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Good Catastrophe

It’s a reality of our times that news from around the world is nearly inescapable. While there are good news stories out there, what we usually hear is the bad...from fires and floods, to civil wars, terrorist attacks, teacher strikes, and gov’t shut downs. Of course, the real catastrophes are the ones that touch us personally, the challenges and difficulties that affect our circle of friends and family. A shutdown doesn’t really affect me, unless I work for the TSA or other gov’t agency. A teacher strike hits home when my future is being negotiated or I am a student waiting for normalcy to return. How should we respond to the abundance of bad news that we hear each day?

It reminds me of a time when a crowd interrupted Jesus to tell him about two recent disasters (Luke 13: 1-5).The first involved a group of Galilean Jews whom Pilate had killed while they were sacrificing in the temple.This refers to an incident that the Jewish historian Josephus told us about. Pilate, the governor of Judea, decided that Jerusalem needed a new water supply. No problem. But he decided to pay for the aqueduct with monies from the temple treasury. Like the current battle over funding a “border wall” the proposal was very controversial! There were many Jews up in arms, and during a large scale protest, Pilate’s soldiers actually killed several Galilean Jews in the crowd (Antiq.18.3.2). Jews felt this was an outrage, and the incident incited even more hatred for their Roman overlords.

The second catastrophe involved the death of 18 people who were killed in Jerusalem by the falling tower of Siloam. Edersheim suggests that these 18 men may actually have been Jews who were working on the hated aqueduct. The key word is “Siloam” – referring either to the Siloam aqueduct or the pool of Siloam, the reservoir that collected water from the Gihon spring. This is a site that can be visited today…and several of us did last summer. Perhaps the men were killed by a tower near the Siloam aqueduct or pool. If so, they were killed while collaborating with Pilate, and many may have felt it was God’s judgment on them for doing so.

Jesus does not commend the rioters, nor does he condemn the collaborators. Jesus does not incite the people to violence either, which is probably what they wantedhim to do. Instead, he seemed to say this: “Don’t spend your time blaming the government or plotting violent revolts. Turn back to God in repentance and follow Me, which will start the real revolution this world needs. Earlier, he had been reflecting on the approaching catastrophe which hehimself was about to undergo (Luke 12: 49-59). This was not a disaster that God was about to visit upon the world but a catastrophe He was about to endure on behalf of the world. So recognize the clear signs of this God Season, says Jesus, be reconciled to God and each other, repent and follow Me(Luke 13: 3, 5).

Did Jesus mean for us to ignore the headlines, or to treat bad news stories with callous disregard – whether gov’t shut downs, lay-offs, terrorist attacks, civil wars, or our most recent personal crisis? I doubt it. He does however invite us to trust that He transformed the worst catastrophe into what Tolkien called, “the good catastrophe”. He invites us to see that theonly realcomfort in the midst of a crisis is an event more astonishingly powerful and good than what threatens us at the moment. Jesus’ death on the cross was the appalling evil that became astonishingly good news for the whole world. And it is this event that helps us comfort those who weep, feed the hungry, bandage the wounded, overcome injustice, and come to finally see our own crisis with resurrection eyes.


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