GOSPEL, FIRST READING & PSALM TRANSCRIPT (Subscribe or Login for Full Transcript):
...but the first two, the story of the Galileans whom Pilate massacred and the story of the people who were killed when the tower of Silo’am fell, those are only here in Luke’s gospel. We wouldn’t know about these teachings of Jesus if we didn’t have the Gospel of Luke. So let’s walk through each one of these three examples and try to figure out what Jesus is talking about.
The first one has to do with this massacre of the Galileans by Pontius Pilate, the Roman procurator. Now, this event that Jesus is describing here is otherwise unknown to us from ancient history; Josephus doesn’t record it, no Roman records that we know of account for it, so only Luke’s gospel tells us about it. What we can infer from it is that apparently there were some Galileans in Jerusalem and they were in the temple offering sacrifice, as Galilean pilgrims would want to do, and something happened in which Pilate (and his soldiers) massacred them, and evidently Pilate not only put them to death, but he mingled their blood with the blood of the animal sacrifices that they were offering in the temple. In other words, he desecrated the temple sacrifices with the blood of these Jews that he had massacred. Obviously, this would have been something that would have been a notorious act on Pilate’s part, and Jesus appears to assume here that his disciples will have heard about this massacre (about this tragedy). His point in bringing the event up is to say this: “Do you assume that just because these Galileans were killed by Pilate that they were worse sinners than all other Galileans?” In other words, what Jesus is saying here is that the suffering and death of these Galileans was not necessarily a result of their own sinfulness. This was a pretty common assumption that he has to correct in the 1st Century AD. We’ll see him do this on several occasions, like in the Gospel of John when the Apostles will say they see the man more born blind and they say, “Who’s sinned? This man or his parents?” Jesus says, “Well actually neither of them sinned. God has allowed this to take place for some greater purpose.” In our day, we have the opposite problem. People will assume there is no connection whatsoever between sin and suffering. In Jesus’ day, it was the other way around. If people saw someone who had experienced a tragedy or suffering or death, they would assume “Ah well, they must have done something wrong and they’re getting their punishment now through this physical tragedy or this physical suffering.” And so Jesus says, “No, that’s not the case in this instance. However, unless you repent you will all likewise perish.” Now, I have to say, this is one of Jesus’ less popular sayings. You’ll see bumper stickers of the golden rule: “do unto others as you would have them do unto you”, or of John 3:16: “God so love the world that he sent his only begotten son.” I’ve never seen a bumper sticker of Luke 13:3, “Unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.” This is not one of Jesus’ more popular sayings, but he reiterates it twice with a second example of the tower of Silo’am. It’s obviously something very significant.
He moves into a second example of a tragedy, in this case it’s an accident, it’s not a massacre. Evidently there were people working on repairing the tower of Silo’am, which was in Jerusalem — you might recall again from the Gospel of John, he mentions the pool of Silo’am. So evidently the tower was a tower nearby that pool and it was being rebuilt or maybe it just crumbled and fell, but apparently it was such a traumatic event that 18 people died in the collapse of this tower. And so Jesus says, “Do you think the people who died in that tragedy were worse sinners than everyone else in Jerusalem?” Obviously (again) the answer is no, but then Jesus affixes to that statement, “Unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.” So, what’s he getting at here? Well, again, the thrust of these two examples appears to be that on the one hand, you should not assume that physical death is necessarily the result of a particular sin. On the other hand, there’s a kind of riddle built in here where Jesus is saying, “If you don’t repent, you too will perish.” Now, this is a classic example of how Jesus’ questions are often paradoxical; they are not clear in what they mean. They are deliberately phrased as riddles or parables that are meant to make you think. If he’s saying, “Unless you repent, you will all likewise perish”, it would seem to contradict what he just said. If death is not necessarily a result of sin, then why will I perish if I don’t repent? Well the answer to the riddle is he’s not talking primarily about physical death. He’s talking about spiritual death. He’s talking about being cut off from God. He’s talking about what he says elsewhere in the gospels, the famous saying, “What does it profit a man, if he gains his life but loses his soul?” Wait, what does he mean? How can you lose your soul without losing your life? Well he’s talking about not the loss of physical life but as kind of spiritual death through being excluded from the kingdom of God. That’s the perishing he’s describing here.
And before we move on, I would note here that what Jesus is referring to here, although we don’t have any evidence either of the tower of Silo’am or of the massacre of the Galileans by Pilate from other historical records, there’s really no reason to doubt the truth of this event, especially when we know that this accords perfectly with the kind of person Pilate was. I just want to add this (just to kind of give you a sense of the realism of Jesus’ words here): In the 1st Century Jewish author Philo of Alexandria (who’s actually a contemporary of Jesus), he has a book called the “Embassy to Gaius” in which he describes the kind of person Pilate was, and it matches up exactly with what we see not just in the gospels as a whole with regard to Jesus’ passion, but with regard to this specific episode Jesus is describing here of Pilate not just killing Galileans, but actually desecrating the temple and mingling their blood with the sacrifices. Listen to this quote from Philo of Alexandria:
[Pilate] feared least they might in reality go on an embassy to the emperor, and might impeach him with respect to other particulars of his government, in respect of his corruption, and his acts of insolence, and his rapine, and his habit of insulting people, and his cruelty, and his continual murders of people untried and uncondemned, and his never ending, and gratuitous, and most grievous inhumanity.
So that’s Philo’s description of Pontius Pilate from the 1st Century AD. The idea that Pilate was cruel, that he was inhumane, that he would execute people without trial or who were in fact innocent, accords perfectly with what Jesus is describing here in Luke 13 about the massacre of the Galileans. It just points out the fact that these two examples that Jesus’ is using here, of the tower of Silo’am and the Galileans massacre, would have been well known and would have driven home this whole question of the relationship between suffering and sin, and sin and death: “What is the causal relationship here?”
Now, if you have any doubts about the spiritual death and the meaning of Jesus’ words there, you just have to look at the third example that he gives in Luke 13...
In closing, I’d just like to end with one more insight from the catechism, because I think, at least in my experience as a teacher, Jesus’ words on repentance from Luke 13 for today, they can be kind of difficult for people to take in. Even just the word repent, in contemporary society that word gets associated in secular context with people who stand on street corners and shout that the end of the world is near and everyone needs to repent. It gets associated with a kind of Christianity that might seem fanatical or judgmental or angry or whatnot. I just want to be clear here that the meaning of the word repentance, what does it actually mean? If you understand what it means, it shouldn’t be something to be afraid of. It shouldn’t be a negative thing. It’s actually a very powerful and positive thing. And I love the definition of repentance from the Catechism of The Catholic Church, paragraph 1431. Listen to what the catechism says about what repentance is and what it means:
Interior repentance is a radical reorientation of our whole life, a return, a conversion to God with all our heart, an end of sin, a turning away from evil, with repugnance toward the evil actions we have committed. At the same time it entails the desire and resolution to change one’s life, with hope in God’s mercy and trust in the help of his grace. This conversion of heart is accompanied by a salutary pain and sadness which the Fathers called animi cruciatus (affliction of spirit) and compunctio cordis (repentance of heart).
Notice in this passage from the catechism, what does repentance involve? A radical reorientation of our whole life, a return to God with all of our heart, and end to sin, turning away from evil. Are those good things? Is it good to turn away from evil? Is it good to radically reorient our life toward God? Is it good to turn to him with our whole heart and our whole mind? Yeah. Is it good to seek an end of evil? Yes. How many of us would not like evil to be driven out of our lives? How many of us don’t want to change, to be better people, to turn away from the things that we do that hurt others and hurt ourselves? This “repentance” should be one of the most popular words in the Bible, because it means turning away from evil and turning to goodness. It means breaking the chains of sin and living a life of freedom and joy and happiness that Christ came to give us. “I came that you might have life and have it abundantly.” I think the part that’s difficult for us is that last part, “repugnance towards the evil actions we’ve committed”. It’s hard for us sometimes to just admit that we’ve done wrong, to learn to hate the things we’ve done that are wrong. It’s especially difficult when you’re young and proud, I think as you get older it starts to get easier, as you look back on your life, to see the ways you’ve wounded others and to actually have sorrow about those things and to want to stop. I hope that’s what happens as we grow old, that’s at least what should happen as we gain some perspective on life.
But I just want to bring up the fact that both these things, the affliction of spirit and repentance of heart, those are healthy, human reactions to sin and evil and things we do in our lives that are wrong. We should all feel that way about sin. So although the word “repentance” has kind of gotten a bad rap, I think, when we understand what it really means, a desire to change our lives for the better, a desire to turn away from that which is evil, and that which is harmful to ourselves and others, there is every reason for us to heed the words of Jesus in this week’s gospel. Unless you repent, unless you change, unless you convert your heart to God, unless you turn away from evil, unless you stop doing things that harm yourself and harm others, unless you learn to hate the sins in your own heart more than you hate everyone else’s sins, you’re going to perish too; you’re not going to bear good fruit. And God put us in this world so that we can bear good fruit, so that we can love him above all things and so that we can love our neighbors as ourselves.
SECOND READING TRANSCRIPT (Subscribe or Login for Full Transcript):
So much; it’s so good. This is such a fascinating passage. So this is Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians. So remember, the Corinthians — like many other congregations that Paul founded — was a Church that was founded by Paul in a city of predominantly Greek, predominantly Gentile inhabitants, that Paul nurtured and then had to depart from for various reasons…. and then writes back to as a way of checking on them, correcting errors, encouraging them to live their Christian faith.
So 1 Corinthians is a letter that Paul wrote to the people of Corinth to address the whole host of problems that were going on. The Church at Corinth is just a mess… is just a mess. And one of the key problems that they’re dealing with in the Church at Corinth is, in fact, sexual immorality. Because the immorality that was practiced by pagans and pagan culture was difficult for some Christians to leave behind or to grasp the severity of.
So after discussing a number of different issues involving immorality and other problems in the Church at Corinth with converts from paganism, Paul in chapter 10 goes back to the Jewish Scripture and uses the story of the exodus from Egypt and of the wilderness generation of Israelites — the Israelites who traveled through the desert for 40 years before not
entering the Promised Land, because all of them died in the wilderness except for two, Joshua and Caleb. It was their children, it was the next generation that actually were able to enter into the Promised Land.
But Paul goes back to the accounts of the exodus in order to warn the Corinthians, to avoid certain sins so that they not be punished like the wilderness generation was at the time of the exodus. So in that context, what Paul is doing is, he’s looking back to the Old Testament — and this is important — not merely as containing typological parallels with Jesus that point forward to Jesus and prefigure what’s going to happen with Jesus and therefore, in a sense, validate, or prophesy, that Jesus is the fulfillment of the Scriptures. He does that elsewhere. He does it here too, but he also sees the book of Exodus as a type — as a moral type — that acts as a warning to Christians for what will happen to them if they sin in the way that the fathers at the time of the exodus sinned… if they grumble or complain in the way that the fathers at the time of the wilderness generation complained against God… if they engage in immorality or idolatry in the way that they did.
So in other words, if you look at medieval history of scriptural interpretation, you’ll frequently see them talk about different senses of Scripture, one of them would be the allegorical sense or typological sense where one thing in the Old Testament points forward to something in the New Testament — like Adam prefigures Christ or David is a type of Christ.
But another sense of Scripture is what the medieval theologians would call the moral sense of Scripture. And here, you can look at an Old Testament passage and draw out a moral implication from its description of the events that took place, either for virtue to be practiced or vice to be avoided, and that’s what Paul is doing here with the story of the exodus. So with that in mind, that’s kind of typological reading of Exodus, go back and let’s unpack what he said. So he says:
I want you to know, brethren, that our fathers were all under the cloud, and all passed through the sea, and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea…
Alright, pause there. What is he talking about, they “were all under the cloud”? He means that they all journeyed under the power and authority of the shekinah
, the glory cloud, the pillar of cloud by day and the pillar of fire by night, that led the Israelites in the book of Exodus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy, for 40 years throughout the wilderness to bring them to the Promised Land. So that’s what he means when he says they’re all under the cloud — it’s a reference to the glory cloud. He says they “all passed through the sea” — that’s the crossing of the Red Sea. And then he uses this fascinating image. He says they were all “baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea”. Now that’s a weird thing to say, because it makes it sound like they were part of the body of Moses. What does it mean to be baptized into Moses?
Clearly, Paul is talking about the Israelites at the time of Exodus being led by the cloud and passing through the water. But for him, the crossing of the Red Sea and the following of the glory cloud isn’t just a historical event that happened at the time of Moses. It also is a mystery, a type that points forward to the fact that now, those who are in Christ are baptized through water and the Spirit, water and the Holy Spirit. But he projects that backward into the time of Moses as they “were baptized into Moses”.
So in other words, what Paul sees in the story of Exodus are prefigurations of the sacraments — in this case, the Sacrament of Baptism. In a real sense, it’s almost as if he thinks just — actually, it isn’t almost
as if, I think he’s implying — that just as you are baptized into Christ in the New Testament and become a member of the body of Christ, in some mysterious way, the Israelites were baptized into Moses and became part of the body of Moses. They came under the protection of Moses. They belonged to Moses in a way that points forward to how we will belong to Christ in the new covenant.
Anyway, anyway…ok. But that’s not the only sacrament — not just Baptism. In the next verse, he says the Israelites:
… all ate the same supernatural food and all drank the same supernatural drink.
Now, this translation of supernatural is okay, but the Greek is actually pneumatikon
. It just means “spiritual” — so they ate the same spiritual food and they drank the same spiritual drink. Now what’s that a reference to? Well, this is a reference to the two miracles — the miracle of the manna from Heaven that they ate every day during the wilderness and the miracle of the water from the rock that they drank while they were in the desert. So if you go back to the book of Exodus 17, for example, you’ll recall that the people are starting to be thirsty and complain. And so Moses is commanded by God to strike the rock at Massah/Meribah and water would flow forth from the rock so people could drink.
Now, just on a level of physics, as a rule, if you strike rock, usually water doesn’t come out of it. So this is a miracle, so they see this as miraculous food from Heaven and miraculous drink from the rock. So what Paul… when he says spiritual here, he doesn’t mean that the manna wasn’t real manna and the water wasn’t real water. He’s using it to describe that they are miraculous… or as the RSV translates pretty well, supernatural food and supernatural drink. Okay, manna from Heaven, water from the rock.
Now again, though, think about it for a second. If the water of the Red Sea points forward to Baptism for Paul, then what might the spiritual food and spiritual drink be types of? And he doesn’t draw this out. He doesn’t make what is implicit explicit, but subsequent interpreters of Paul are going to see in this a prefiguration of the Eucharist — the spiritual food and the spiritual drink of the Lord’s Supper, of His Body and Blood under the appearance of bread and wine.
So in any case, that’s kind of a beautiful convergence here of both typology and sacramental theology on Paul’s part. So he’s describing the Exodus generation, and he says something fascinating here. He says:
For they drank from the supernatural Rock which followed them, and the Rock was Christ. (1 Corinthians 10:4b)
Now, what you might be wondering, though, is… what does he mean “from the supernatural Rock that followed them”? Well, in order to understand this, you actually have to go back to the book of Numbers. It’s chapter 20 where Moses strikes the rock for a second time and brings water to the Israelites.
Although, nowadays, we don’t know the Old Testament perhaps as well as we should like. In ancient times and especially at St. Paul’s time, they read it very carefully. And one of the things they noticed was that Moses strikes the rock in Exodus 17 and water comes forth. And then in Numbers chapter 20, after they’ve been traveling in the wilderness for a long time, he strikes the rock again and water comes forth. So ancient Jewish interpreters, one of the things they argued was that it wasn’t just the water that was miraculous; it was the rock itself, that the rock followed them throughout the wilderness.
Now different people imagine this in different ways. It’s not that… you don’t have to necessarily conceptualize it as this giant boulder that’s kind of rolling around behind the Israelites so that they can have water wherever they go. But what Paul means more likely here is that it’s the same supernatural source in Exodus 17 as it is in Numbers 20 — that it’s God miraculously providing supernatural drink from Him and that there’s an actual identity between the rock at the beginning of the exodus (in Exodus 17) and the rock that followed them throughout the wilderness to provide the stream of water. And that is that the rock was, in fact, a type of Christ. So the rock is Christ.
So you can see Paul here is reading the Old Testament, reading Jewish Scripture, in a remarkably explicit and powerfully typological way. He does not see the events of the exodus as merely history. It’s not just Jewish history. It’s not like Josephus. So when Josephus writes his famous Jewish Antiquities
, he’s recounting the history of Israel from creation all the way up to his own day in the first century. But when Paul’s writing in 1 Corinthians 10, he sees that history as also a mystery that points beyond itself, ultimately to the mystery of Christ, the mystery of the Church, and the mystery of the sacraments — Baptism and the Eucharist.
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