are vulnerable and dependent, that we sometimes feel useless, as if someone had come to look at us looking for fruit, and had found none. “But I tell you, if you do not repent, you will all perish as they did!” By no means are we any different or better deserving of care and nurturing, than those we call disposable.
Perhaps we feel, deep down, that we are protected because we are Christians, Catholics, church goers, or because you live in a rich and civilized culture. Perhaps you have achieved some level of education, of financial success, some level of spiritual growth. Preserve us Lord, from vain complacency in success. Are we not aware of talents wasted, of good omitted? Jesus said: “But I tell you, if you do not repent, you will all perish as they did!”
Saint Paul in the first letter to the Corinthians writes about just this sort of complacency. He warns that at no time should we take God’s love and bounty for granted, as though we have won salvation and all its rewards and we no longer have any work to do. Paul warns: Whoever thinks he is standing secure should take care not to fall.
Jesus employs very strong words in the Gospel today. We must break free from our complacency. Jesus is blunt: if we do not repent, we shall perish.
We are being given time – a graced time. We should use what time we have to reshape our lives; to remove the obstacles between us and others, between us and God; spend time not in complacency but in jolting our equilibrium. God, in his mercy, gives us an opportunity to repent and bear fruit. However, if we persist in our complacency, you will indeed perish by your own choice. And whoever thinks he is standing secure should take care not to fall.