The Tower of Siloam
“There were some present at that very time who told (Jesus) of the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. And he answered them, “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans, because they suffered thus? I tell you, No; but unless you repent you will all likewise perish. Or those eighteen upon whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them, do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others who dwell in Jerusalem? I tell you, No; but unless you repent you will all likewise perish.” (Luke 13:1-5)
The events alluded to by Jesus in the Gospel of Luke are what we today would call “current events”. You can imagine the evening news reporting that 18 New Yorkers had died in a freak collapse of a building in lower Manhatten. Actually, we don’t have to imagine it. It has only been 19 years since a group of Al Qaida terrorists flew two pirated jetliners into the north and south towers of the World Trade Center. It was the worst single attack on U.S. soil in American history, and we instantly recognize images of the smoking wreckage in the heart of the city. I certainly do, as my office at Lutheran Social Services was just two blocks from Ground Zero. My contract with LSS ended just six months before the attack. I can remember holding breakfast meetings in the restaurant atop one of the towers. Dixie was working at CUNY’s New York City College of Technology at the foot of the Brooklyn Bridge. She had a birds eye view of the planes hitting the towers, and the smoke that rose for weeks from the wreckage. She saw the ghostly survivors, covered in ash, streaming across the bridge from Manhatten. Those images are forever burned in our brains.
After 911 there were countless investigations into the attack, who did it, how they pulled it off, how they hijacked the planes, and so on. Everyone wanted to know whose fault it was. Could it have been stopped by border guards where the perpetrators entered the country? Should the FBI have been following Al Qaida more closely? Who was to blame?
Jesus faced similar questions in our reading from the Gospel of Luke. Recent events in Galilee and Jerusalem had led to the deaths of a number of Galileans on their way to worship and eighteen residents of the city killed in a building collapse. Whose fault was it? Who was to blame? Many back then believed that when bad things happen, it must be God’s punishment for some kind of sin. It could have been the fault of the victims, or even their parents. Those who held these beliefs were following in the footsteps of Job’s “friends” in the Book of Job. They argued that there must have been a reason for Job’s sufferings. He must have offended God in some way.
But Jesus says No! The people who died were no worse sinners than anyone else. There is no simple explanation for the problem of evil or the mystery of suffering. Today we would say “stuff happens” (or words to that effect). Today we no longer blame individuals or their parents when bad things happen. But we are just as eager to blame someone! We live in a litigious society. We may not know exacty who to blame, but we are quite ready to sue someone for it! We may not be able to answer the question “why”, but at least we can make money out of it.
But is that it? Is that all we can say? Accidents happen? Bad things happen to good people … and sometimes to bad people too! Where is God in all this? Doesn’t God care? Why doesn’t God do something about it?
Jesus does answer that question — but maybe not the way we expected. As the smoke cleared at Ground Zero, the first responders involved in cleaning up and searching for bodies (many at the cost of their own lives) discovered that two of the steel girders left standing after the collapse were in the shape of a cross. The discovery of the cross at Ground Zero was profound. The heat seared beams were carefully set up nearby and thousands upon thousands of people stopped to pray and ponder God’s presence in the midst of death and disaster.
As Paul reminds us, “God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself”. The cross at Ground Zero reminds us of what happened on another cross two thousand years ago, when God answered the question of “Why?” not with an explanation, but with the living example of God’s love in Jesus — the same Jesus who is with us in the midst of our own suffering, bearing our crosses with us. There may not be a justification for the presence of evil in the world; instead God has given us Himself to be with us in our struggles, and to help carry our burdens with us.
“Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28-30)
By embracing death, taking it into himself, he destroyed the Devil’s hold on death and freed all who cower through life, scared to death of death. Hebrews 2:15 The Message
Christ is risen from the dead, trampling death by death. St. John Chrysostom, Easter Sermon circa 400 AD
Resurrection breaks the bonds of death, and all the things that lead to death. It permeates all that we do, if we only allow it to. It is more than the resurrection of this body after death. Resurrection is NOW. With death put down, our fears can be put in check. With death no longer in charge, we can stand in Christ’s light which bursts the darkness all around us.
What does it mean to stand in the light? What do we gain by making Christ our singular focus? Well, for one, we begin to see that very little on the periphery matters. All that “STUFF” that we hold as so important, our possessions, our politics, our traditions, really are not that important in the cosmic Christ. The Christ who heals the sick, embraces the leper, and raises us along with Lazarus, from the dead. Christ breaks into the death and all that is darkness, our depression, alcoholism, our need to control, our need to be understood, our need to be right, our need to be secure, our need to be holy (which ironically leads in the opposite direction).
Christ has risen from the dead, trampling death by death. And on those in the tomb, LAVISHING LIFE!
IT IS CHRIST WHO STAND HERE BEFORE OUR EYES! SEE AND BELIEVE!