February 28, 2016
3rd Sunday of Lent; St. Romanus and St. Lupicinus
Why do bad things happen? Is it punishment from God? Jesus sort-of jumps into that question in today’s Gospel – but in my opinion – he seems to be talking out of both sides of His mouth. See if you can decipher what He’s trying to tell us.
When the tsunami killed a quarter million people in the area of Indonesia, some preachers claimed it was God’s wrath against the false religion of Islam. I don’t choose to believe that.
When the hurricane hit New Orleans back in 06, I heard some preachers declaring that God sent His wrath onto that city because of all of the sin in it. I don’t choose to believe that.
When the twin towers fell, some preachers pointed out that our country was getting its just payment for all of the babies that are killed in abortion. I don’t choose to believe that.
When the earthquake hit Haiti, supposedly it was God’s wrath for all of the voodoo superstitions in their culture. Need I go on?
This kind of thinking goes back to Old Testament beliefs that good things happen to good people and bad things happen to bad people. It might be easy as a preacher to get up here and peddle my own beliefs since I’m speaking for God – and I can denounce WHOEVER I want – and point out that I must be right, because look at what God did to THEM!! (pound fist)
Why don’t I choose to believe that? Well, first because if you follow that logic, you’d have to say – look at what happened to those people in Dubois County recently! God sent his wrath in the form of the bird flu because of some sort of sin or other. You’d also have to say look at the tornadoes that God sent to punish us a few years ago. God’s obviously not happy with us.
If you believe the tsunami was God’s wrath – then it would clearly follow that the bird flu was God’s wrath. You can believe that if you WANT TO – BUT I don’t choose to believe that.
The main reason is because Jesus just told us ... “do you think the people who were killed in that accident when the tower of Siloam fell were more guilty than others – BY NO MEANS”
Jesus is making it clear that the fate that befell them was not because of their sin. Seems to me that this would apply to our avian flu and tornadoes… we may be guilty, but we are no more guilty than anybody else.
Now if he stopped there, I’d be fine – that’s actually a comforting thought which makes sense… but then he adds – “but if you do not repent, you will all perish as they did!” OK, Jesus – which is it… do our sins decide our fate or not?
Well – actually – I’ve always interpreted that wrong. Pay attention to the words He uses: ‘if you do not repent you will perish’. It’s not our sin, specifically, that condemns us… it is our state of mind. Stick with me now…That word REPENT is the key. Remember a couple months ago I talked about how REPENT really means METANOIA – which is a complete change of mind. REPENT has to do with our state of mind…It means we have to start thinking 180 degrees from the way we think. Everything we THINK is true based on our earthly lives must be turned upside down in order to understand and LIVE the example that Jesus gave us.
Repent DOESN’T mean to stop sinning… it means to turn around…
So – with that in mind, let’s reword what Jesus said to see if it makes more sense:
“Did those people die because they were worse sinners than you? No Way. But you are headed in the wrong direction, and if you don’t turn around, you are not going to be happy when you reach your destination.”
The actual definition of Sin is to “miss the mark” – think of it like aiming an arrow. If acting like Jesus is the bulls-eye, then sin is to hit anything other than the bulls-eye. Nobody accidentally lands in heaven – we have to be aiming for it.
That’s why we have to REPENT (Metanoia). Ever since the beginning, when Adam and Eve ate that first apple, we have all wanted to be like God – deciding right and wrong for ourselves. So every decision you and I make every day is based on what WE want. But in order to enter the Kingdom of God, we have to completely change our minds… to put God at the center of our lives… to make decisions based on how we can best fit into HIS will.
What’s that look like? To model our lives to be like Jesus and to imitate His example…To pick up our cross and follow, To put the needs of others ahead of our own. While the world would say we are foolish… Jesus would recognize in our hearts that we truly DO love Him and He will draw us close.
Bad things will happen to every person here – regardless of how much we sin. Of course, some people’s behavior is self-destructive and they bring the tower down upon themselves through their bad choices. But the true punishment of God for sin is to allow us to have what we love the most. Think hard about that… the true punishment of God is to allow us to have what we love the most.
If we love liquor the most, he’ll allow us to consume it until we ruin our own life.
If we love sex the most, he’ll allow us to follow that desire until it destroys the relationships of those we truly love.
If we love money the most, he’ll give us enough to keep us always wanting more and the greed will consume us. We bring the tower down upon ourselves.
But – if we repent – metanoia – completely change our minds – we can love God and he’ll give us all of himself. We can love serving God’s people, and he’ll feed us with endless blessings of serving others. We can put God’s will first in every situation, and thereby bring God into our everyday lives – into every decision.
Let’s try one more analogy to help understand what Jesus said…. And this gets deep… so you might have to pay attention.
Did you ever have a dream where you just kept falling and falling and falling until you woke up? Did it ever hurt us? They say… whoever they are… they say that if you hit bottom while in that dream, you would die. Now – there’s no way we can know that, because if anybody ever DID hit bottom and die, they wouldn’t be around to tell us!
But the truth remains that if you are falling, the fall itself doesn’t hurt you… it’s that sudden stop at the bottom. That’s the best analogy I’ve been able to come up with to explain what Jesus is saying. Stick with me and hopefully this will be helpful. Sin is like falling off a cliff. If we allow the culture and our human nature to guide us, we’ll all aim in the wrong direction and step off the cliff and head straight to the bottom.
Sin, like falling, won’t kill us. But Sin points us in the wrong direction…straight down… And GOD will allow us to keep falling in that same direction for eternity… and we’ll only hit bottom when what we love most has destroyed us….but… if we REPENT…if we love Jesus most, He will be there to catch us.