Luke 13: 1-9. Have you ever been in a situation when things are going so badly wrong that you can’t believe it’s happening to you? Perhaps you might even have cried out in desperation “God, what have I done to deserve this”
I think we can all probably remember times when we’ve felt that God hasn’t treated us fairly. Why should we suffer like this? What’s God up to? Why does he let it happen? Aren’t we supposed to be his friends? Why isn’t he looking after us? It’s just not fair.
You may even have wanted to get back at God for being so mean. Perhaps you’ve even said to Him: “If that’s what it’s all about then you can forget about me coming to church.”
We’re all children really and that’s just the kind of thing that a child might say in order to hurt his or her parents. I can remember my eldest son saying to me when he must have been no more than three years old, “I’ll run away then, and you wouldn’t like that, would you?”
And from here, it’s only a small step to blame God for everything that happens which as far as we can see, isn’t fair.
I‘ve met people who’ve told me that they don’t believe in God, because a God of love wouldn’t have allowed their elderly mother to die. Now, please don’t misunderstand me , of course we must grieve for the death of an elderly relative, but to somehow blame God for it, isn‘t really on.
But even when we forget about these extreme cases we’re still left with the massive problem of suffering.
It’s one thing to shout at God because you’ve lost an elderly relative that you love dearly, but it’s quite a different situation when a thirty year old man with two tiny children dies in agony with a devastating cancer; or when a young couple with all of their lives in front of them, lose a healthy baby with no apparent explanation.
Or when a barbaric tyrant breaks into a place of Jewish worship and slaughters the worshippers. Or when a tower falls onto a group of bystanders and kills eighteen of them.
Or when a 33 year old Jewish preacher who was so obviously one with God, dies in agony, nailed to a wooden cross in front of his family and friends.
What kind of God would let this happen?
It was just as usual in the time of Jesus as it is today, to believe that if something bad happened to you then it was a punishment from God for something wrong that you’d done. We may not usually go about saying this, but when the chips are really down, well, perhaps we’re not quite so sure.
But Jesus said a definite “No”. The Jewish worshippers weren’t murdered because they were bad. The people at Siloam didn’t die under the tower as a kind of punishment by God.
And the bad things that happen to us should never be seen in this light either. Sometimes of course, bad things happen as a direct result of our own foolishness. If we smoke then we can’t blame God for the lung cancer. If we build houses on a flood plain then we can’t blame God when they disappear under the sea.
But Jesus wasn’t teaching about this kind of exception. I think his message was that we’re all in this together. In God’s eyes we’re all sinners, and if punishment is to be expected, then no one is exempt.
You see, God isn’t in the business of picking out the really bad ones and dealing with them, in order to make an example so that the rest of us who aren’t too bad really, might be encouraged.
Jesus said that we were all the same, and that we were all worthy of punishment, which would certainly come, unless we allowed God to help us. And the first step towards this help, was that old fashioned word “repentance”.
And maybe that’s a part of the meaning in the parable which we‘ve just heard, of the gardener digging around the fig tree, in order that it might bear fruit. Perhaps Jesus is the gardener and we’re represented by the fig tree.
We shall never understand suffering, at least on this side of death, but we should believe that God isn’t just some sort of divine headmaster ready with the heavenly stick to punish his naughty children.
The Christian God is a God of love, who never wants any of his children to suffer. But suffering seems to be a part of what it means to be human, and we just can’t get our heads around this, can we?
When I was studying theology, one of my teachers told us he believed that if it had been possible for God to have created the world, without suffering, then God would have taken it.
I found that hard to understand at the time; but now, the more I think about this, the more I can see just how true it is .God had to allow the possibility of suffering if he also wanted us to be able to turn away from evil of our own free will.
And because God is responsible for this unavoidable suffering, then he takes the responsibility upon himself and shares in the suffering of his world and his children, in the person of his only son, Jesus. Jesus the human embodiment of God. The God who suffers with his creation in order to bring it through suffering and death to its final glorious destination.
A destination which was glimpsed by St Paul when he wrote to the Christians at Rome;
“I consider that what we suffer at this present time cannot be compared at all with the glory that is going to be revealed to us. What then can separate us from the love of Christ? Can trouble, or hardship, or persecution, poverty, hunger, danger or death? No, in all these things we have complete victory- there is nothing in all creation that will ever be able to separate us from the love of God which is ours through Jesus Christ our Lord.” What better can we do during this season of Lent than to offer our suffering to him, so that united with the sacrifice of Jesus, his cross might become our crown too. Amen.