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March 20, 2022 Third week in Lent: Blame versus compassion, the the Rev Canon Fred Miller

Mar 20, 2022

In the Name of the Spirit among us Who is One, Holy, and Living within each one of us, drawing us into community, calling us to be one, and sharing love with us all.

For many of us we see those who are sick, who are injured, who die, who are poor, who are swindled out of money – it’s their own fault. Some of us say, “They should have been more careful, they should have been more aware, they should have known better.”  

We learn from an early age, and sometimes incorrectly, what is right & wrong. I know from personal experience when I was very young that if you don’t eat your peas when they are warm on your plate during dinner, you stay at your place after dinner and finally eat the cold peas that make you gag, and throw up all over your plate. What happened? I got sick, and who is to blame? The one who let their peas get cold. I did the wrong thing. If somebody cheats at school or is a bully, what happens? Somebody gets in trouble, if they are caught, and who is to blame? The cheat or the bully who did the wrong thing. Even when your older sister does something wrong or spiteful, it doesn’t allow you to hide her favorite doll. Who gets in trouble? The one who hid the doll and was in the wrong. This is what is drilled into us over and over again. 

We have ample Scriptural evidence, perhaps the bulk of Scriptural evidence boldly proclaims the same. This is one reason why it is so hard to bring others into the church. Our Holy Wisdom found in Scripture is fraught with oppression. Scripture begins with stories of the sinful Egyptian Pharaoh oppressing the Hebrew people and the sinful Pharaoh is punished at the hand of God. The Hebrew people are divided between those who follow the God of Moses and those who don’t follow. Those who do not follow, are swallowed up by the earth as sinful and as punished at the hand of God. Then there are the prophets, pick any one, Elijah challenges the sinful prophets of Baal who lead the people into excessive self indulgent & total narcissism which Elijah knows will ruin the whole society. Elijah dramatically shows the people the emptiness of this life so the sinful prophets of Baal must die by those who follow our loving God. Who is to blame, the sinful. What do people take away? Some take away that our Scripture doesn’t lead to a Holy life, it doesn’t lead to Wisdom, and it doesn’t lead most of all to love.

Blame is what those in the crowd in our story today are seeking. We often seek the same. Jesus doesn’t answer every question around this issue in today’s story, but we are left with a new appreciation for the Wisdom found within Scripture as we seek with a discerning mind. 

When the government authorities ordered the death of those people in Galilee, some were thinking, “That’s the way this tyrant is. He executes the opposition. We all predicted this would happen. Why didn’t they listen?” It is much easier to brush it off as, “Those people could have avoided death, if they only got along like us. So we’re sorry they died but it’s their own fault. They are to blame.” Jesus uses the Galilean’s death at the hands of Pilate to understand that cruelty, punishment, illness, and death; all of it is not because they were being punished by God. Although they were the ones who died, they were the ones who were powerless in the face of someone or something beyond their control. Were they worse sinners because they died? Jesus says, “No.” Then to emphasize his point further he offers yet a second example contemporary to the people of his day. “Those eighteen who were killed when the tower of Siloam fell on them were no worse offenders than all the others living in Jerusalem.” That was a totally random tragedy, and that also lies outside our understanding. Our response is not to place blame, but to respond in love.

There are times when blame is used conveniently to absolve ourselves from guilt. Today our last lesson begins with Jesus teaching the people a new way to understand the tragedy that befalls our neighbor. The good Samaritan story of the distinguished authorities walking past the beaten man in great need is an example. The one who has compassion is the despised, lowly Samaritan. Compassion is the response.

Our text draws today’s lesson to a close with this little story about how we are like a fruit tree. If a fruit tree bears fruit well and good. After it has reached an age of bearing fruit, if year after year of reaching maturity it continues to produce no fruit, we may cut it down to begin again. With people, we must have the wisdom to understand that when life produces no fruit within us, we must begin again. When others after reaching an age of responsibility produce no compassion, we must begin again. The training we thought would work, the schooling we thought would work, even the punishment we thought would work, but did not, we must throw out the past process, and begin anew. Because we are called to respond with compassion. 

The lesson we need to take from Scripture is that we who follow with love, hear the cry of the people, as the God of Abraham did with Moses, and those who hear that cry as the God of Abraham did with Moses respond with compassion saying, “I will be with you.”


May it be so.

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