Suffering and Repentance (Lent 3c)

Is it reassuring or sad to know that Jesus was asked about disasters and human suffering? This week’s gospel (Luke 13:1-9, and for once I could not get to Bible Study and have to think for myself) begins with a denial that the people who suffer deserve it.

It is strange how often people having a bad time ask, “What have I done to deserve this?” – and Christians can answer “It may be nothing you have done, just the fact that we live in a damaged world”. And even for those who are responsible, there is hope in repentance.

Repentance is an often misunderstood “religious” word. It is not about producing a big enough feeling of sorrow or remorse. And it is certainly not about adding to our feelings of guilt. Isaiah 55 (the Old Testament reading) tells us of a generous God, who welcomes and provides for less-than-perfect people. We are invited to enjoy God’s goodness and love – and repentance is a response to that.

As we find out what God is like, and what it is like to be forgiven and sorted out, we “turn away from” what is evil – and the “turning away” is repentance. It is not just “attitude” or “opinion”, but behaviour, priorities and motivation.

In verse 5, Jesus is not threatening, but rather giving a warning of danger. (Those living in Jerusalem would suffer terribly in the siege and destruction of 70 AD – the Christians remembered Jesus words, and escaped in time). It still applies. Repentance is part of Christianity, both when we first come to faith, and as we go on learning more of God. Like fruit trees, Christians are expected to produce fruit, reflecting God’s generosity and care. If instead they live selfish and unproductive lives, we wonder if they have recognised the source of their life, the soil and water that make life possible. If not, the risks are great, and repentance more urgent.

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