In today’s Gospel, we read about two accounts of horrific deaths. The first is at the hands of Pontius Pilate, who has not only ordered the execution of Jesus’ fellow Galileans but had their blood mixed with “the blood of their sacrifices.” In the second incident, Jesus brought up the tragic accident in which eighteen people died “when the tower of Siloam fell on them.”
In both cases, Jesus rejected the common notion of the time that these incidents were caused by God’s punishment and focused instead on the importance of repentance. Jesus stated quite emphatically, that, “Do you think that because these Galileans suffered in this way they were greater sinners than all other Galileans? By no means! But I tell you, if you do not repent, you will all perish as they did” (cf. Lk 13:1-5)!
Jesus was emphatic about helping his followers understand the purpose of his coming. Jesus provided meaning and fulfillment in this life as well as being the way to the truth of eternal life in the next. Yet, to experience the benefits of his invitation, people needed to repent from their focus on self, misunderstandings of God, and the false substitutions that the world offered by having a change of mind and turning back to God, the very source of their being. This is just as true for us today.
Jesus accompanies us through our trials, pain, and desolation, just as he is present in the midst of our achievements, joys, and consolations. To repent and surrender to him is not some submissive posture to a tyrant but an acceptance of the aid offered by the divine gardener. Our repentance gives permission to Jesus to cultivate our ground to rid us of that which sickens us and instead allow him to fertilize us in such a way that we are renewed. Jesus tends to our growth such that we can be more aligned with the will of his Father and the love of the Holy Spirit. In these ways, we are healed and mature so that we will bear fruit that will last. We will become more patient, kind, loving, understanding, forgiving, present, and joyful in our encounters with one another.
We live in uncertain times as did those of the first century. We still live in a fallen world. We do not know the time or the hour, and sometimes we do not understand the rhyme or the reason why someone’s life here ends. The death of my wife, JoAnn, still makes no sense. She was proactive and took good care of herself and I remember her doctors saying that except for the pancreatic cancer she was in perfect health. What made our last months together in this world more bearable was not fighting the inevitable and the many people who were praying for us. Those months together seemed then like forever and today looking back like the blink of an eye.
We often do not want to think about our death, yet, we need to ponder it from time to time. By doing so we just might live the one life we have been given a little bit better. Each day we wake up is a gift from God. Please don’t take it for granted. Repent, turn back to the God who loves us more than we can ever imagine or mess up. The time to appreciate our life and the lives of those that we hold close to our hearts is now.