At that very time there were some present who told him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. He asked them, ‘Do you think that because these Galileans suffered in this way they were worse sinners than all other Galileans? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all perish as they did. Or those eighteen who were killed when the tower of Siloam fell on them—do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others living in Jerusalem? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all perish just as they did.’
This reading highlights two common thought patterns. 1. “ What happened to those people won’t happen to me, because I am not as sinful as they must have been.” (story of Galileans) 2. “Accidents happen to bad people.” (story of tower) These were the implied responses to the “trending news”. Is it any different today? We still look for comfort in thinking that there must be something different about me or us. “They must have done something to deserve that.”
Jesus challenges this thinking. “Unless you repent, you will all perish as they did.” That word “repent” in the Greek is from the Greek word metanoeo, comprised of meta meaning ‘changed after’ and noeo meaning ‘to think’. To repent here is quite literally ‘to think differently afterwards’. Jesus is calling them to rethink their thinking.
It’s easy to point to extremes of belief here. Prosperity gospel or extreme forms of conservative or liberal/progressive theologies contain some easy pickings. “Look at them being all judgemental!” we might be tempted to say. But that’s exactly what Jesus is telling folks NOT to do. He challenges us to rethink our thinking – mine and yours – about others and about ourselves.
About others? When bad things happen, our first instinct should be to respond in love and mercy, not judgement or ridicule. That could happen to us. How would we want people to respond?
About ourselves? God deals graciously with us, so simply live in thanks for that. For some of us, it’s all too easy to fall into the trap of thinking “I’m not good enough.” No, we aren’t good enough. That is why Jesus came.
To both the finger-pointing and the self-blaming, Christ calls “Repent! Think again! Come see things the way God does.”
Holy God, I know I see only ‘in part’ and you see everything. God, check my heart and mind. If there are any thought patterns that I have that don’t please you, make me aware of them. By your spirit, help me to change them. Help me to repent and to rethink my thinking. In Jesus’ name, Amen
The Rev’d Angela Rigby is minister at Christ Church URC Tonbridge and St Johns Hill URC Sevenoaks