Jesus’ teaching on the “tower of Siloam” sounds unusual at first, but actually reveals a profound truth: God does not will suffering as punishment. For those “Galileans” who met particularly violent and unpredictable ends, their deaths were not “a part of God’s plan,” nor was God trying to teach us a lesson through their suffering. Jesus rejects these explanations.
But then Jesus goes on to say, “But unless you repent, you will all perish as they did.” So if their deaths were just accidents, what are we to repent of? In fact, Lent is a time to confront how we are held captive to the ways of death. Jesus invites us into a way of life that does more than simply shrugging and throwing up our hands in the face of tragedy we cannot understand.
One example that comes up regularly in our nation – and our own community – is the problem of gun violence. Hear this, church: we live in a time when many of our kids are afraid of going to school. According to the US Naval Postgraduate School, there were 94 school gun violence incidents in 2018, killing 55 people.
In the face of such unspeakable tragedy, is throwing our hands up all we can do? No. Jesus calls us to repentance in the face of tragedy and death. The victims are not to blame for the violence. Instead, we are called to repent of the idols whose worship always exacts a cost on human life. We are called to repent not of guns in themselves, but of our idolization of guns. How do we know when we’ve turned guns into an idol? Whenever we rationalize the death of children as an inevitable cost of owning them.
What are the other idols we need to repent of this season? Jesus is with us, calling us to repentance, calling us to imagine another way of living together. If we don’t – if we forget God’s vision of shalom for all people – we sow the seeds of our own destruction.
Let us pray: Help me to let go of all that brings death and destruction to my life, the lives of my neighbors, and the life of the planet. Help me to stand alongside you, O God, with the victims of tragedy. Help me to speak with you, O God, for the health and safety of all people. In Jesus’ name, I pray. Amen.