Third Sunday of Lent – The injustice of suffering
In the time of Jesus there was a widespread belief that suffering and misfortune were a sign of God’s displeasure and punishment, indeed many religions and cultures have clung to some form of ‘karmic determinism’ where we are deemed to be rewarded or punished according to our worth and our actions. Let us be frank we can even fall prey to the same superstitious beliefs today, despite the fact that our past century has witnessed terrible injustices, on a vast scale, where the victims suffered systematic and impersonal violence, wholly unconnected with their individual character, values or behaviour.
This is partially what Luke is trying to communicate, by reporting these words of Jesus, but he is also, of course, looking back at Jesus’ teaching, after the destruction of Jerusalem, an event that happened nearly forty years after Jesus’ arrest and execution. Our hindsight is of a vastly increased length, and seen through cataclysmic events of our own time. How are we to understand suffering, is it punishment, are the victims really to blame?
By chapter 17 of Luke’s gospel, we are now approaching the end of what is called the journey narrative. Jesus’s disciples will soon welcome him into Jerusalem, for some brief moments of triumph, and so it is fitting that the main focus of his teaching now moves to them. By now his audience is well primed to favour the ‘poor’ over those of riches and privilege. But, just because you might be considered among the more blessed poor, Jesus warns them, don’t think for a moment that you are exempt from responsibility and judgement. Even in the Kingdom there is opportunity for scandal and the need for repentance and forgiveness. How might that warning apply to us in our own time and very different circumstances?
The idea of the ‘gated community’ has grown enormously in recent years. They are a symptom of societies that are so divided, so unequal, with such a small proportion of those who might be called well off and a vast number of those living in poverty, where such communities fear that at any moment the dreadful reality of their society could come crashing into their lives and homes. Gated communities are an attempt to deny the truth, to create a bubble of existence, that shuts its ears and eyes to the pain and suffering of society, in which one is actually involved and of which one might be also a cause. In today’s gospel reading Jesus confronts the timeless reality of injustice and indifference.
In Amos, the guilty are directly addressed – “…. you that trample on the needy and bring ruin to the poor of the land.”
And as he continues to travel towards Jerusalem, preaching as he goes, Jesus tells those with him just what it means to be a ‘disciple’.
Many of those with him would be the poor, the outcast, the oppressed, so a story about a rich man, moreover the most hated kind of all, the absentee landlord, would go down well. The master directs the cruel policy, the manager, the steward enacts it.
A tragic story not unknown in this land too.
And Jesus goes on to speak of money, how in their case, but also how for us, our attitudes to money can reveal who we are.