In the Lectionary

March 20, Lent 3C (Luke 13:1-9)

Jesus obliterates our internal ledgers and points us to repentance.

It never ceases to amaze me the way kids keep an internal ledger. When it comes to who did what and how we responded and who lost screen time or who got more or did or did not do their chores or worksheets–somehow they are meticulous at keeping track of perceived slights. “Why am I only getting punished? He did it, too!” I often wonder about this vigilance toward keeping the scales balanced. Is it really about fairness? Could it also be the need for explanation? For order? For simply making sense of the world?

In our Gospel text, we find ourselves with Jesus as he turns toward Jerusalem. In this large section of Luke we get a plethora of miracles as well as the bulk of the familiar parables. For Lent, however, we bounce around and land at this moment in chapter 13, listening to Jesus engage the crowds on numerous topics. Someone tells him about a horrific event in which Pontius Pilate killed some people from Galilee. Jesus responds rather sharply that neither these Galileans nor others who died when a tower fell on them are worse sinners than anyone else.

This is difficult. We want there to be a reason for human suffering, a moment we can pinpoint where a person’s life went off the rails. The question of theodicy is a persistent one, and the idea that suffering is punishment for sin is a familiar answer. New Testament scholar Arland Hultgren calls this “one of the most widely held ‘theological propositions’ that exists in popular thinking” among Christians. “It is the quick remedy to explain illness and death,” he writes.