How Many Deaths Will It Take, ‘Til . . .
There’s a disturbing story in the Gospel of Luke (Luke 13: 1 -9).
Jesus, on his way to Jerusalem, meets crowds who having witnessed violence and tragedy, are intent on on assigning blame and laying hold of an explanation for this evil.
As if to say, “Once blame is assigned, we can rest easy.” “There must be reason.” “They must have had it coming.”
The incidents of horror and loss of life, which the feverish crowds report to Jesus, are two. In one the Roman Governor, Pilate, has had a group of political radicals and dissidents slaughtered by his soldiers.
The second is something that might be described as a, “natural disaster.” A construction accident in which eighteen people are killed by a tower that suddenly crashed to the earth.
The crowd pursued Jesus to get an answer to this question: who’s to blame? Why did this happen? Blame established, explanation given, we can shake our heads and go home comforted that this could not happen to us because we’re not like them.
But in each instance Jesus refuses to identify a culprit or offer an explanation. Instead, he gives a stark warning:
“These eighteen who were killed when the tower of Siloam fell on them — do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others living in Jerusalem? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all perish as they did.”
“Unless you repent, you will perish as they did.”
In the wake of El Paso and Dayton, explanations are urged, blame assigned. It’s Trump and his dog-whistles to white supremacists. It’s “secular humanism,” and the porno-grind(whatever that is) of the Dayton shooter. It is violent video games and mental illness, says Trump.
At least sometimes, the point of assigning blame is to distance one’s self from the disaster and suffering. “They were worse than us,” “They had it coming.” So saying, we feel a safety, a distance. “Thank God, we’re not like those people.”
But Jesus denies this strategy, this move for distance. He wants us to feel our kinship with the dead and wounded, the bereft and shattered. He wants us to feel our vulnerability. He wants us to know that, no, we’re not safe.
I expect that so little happens about gun violence and mass shootings because, despite the horrific evidence, many of us manage to convince ourselves that we are safe. This won’t happen to us. This is something that happens elsewhere, to other people.
“Repent of that very thought,” says Jesus. Feel your trembling kinship with Latino shoppers in El Paso, with the night-clubbers and merry-makers in Dayton.
Cast aside your easy explanations, know that we are all implicated. Re-think your foolish self-confidence. “I know what to do.” “If we just di this, it would change everything.” No, you don’t know. You don’t.
Ask for help. Fall to your knees. We need help. We need mercy. We need grace. We need guidance from a power not our own for we are caught by the powers of darkness that have descended on this once proud nation of ours.
For reasons unknown to me, the Dylan song, also the Peter, Paul and Mary song, “Blowing in the Wind” was rolling through my soul before the terrors of last weekend.
“How many deaths will it take ’til we know that too many people have died?
“The answer, my friend, is blowing in the wind, the answer is blowing in the wind.”