The Third Sunday in Lent – Series C – Luke 13:1-9
In the Name of Jesus, Amen.
Why do we suffer?
That’s the question at the very heart of today’s Gospel lesson.
It’s the question at the very heart of the human condition. Especially among those who realize just what kind of world it is that they live in.
“Why do we suffer?” is not usually a question that we would hear on the lips of toddlers.
It comes forth out of someone who knows of tragedy, despair, suffering and sorrow…and so usually, but of course, not always, that’s a question that comes from someone a bit older.
The crowds that come to Jesus today in Luke 13, are well acquainted with tragedy, despair, suffering and sorrow.
It’s not a casual topic of conversation that they bring to Jesus’ attention.
That Pilate has sent his troops into the Temple, in the midst of Passover, into the inner courts where no Gentile was to enter, and there to slaughter the Galilean Jews while they were offering their own sacrifices; is horrifying and tragic.
Moreover, it would not have been just the Jews who were outraged and cut to the heart by it.
The Romans themselves, who were famous for their tolerance of all religions and particularly of the Jews, would have found this in very bad taste and stain of shame to the empire, neither would Tiberius Caesar have been happy with Pilate about it.
It was and it remains, horrifying and tragic.
And so the crowds come to Jesus asking him this version of “Why do we suffer?”
But there’s a catch to this.
For the crowds already have in their minds an answer that they expect Jesus to give.
They aren’t actually interested in whatever it is that he might have to say, they aren’t genuinely seeking out a knowledge or comfort that they haven’t already given themselves.
For what they really want, and what they absolutely expect is for Jesus to rail against Pilate and denounce the Roman occupation.
They’ve already identified the source of their suffering and they wish for Jesus to affirm it.
The reason, the “Because”, of why they suffer is found in Pilate and his abuse of power.
If they can get rid of Pilate, if another would take his place, then they would not have to suffer in this way.
But of course, this is rather shortsighted.
Pilate will pass away, but another man with evil intent will take his place, the Roman Empire may dissolve, but other governments will again abuse their power.
In thinking that they already have the “Because” answer to the question of suffering, the crowds reveal that they believe they can resolve the problem of suffering by themselves.
Though it may not be Pilate or the Roman occupation, you and I still, search desperately for the “Because” answer to the question of suffering.
Like the crowds, we are often shortsighted, naming governments and politicians as the root of all of our problems.
And where these things may indeed, cause us some discomfort and difficulty; ridding ourselves of our government and public servants will not rid us of the problem of suffering.
For this problem is not simply an issue outside of you, placing the blame on someone or something else, it is a problem within you, and not just you, but every person, in every place, indeed all of creation.
Which is why Jesus doesn’t take the bait offered by the crowds, he doesn’t rail against Pilate, he doesn’t decry the Roman government. And he doesn’t leave them, as he does not leave us, in our shortsightedness and anger.
Instead, he turns the tables and asks us this question, “Were these Galileans worse sinners than the others that they should suffer this kind of death?”
In other words, “Does God deal out particular wrath as the result of particular sin?”
The answer that Jesus gives is of course, No.
The Galileans particular death does not say anything of their particular sins.
Just as the one who dies in the peace of sleep, doesn’t die in this way as the result of particular faithfulness and devotion.
We don’t get infected with disease because we stole a cookie in 3rd grade.
Neither do people die in plane crashes because they alone forgot to go to Church on Sunday.
The Galileans were not worse sinners, but they were, as you and I are, as is the whole of humanity, indeed, sinners.
Suffering, death, disease, war, violence, decay, all of these things are the result of sin. But not simply of sins committed, but rather the reality of being, by nature, a sinner, found living in a fallen world.
The wages of sin is death. The result of sin, of fallen creation is death itself, whether it’s the violence of Pilate’s troops in the temple, or the freak accident of a tower in Siloam falling and killing 18 people, or the again, the peaceful death of one who dies in their bed…all of this is found in the “Because” answer of Sin and Fallen Creation.
This is the “Because” answer that Jesus gives, and if that were all that He gave, then you and I would have no real hope.
But indeed, Jesus does not end with the simple “Why” of suffering, he points us further than ourselves and the answers that we try to give ourselves as comfort.
Jesus points us in faith, found in the midst of suffering, despair and fallen-ness to these words of hope, “Repent, lest you also perish.”
They may not seem very hopeful or comforting at first glance, but it is the real answer to real suffering that the Lord has come to give.
Death, despair, decay and suffering all work to show us the sobering reality that we do indeed live in a fallen world, in a fallen condition, that is not fixing itself, and neither are we.
But we are not left in this hopelessness, for true repentance is not simply feeling sorry about yourself and who you are, it is boldly staring into the eyes of the one who has come to save, to redeem, give life, buy back and forgive.
It is the work of God Himself, to show us and so move us to confess what we see through His Word, that we are dead in sin, unable to help ourselves out of our fallen condition, that even with the “Because” answer to the question of suffering, we still cannot end it.
With that confession, in faithful, God-working, repentance, we are given to see in faith the tree of life that has been firmly planted in the ground.
The tree that by ourselves and on our own, could not and cannot bear any fruit; the tree that was destined for destruction, marked to be cut down, and ordered to be taken out.
The tree that Jesus has taken up himself, cutting around for us, putting on manure for us, therefore, suffering for us, dying for us, and bearing for us, the fruit of faith, life, and forgiveness of sins.
The fruit and the tree that we could never be on our own.
In this Tree, you have been and you are grafted into the body of Christ, the one who has already given the final answer to the question of suffering and death.
At the end of this, we might also look to another question that we ask in our hearts, albeit a question that probably doesn’t cause us the same pain and frustration as that of “Why do we suffer?”
And yet, in that question, Jesus also gives us a simple “Because” answer. Perhaps it’s not the fullness of an answer that we would like, but it is the one that He gives.
We might ask the question, “Why does Christ come down to save us? Why does God even care?”
And the “Because” answer that Jesus and the Lord gives throughout all of Holy Scripture, is because God is love.
This is who He is, it is what His nature does. That He hands himself over completely unto death, and sin, holding nothing back, but giving all of Himself up, for you.
He has no other nature, He exists in the reality of love for you.
This is the simple, “Because” to the “Why” question, but it still doesn’t bring us all the way home, and Christ has for us more comfort and more hope to be given.
Indeed, God loves you, but more importantly, He loves you in this way, through His cross come to you by Water, Word, Body and Blood.
God does not simply love you from a cross, far away, 2000 years ago, he comes that that love might be given, that you might be found with him, he comes to bind you unto himself, to keep you in His Word, to wash away your sins, and to graft you into his faith through his body and blood.
God loves you, and he comes in these his gifts, through his work to keep you in His love.
That is the answer that really matters.
Indeed, in this life, on this side of eternity, we will find pain, suffering, death and decay, but it is a passing thing, and in all of it, our Lord has suffered already in our place, and because of that He promises to bear with us in our present suffering.
Indeed found in him, found in this tree of life, we are given the life and love that does not pass away.
Indeed, the answer that really matters.
In the Name of Jesus, Amen.