(This is Neil.) This is the latest “Credo” column from the Sunday Times. It is written by Monsignor Roderick Strange, rector of the Pontifical Beda College in Rome, who asks about the “link between wrongdoing and disaster.” I’ve taken the liberty of italicizing two paragraphs that seemed important to me.
He begins with the story of a woman who underwent an unspeakable ordeal:
I am reminded of her when I read a singular passage from St Luke’s Gospel. We are told that some men come to Jesus and ask about the Galileans “whose blood Pilate had mingled with that of their sacrifices”. It is a gruesome reference and nobody has ever managed to trace the incident and confirm it. But those asking the question evidently want to know why it should have happened. What had these Galileans done to deserve such a death?
But Jesus replies that they had not done anything; those who had been killed were not greater sinners than anyone else. And He goes on to say exactly the same about a disaster in Jerusalem: a tower at Siloam had collapsed and 18 people had been crushed and had died. They too were no worse than anyone else. What happened was not some kind of punishment, but an accident, something haphazard. The point is perhaps underlined by one incident taking place in the north, in Galilee, while the other occurred further south, in Jerusalem. Location makes no difference. Accidents can happen anywhere, He seems to be saying; we must not suppose that disasters are an angry God’s revenge on us for wrongdoing.
Then, having denied a link between wrongdoing and disaster, Jesus seems to make one. After mentioning each incident, He concludes: “Unless you repent, you will all perish as they did”, and that sounds like a threat. He seems to be saying: “You had better repent or else something catastrophic will happen to you too.”
Was He really saying that? Let me offer a suggestion.
First of all, He was making it clear that when tragedy strikes in our lives — sickness, handicap, bereavement — it is not to be assumed to be punishment for wrongdoing. Terrible things happen that are not our fault.
But then, after making that point, He turns the coin over. When tragedy has not struck, we cannot, therefore, assume that all is well: no thunderbolt, no blame. For everyone sins, everyone needs to repent. And so He concludes: “Unless you repent, you will all perish as they did.”
What can be hard, of course, is to acknowledge that we have in fact done wrong.