Post last updated on April 24, 2022
Image credit: Pitts Theology Library, Emory University
Some in Jerusalem hurried to tell the news they had heard. (Apparently, nothing is quite so titillating as another man’s judgement.) When some of these same approached our Lord and repeated the sensational rumors, Jesus did not deny their fantastic reports: Pilate had killed some unnumbered many Galileans, and then mixed their blood with sacrificial offerings. Jesus’ answer to them certainly elicited surprise, for he answered them rather differently than they expected; but this is no surprise to readers of the gospels. No one spoke like him.
Their surprise was just this: The Lord swiftly denied their obvious intimations, that tragedy had befallen the Galileans because of their wickedness. These in Jerusalem—heralds of a sort—had mistaken a tragic incident for God’s judgement, a relatively easy feat for the self-righteous. Of course, neither did the Lord deny a judgement; still, he would not allow the easy and superficial sentence of fellow men. There would be no necessary correlation between personal sin and present circumstance. There would be no such thing as Christian karma.
The meaning of the short passage is plain enough. Tragic circumstances are no certain evidence of God’s wrath, even though eventual judgment remains certain. Indeed, the Galileans who fell to Pilate were sinners, but not any more so than those who brought the news to Jesus. But never mind the Galileans; did Jesus’ audience not remember the collapse of the tower in Siloam? After all, that had happened in Jerusalem. Were the eighteen that died on that day more sinful than all those in Jerusalem who remained living? The answer is, of course, no. Circumstances and tragedies alone would not be evidence of God’s disapproval or judgement. And more to the point: Jesus would not let a truth become the basis of a lie. There is, in fact, judgement; but it does not only befall those whom most men suspect—a distant and despised other.
Some have observed that the gospels reveal a rivalry between the Galileans and those in Jerusalem. This is most evident in the contrast of the Lord and his disciples with the high priest and his allies. Here, too, that rivalry between Galilee and Jerusalem seems rather obvious. The Galileans are the “they” to those in Jerusalem, just as the residents in Jerusalem would be the “others” to the Galileans; and yet, they are all “ye” to the Lord. If men and peoples remain distinct and different in some ways, we are all guilty together. Jews and Gentiles, male and female, bond and free—and here, Galileans and those in Jerusalem: all are such in need of repentance. It was the one man able to say “ye” to all who became the savior of the believer.
Luke’s gospel recalls a day, now long ago, when an excited crowd surrounded Jesus, and brought to him news of Pilate’s murder of sinners in faraway Galilee. More salacious still was that Jesus, the innocent Galilean, would soon be crucified in Jerusalem by the same Pilate—and then rise from the dead. Christians, now, are heralds of that news, so that all might repent, whether “here” or “there.”