11 September 2009
Luke 13:1 One day there were some people in the presence of Jesus who told him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. 2 Jesus asked them, “Do you think that because these Galileans suffered in this way they were worse sinners than all other Galileans? 3 No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all perish as they did. 4 Or those eighteen who were killed when the tower of Siloam fell on them—do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others living in Jerusalem? 5 No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all perish just as they did.”
In the days after 11 September 2001 I found myself turning to this text, drawn by the image of a collapsing tower, the reverberating question, "Why?" and, the inadequacy of the implied response of those to who Jesus is speaking - somehow the dead deserved to die because they were sinners, (really bad ones).
That judgmental response: America is a sinful nation (full of homosexuals and/or racist foreign policies), the people of New Orleans are depraved, debauched and practice voodoo, the people of Asia aren't Christian, they're Muslim or Buddhist or some sort of heathen - they deserved 9/11, Katrina, the tsunami.
Jesus' words remind us that we are all sinners, that horrible deaths are not divine punishment, and that we all are called to repentance, victim and survivor alike.
What Jesus does not answer in this teaching is "Why?" Why is there evil in the world? Why do people suffer? Why do good people suffer? Why do people suffer inordinately? Why do bad things happen? Why do bad things happen to good people? Why? Lord, why?
Theologians and biblical scholars call the question and attempts to answer it "theodicy," or "God's Justice," as in "How can a just God allow/tolerate evil?" And, "The holiness of God is such that even the presence of evil in the world does not diminish it."
The response in quotes may be theologically correct, but it is unsatisfying. I turn again to the response of Jesus, what he says and what he leaves unsaid. Jesus takes on the practice of blaming the victim because it to is sin.
But he does not answer the question, "Why?" Perhaps, he does not because he cannot. Jesus knows that sometimes there is no answer to the cries of pain and suffering uttered by the human heart. He will not suffer bad theology and the piling on of more pain by would-be pastors and theologians.
He leaves the question unanswered because there is no answer that will suffice.
Jesus' response to the question why did some people die in the collapse of the towers of Siloam in the New Testament, in New York, at the Pentagon and in the field of Shanksville, PA is silence.
The answer is in that silence.
And I am listening...