Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Poor in the eyes of the world

Pat Robertson, the media millionaire, attracted attention to himself by implying that the Haitians had it coming. Surely, no one still takes Pat Robertson seriously. This is the same Pat Robertson that converted charitable donations into a 1.9 billion dollar for-profit media company. He then cashed it in for a personal gain of over 100 million, i.e. more money than President Obama initially promised Haiti in US aid. Is this man a credible spiritual leader?

Nevertheless, Pat Robertson tells the world that Haiti is paying the price for rebelling against French Colonial rule. It probably never occurred to Pat that Haiti might be still paying the price for enduring French colonialism in the first place. The other half of Hispaniola, the Dominican Republic (a former Spanish colony) does not fare so poorly as Haiti. Of course, this is merely my own speculation.

It takes arrogance to blame the victims while they still lie dying under the rubble of Port au Prince. If Robertson thinks that the tragedy in Port au Prince relates to some Haitians’ deal with the devil, what does his 1.9 billion dollar transaction with Rupert Murdoch portend for his future?

When tragedies occur, it is natural for people to ask, “Why?” We just need a smarter answer than Pat Robertson is likely to supply. Luke chapter 13 records people coming to Jesus wanting an answer to their question, “Why?”

Now there were some present at that time who told Jesus about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mixed with their sacrifices. Jesus answered, “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans because they suffered this way? I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish. Or those eighteen who died when the tower in Siloam fell on them—do you think they were more guilty than all the others living in Jerusalem? I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish.”

Then he told this parable: “A man had a fig tree, planted in his vineyard, and he went to look for fruit on it, but did not find any. So he said to the man who took care of the vineyard, ‘For three years now I've been coming to look for fruit on this fig tree and haven't found any. Cut it down! Why should it use up the soil?’

“‘Sir,’ the man replied, ‘leave it alone for one more year, and I'll dig around it and fertilize it. If it bears fruit next year, fine! If not, then cut it down.’”

Luke 13:1-9 (NIV)

Pilate, who was governor of Jerusalem, had killed some Galileans who apparently had come to Jerusalem to offer sacrifices. Rome had been in Israel for over a hundred years. Initially, they had come as a peace-keeping force, but as time went on they came to assume that they owned the place. Many Jews were hoping for a Messiah who would deliver them from the brutality of their Roman peace. Luke doesn’t tell us why Pilate killed the Galileans. Why? Probably because it doesn’t matter.

When people brought the news to Jesus, he didn’t even wait for them to ask him, “Why?” He said to them, “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans because they suffered this way?” It had crossed their minds. Jesus emphatically tells them that their assumptions are incorrect. “I tell you, no!” he said. The Galileans killed by Pilate were no worse than others. But Jesus doesn’t stop there. Instead, he directs the listener’s concern inward when he says, “But unless you repent, you too will all perish.” Jesus would not entertain speculation regarding why certain people had suffered an untimely death. Instead, he directed his listener to examine his own heart.

The killing of the Galileans was a political event, so Jesus elaborates and discusses some accidental deaths. Eighteen people had been killed when a tower fell on them. Jesus asked, “Do you think they were more guilty than all the others living in Jerusalem?” Again, it had crossed their minds. They probably assumed it to be true. But Jesus says again, “I tell you, no!” Those eighteen were no worse than others. And again, Jesus draws the listener’s attention inward, saying, “But unless you repent, you too will all perish.”

Jesus was telling his listeners not to speculate regarding God’s judgment when bad things happen to other people. Instead, he tells them each to examine his own heart.

After telling his listeners that unless they repent, they will perish, he tells them a parable. A man had a fig tree that was three years old. The tree should have produced fruit, but it had not. The man was tempted to cut it down. The gardener intervened and asked for one more year to nurture the tree so that it would produce fruit. The owner of the land relented.

Jesus ends the story there. He doesn’t say whether the tree produced fruit and was spared or whether the gardener’s work was for naught, and the tree was destroyed. He left the listener to imagine the outcome.

In the parable, the tree represents the listener. His destiny will be decided in the indeterminate future. The gardener represents Jesus. He came to seek and to save those who were lost. The land owner represents God, the Father, who demands fruitfulness. What is the fruit demanded by God? Clearly, what God requires, Jesus already pronounced: “Unless you repent, you too will all perish.”

When we see human tragedy, it is not ours to speculate why one suffers what we do not. From Jesus’ words we can be assured that we do not have a greater intrinsic value than those who suffer. When Pat Robertson blames Haitians for Haiti’s earthquake, he rejects Jesus’ instruction to avoid such speculation.

Disasters and violence do not claim lives because the victims deserve it more than the rest of us. Standing before God, we all deserve death. The Apostle Paul writes, “. . . by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned.” Romans 5:12 (NIV) We will all have sinned, and we will all die. There is no distinction among us in this regard.

Jesus renounced men’s speculation regarding the cause of disasters. Likewise in John chapter 9, Jesus corrected his disciples whose only question was whether the blind man or his parents had sinned. Jesus told them that the man’s blindness did not occur because of a someone’s sin, but rather so that the work of God could be revealed. Jesus then spat on the ground, made clay, and sculpted the blind man a new set of eyes. The work of God in man is a new creation to which we attain only through repentance by faith.

Perhaps the work of God’s new creation comes more easily in Haiti than in less troubled parts of the world. James, the brother of Jesus, writes, “Has not God chosen those who are poor in the eyes of the world to be rich in faith and to inherit the kingdom he promised those who love him?” James 2:5 (NIV)

The only barrier between us and the grace of God, is our pride. Repentance requires humility before God. The fruit of our repentance is faith. True faith results in faithfulness. By this faith we are transformed into a new creation. This transformation is completed at the resurrection of the dead. The Apostle Paul wrote to the Corinthians, saying,

We will not all sleep, but we will all be changed — in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. For the perishable must clothe itself with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality. When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality, then the saying that is written will come true:

“Death has been swallowed up in victory.”
“Where, O death, is your victory?
Where, O death, is your sting?”

The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.

1 Corinthians 15:51-57 (NIV)

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