Third Sunday of Lent, Year C 2019
Evil is confronting. It strikes the core of our being. It upsets us, tears us apart and leaves us with many questions. Why is there evil in a world created by the Good God? Why do good people, innocent people suffer evil? Is there any answer to the problem of evil? Recently, these questions are becoming more confronting with the killings of Muslims and Christians around the world. Like the Galileans in Luke 13:1-9, these men and women were killed in God’s house.
Their blood was mingled with the blood of their sacrifices. We watch with helplessness as evil did its best. Where was God? Why didn’t He show up to save the lives of the good men and women who were praying to Him in His own house? These questions recall David Hume’s – “Is God willing to prevent evil, but not able? Then He is not omnipotent. Is He able, but not willing? Then He is malevolent… is He neither able nor willing? Then why call Him God?”
Not doubt, the people in today’s Gospel also struggled with the problem of evil. They tried to reconcile the Goodness of God and the reality of evil, especially the evil of Pilate killing the Galileans in the Temple in Jerusalem. For them, the only possible answer to the problem of evil is, “these Galileans have broken the Law of Moses. As a result, God is punishing them for their sin”. This isn’t new. The friends of Job made the same assumption about Job’s plight.
Many Christians including some Catholics still believe suffering is the direct consequence of one’s personal sins. Thus, “the greater the suffering, the graver the sin committed”. The notion of God as the score-card keeper is still very much engrained in the minds of many. Not too long ago, a man whispered in my ears, “the drought in Australia is caused by the godlessness of Australians”. So, even natural tragedy is explained away as the consequence of one’s sins.
But Jesus challenged this world view. “Do you suppose”, He said, “these Galileans who suffered like that were greater sinners than any other Galileans? They were not, I tell you. No; but unless you repent you will perish as they did”. What a paradox! On the one hand, Jesus is saying their sin is not the cause of their death. On the other hand, He is warning the people listening to Him, “if you do not repent of your sin, you will perish like those Galileans”.
So, what is Jesus saying? He is saying that suffering, whether natural tragedy or moral evil isn’t punishment from God. God punishes no one. St. Thomas Aquinas put it this way, “God is so good, so powerful that He might permit certain evils in His creation so as to bring about a greater good”. But the question then is what greater good did the killing of those innocent Galileans bring? I don’t know. Perhaps, it isn’t our place to know every detail of God’s plans.
We have to trust and let Him be God. We have to allow Him to guide us to the fulfilment of His plans and purposes. This is what the Israelites did in Egypt. Pharaoh had become a monster. He had arrogated to himself the status of a god. Pharaoh took it upon himself to annul God’s promises to Abraham to make his descendants as many as the stars in the sky and to give them a land. So, he inflicted all sorts of suffering on the Israelites. He even killed their first born sons.
But amid all this, God had a plan. A plan He was systematically unfolding and fulfilling. Not even Moses knew he had been chosen by God to deliver the Israelites from Egypt. Moses didn’t know that all his experiences were part of God’s big plan; preparing him for his mission in life. Besides, while the Israelites were suffering in Egypt, they didn’t know that God had “seen their miserable state, heard their cries and He was aware of their suffering in Egypt” (Exodus 3:7).
So, the fact that we don’t know what God’s plans are and what He is doing doesn’t mean that He is malevolent, incompetent and not God. Rather, it means that we are creatures, limited by space and time. As such, we must be humble and trust Him with all our heart. For trust aligns us with God’s will and makes us active participants in its fulfilment. This brings us to the second part of the paradox of Jesus’ comment, “No; but unless you repent you will perish as they did”.
By saying “unless you repent”, Jesus was in a way defining evil as a privation of good or the lack of the good that ought to be there. He was saying, Look! Evil is responsible for all the killings. For instance, Pilate lacked the moral good of love – willing the good of the other and becoming the best for the other. His lack of that good made him kill the Galileans. The tower at Siloam lacked the natural good of right order. Terrorists lack the good of true brotherhood.
Thus, the people had to repent. In Greek repentance is metanoia – a change of mind. They must have a new way of thinking and seeing things. First, they must start by seeing God as the Good Father, who gives only good things to His children. Second, they must stop hating Pilate for the killings. Hatred for Pilate indicates the lack of the good of love of neighbour. Where there is this privation, there is going to be killing, and people will perish like the Galileans.
Finally, Jesus’ parable of the Fig Tree illustrates how we can go about repentance. It begins with patience, “leave it one more year and give me time…” Repentance is a radical reorientation of our whole life, so we must be patient with ourselves, with others and with God. It is by being patient that we can dig round our life with the Sacrament of Reconciliation and manure it with the Sacrament of Holy Eucharist. These sacraments bear the fruit of love in us.
Fr. Francis Afu