Rev. Canon P Augustine on “Repentance” in Lent 3 sermon at Christ Episcopal Church, La Crosse, Wisconsin

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Luke 13: 1-9

“No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all perish as they did.”(Luke 13:3)
The slaughter of the Galileans in Luke chapter 13 verse one is not mentioned in any source outside the Gospel of Luke. In general, Jewish sources from the first century CE portray Pilate’s tenure as characterized by brutality and injustice. In the gospel reading today we have two references to two disasters.
First, there is the reference to the Galileans whom Pilate murdered in the middle of their sacrifices. The only legitimate place for sacrificial worship was the temple in Jerusalem. Evidently the Galileans were on a pilgrimage to the temple. Pilate had decided that Jerusalem needed a new, improved water supply. He proposed to build it and, to finance it with certain temple money. But at the very idea of spending temple monies like that, the Jews were up in arms. When the mobs gathered, Pilate instructed his soldiers to mingle with them, wearing cloaks over their battle dress for disguise. Galileans were known for their hot tempers and opposition to Pilate. Pilate sent soldiers into the sacred precincts of the temple and had the Galileans cut down alongside sacrificial, slaughtered lambs, so that the blood of holy sacrifices and patriots ran together in one.
Second, the collapse of the tower at Siloam (v.4) is not mentioned elsewhere. The city wall of Jerusalem in Jesus’ day took a turn just above the pool of Siloam, and it is probable that there was a tower at such a critical point in the wall. It has been suggested that these eighteen who were killed when the tower of Siloam fell on them had actually taken work on Pilate’s hated aqueducts. If so, any money they earned was due to God and should have been voluntarily handed over, because it had already been stolen from God’s temple. It might have been the popular topic of the day that the tower had fallen on these eighteen because of the work they had consented to do.
It was a common assumption in Jesus time that, as there is no smoke without fire, so there is no suffering without sin. In John’s Gospel when disciples saw a man who was blind from birth. They asked Jesus, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” (John 9: 1-2) This view is precisely that of Job’s friends, in the book which more than any other part of Scripture is concerned with problem of suffering. Since you suffer, they tell job, you must be a sinner; for if you were right with God, things would go well with you.
“Think now, who that was innocent ever perished? Or where were
the upright cut off? As I have seen, those who plow iniquity and sow
trouble reap the same. By the breath of God they perish, and by the
blast of his anger they are consumed.” (Job 4:7-9)
This was a cruel and a heartbreaking doctrine, as Job knew well. And Jesus utterly denied it in the case of the individual. Jesus told his disciples, “Neither this man nor his parents sinned; he was born blind so that God’s works might be revealed in him” (John 9: 3). The fact is that we are all sinners, all in need of repentance, all deserving of punishment, and all preserved from the wrath of God—at least until judgment day-purely by his mercy. As we all know very well, it is often the greatest saints who have to suffer most.
When Jesus knew that those present around him wanted him to confirm their beliefs about individuals who died in these two episodes deserved God’s punishment. He said, “No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all perish just as they did.” God is not in the business of meting out judgment and curses in relation to our sins, if he did there probably would not be anyone left on the planet. In this text, the lesson that Jesus draws from the two unfortunate events is the necessity of repentance. The untimely death of the Galileans and the people crushed by the tower at Siloam ought to remind people that it is a serious mistake to put off repentance. Jesus underscores his message of repentance with a parable of the fruitless fig tree.
As any good gardener knows in order to have good fruit it requires some tilling, weeding, and pruning of dead branches and fertilization of the soil. Without such intentional participation of renewal of life, the roses will eventually disappear under the pokeweed, and the Japanese beetles will eat all of the peaches.[1] In the parable of the fig tree the farm owner came to find fruit on the fig tree and found none. He orders, “Cut that damned tree down.” His head gardener says, “First, let me aerate the soil around it and throw some manure on the poor thing. After that give the tree one more year, and if does not produce, chop it to the ground.” Here we learn about the extravagant nature of God’s mercy. The God we worship is not like a drunken tyrant with a razor strap who is waiting to punish us. He is a God of second chances. We learn this in another parable, that of the prodigal son. When the son realizes how he has hurt his father he repents and returns home. The loving father runs forth to meet his wayward son—rushing with open arms. The prodigal son declares his repentance:
“Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no
longer worthy to be called your son” (Luke 15: 21).
True repentance promises us reunion with God and with one another. It is the moment when God offers us a new beginning, and new life with the promise of salvation. The root word for salvation is salus, or health, which points the word back to the medical paradigm, except that this health plan is truly comprehensive. In Hebrew scripture, salvation comes as the gift of Shalom from Yahweh, who intends to heal the whole creation. In Christianity, salvation comes in the person of Jesus Christ, who intends the same thing.[2]
I invite you to hear the words of Jesus again as he invites us this morning:
“Unless you repent, you will all perish just as they did.”
May we heed the call of Jesus:
Be earnest, therefore, and repent. Listen! I am standing at the door, knocking, if your hear my voice and open the door, I will come in to you and eat with you, and you with me (Revelation 3: 19b-20).
Our Lord’s words are simple: Repent! This repentance cannot be just a brief liturgical phrase or a hasty superficial tear. It is a deep, heartfelt sorrow for offending the Holy Sovereign of the universe and a strong inner resolve to embrace the conversion—the complete reversal of direction—that our forgiving Savior long to bestow and bless us with. He stands at the doors of our hearts, begging us to welcome his total Lordship.
The grace here is that there is still time; the final judgment has not yet taken place. The fig tree may be given another year to demonstrate its ability to produce fruit, but if it fails to do so, it will be cut down.
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[1] Barbara Brown Taylor, Speaking of Sin, Cowley Publications, 2000, p.70.

[2] Ibid, p.82

Sources used and directly quoted from:

Michael Wicock, The Message of Luke

Barbara Brown Taylor, Speaking of Sin

David L. Bartlett and Barbara Brown Taylor, Editors. Feasting on the Word

Ronald J. Sider, The Scandal of the Evangelical Conscience

William Barclay, The Gospel of Luke

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