Lent 3C, 2013
Luke 13:1-9

A Liturgy is also available


Many of the Jews in Jesus’ day, it seems, believed in a God
who punished the bad people and rewarded the good.

They went so far as to say:

• if you live in poverty or have a bad accident or disease,
you are revealed by God as a sinner;

• if you are healthy and prosper
you are revealed by God as a righteous person.

Let’s check out a modern version of that thinking


A minister... let’s call her Diana, rushed around to the home of friends
where a small child has suddenly died.

She was met at the door by the distraught father,
a senior lecturer in mathematics at the local university,
        who usually was most composed.

"O Diana, thanks for coming.  It’s a nightmare.
You know, I have not been reading my Bible much these days."

At first Diana was confused by her friend’s opening remark.
What had reading the Bible to do with a little child’s death?

Later, after she had thought the issue through,
Diana was able to help untangle the poor father’s anguish.

The father’s first reaction had been to feel guilty.
Years before, when he had been confirmed,
        he had promised to ‘diligently study the scriptures.’

In the anguish of the new grief, the ancient fear that the death
was a punishment from God, had broken loose.
        Some one was at fault.
        It must be him.
        His mind came up with a broken vow.

Normally, that man would have logically dismissed the idea
of a child’s death as divine retribution, as rubbish.
        But in the grief crisis, the ancient superstition had got the jump on him.

In all of us, primitive stuff like that lies semi-hidden.
It’s like the ghosts of old gods
        that refuse to completely go away.

In all of us, hidden away in the murkier parts of our psyche,
are irrational fears and superstitions.
        These are a hangover from the not so ancient, primitive past of homo sapiens.

One of these superstitions is that we may be the guilty cause
        of accidents and disease to ourselves
        or those whom we love dearly.

There are of course some religious people in Australia today
who are still committed to that concept of God.
Their God is one of anger and retribution for the unrighteous,
and of the reward of good health and prosperity for the righteous.

Bruce Prewer, a retired Uniting Church minister and author of many books
which help shape an Australian spirituality,
        considered this situation in one of his sermons a few years back

Let me quote something he said then:
“One of the most recent statements of this unhappy dogma, was exhibited recently by an evangelist (so called!).  It was offering time at a big gathering and the announcement was made before the offering:  ‘We all know bad economic times are coming.  There will be a great collapse of the markets and people will lose everything they own. But those who give well to God this day will be among the few who will do well and prosper in the bad times that must come.’”

To quote Bruce Prewer again: “Yuk!” (Prewer web site 2004)

Others, such as John Shelby Spong and John Dominic Crossan and Sallie McFague,
are also at the forefront of putting old theological superstitions a bed.
        I commend their writings to you as well.


Happiness or misery can not be simply equated with goodness and badness.
The old superstition is a lie.

The old gods of retribution and reward
who lurk in the dark corners of our minds, are false gods.
        Dismiss the superstition.  You have Jesus’ word on it.

But... and sometimes there always seems to be a ‘but’, doesn’t there!
We also have Jesus’ word:
        ‘Do not pretend that the good or evil that we do does not matter’.

Of course accidents, massacres, disease, are not God’s punishments.
But if we don’t watch our step we can all end up with another kind of disaster…
        you will likewise perish.

Not as bodies, but as persons we can decay and perish.

This is also part of the current ‘climate change’ debate.
Theologian Sallie McFague writes:
"Global warming is not just another important issue that human beings need to deal with; rather, it is the demand that we live differently.  We cannot solve it, deal with it, given our current anthropology.  It is not simply an issue of management; rather, it demands a paradigm shift in who we think we are.  This is certainly not the only thing that is needed, but it is a central one, for without it we cannot expect ourselves or others to undertake the radical behavioral change that is necessary to address our planetary crisis.” (McFague 2008:44).

As individuals, as a world, we are all capable of perishing… disintegrating as persons.
None of us is exempt.


Let me offer this not-too-original suggestion.
This Lent might be a good time for us to do a couple of ‘life-affirming’ things.
        Update the thinking which shapes our faith and beliefs.

Change our minds and hearts.
Look for the life-affirming clues all around us - the tender care rather than the axe!

Being the special people we are, we can do that!

McFague, S. A New Climate for Theology. God, the World, and Global Warming. Minneapolis. Fortress Press, 2008.