Sunday, March 11, 2007

Did God Get It Wrong?

Third Sunday in Lent
Sunday, March 11, 2007
Luke 13:1-9

It seems as if Jesus didn’t quite get it right. He was told of some people who met with a ghastly fate. It was at the hands of the infamous Pontius Pilate. How could he do such a sacrilegious thing as to mix their blood with their ritual sacrifices? Surely Jesus would be outraged at such contempt! That would be like someone murdering someone and mixing their blood with the consecrated wine of the Lord’s Supper.

But Jesus doesn’t address any of that at all. It appears He gets it wrong when He answers by saying something about those people who met that fate not being any more sinful than anyone else. Surely that’s not the issue. What Pilate did to them was outright wrong. Why would Jesus question whether people thought that it must have been because those people were so much worse of sinners?

And then Jesus adds an example of His own. But this time it’s not because of some wicked ruler. It’s because there are tragedies that happen in life. In other words, God allows them to happen. It must be because those people deserve it. Why would God allow innocent people to suffer?

But that’s not what Jesus says. He says that it’s not the case that they were worse. But, see, this doesn’t make sense to us. God must be getting it wrong. Jesus is trying point out that we’re all equally sinful. So why do some suffer fates such as the Galileans, or the ones of the tower of Siloam, or the victims of 9/11?

Or what about us? Don’t we wonder if God has gotten it wrong when we suffer? Why are we suffering? Isn’t God supposed to be helping me rather than bringing this suffering upon me, or allowing it to happen to me?

What those people were really doing to Jesus was asking Him to spell it out for them. Okay Jesus, explain this one to us. How could a merciful God allow something like this to happen? But see, Jesus surprises them. He gives them one Himself. How about this? How about a tragedy that God could easily have prevented but allowed to happen?

You see, Jesus is saying, you are the ones getting it wrong. All of your notions of “unfairness”. All your rationalization that “these people must have been really bad for something like that to happen to them”. What you really need to do is look at those tragedies and repent. You deserve the same fate. If you won’t take heed to the warning then it’s on your shoulders.

Repentance is a difficult thing. It means acknowledging that God isn’t getting it wrong. It means believing, trusting, that He’s getting it right even when everything is falling down around you. When your loved one is overcome by cancer... Is that really God getting it right? When you’re being harassed at work and your boss doesn’t support you… Is God getting it right? When the tyrannical get more powerful and the downtrodden get more trodden down… Is God doing something right anywhere in here?

It seems all mixed up. But that’s because we’re seeing things from our very limited view. Our limited view doesn’t have room for things like repentance. It doesn’t see the need for something like that when there is unfairness involved. When we are burdened and can’t find our way out of the trials.

But God’s vision is so much bigger. He’s sees it all, in fact. He sees, even, in the trials and tribulations the opportunity for you to be stretched and strengthened. He sees the perfect time for you to repent of your sins. When Jacob wrestled with God—Jesus in His pre-incarnate form—he took a fascinating approach. Why was God wrestling with him? Why when Jacob had so much going on, fearing his brother was going to kill him and his family, did God decide that now was a good time for a wrestling match?

Jacob had been through a lot, but it was only by the strength of God that he was able to endure. He took the wrestling match as an opportunity for God to bless him. When the pre-incarnate Christ said, “Let go of Me,” Jacob refused until he got a blessing. Jesus obviously could have defeated him easily—but He didn’t. Jacob strove with God. We wouldn’t think that’s what we would want, but look what came out of it for Jacob: a blessing.

Jesus is now telling us that when we face these things and think that God has it wrong, we should do as Jacob did and ask for a blessing out of it. You know what this calls for? Repentance. It calls for a humility that sees that God is always in the right, even when it appears He’s got it wrong. It calls for a sorrow over our sins that sees suffering and trials not as punishment from God but a warning and opportunity to repent and put our trust in Him and Him alone. To see in these things a call from God to save us from a worse fate than what we’re experiencing. He will never give us beyond what we can bear.

We all know Christians who are strong in faith. They never seem to falter. It’s easy for them to have this kind of faith when things get difficult. We might look at Jacob and say, well of course he saw in his striving with God an opportunity to get blessed. But I’m not so strong as that. I’m weak and don’t trust in God like that.

Take comfort then. Because the Bible doesn’t give us examples of only the mighty heroes of the faith who stood strong in the face of adversity. God also shows us some ordinary people that we’d never look at twice if we saw them walking down the street. But these are the people that show us the kind of repentance and trust Jesus is talking about when we otherwise think that He’s gotten it wrong.

We’re all taught to be polite. We shouldn’t insult anybody. Well do you remember the time Jesus in effect called a woman a dog? There didn’t appear to be a good reason for Him to do it, either. Why would He be so rude to her? Why would He not have compassion on her in her time of need? She might have been stung by this insult and walked away, never receiving a blessing from Him, as Jacob would have missed out had he not persisted.

All she wanted was what everyone else was receiving from Jesus, healing for her daughter. But Jesus ignored her. Not content with this, the woman persisted. That’s when the insult came: It is not right to give the food from the table to the dogs. You see, she was not a Jew. So what right did she have to ask Him, the Messiah, for help? Is this really the way Jesus wants to operate, or is He getting it wrong?

But where we see an insult, she saw an opportunity. Yeah, nobody wants to be called a dog. Nobody wants to get only the scraps while the higher-ups get to feast at the table. But she saw what Jesus was really offering her. That this wasn’t an insult at all. But an invitation. I will give you what you need. You don’t even deserve the scraps, but not because you’re a Gentile, because you’re a sinner. That is what Jesus is saying to all of us—it doesn’t matter who we are, we’re sinners. We need to repent.

The woman saw that. She saw that Jesus was not wanting to put her in her place, but lift her up and give her even more than she asked for. That’s the way God operates. He doesn’t get it wrong at all. He gives us what we really need, and that’s why we think He so often gets it wrong. Because He doesn’t give us a free pass on our sin but calls us to account for it.

It seemed to all who put their trust in Him that God got it wrong when He was yielded to a pathetic end on the cross. But this was God getting it right like nothing has ever been. This was His supreme love to all mankind. God the Son offering Himself in the place of everyone, sinners all. If we see in our suffering a God who isn’t getting it right, then we’re not seeing our suffering through the cross of Christ. Because if we do, we will see an invitation, a blessing. If we want to see God getting it right, then we look nowhere else but his Son Jesus Christ. Amen.


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