Peace be with you!
An accident can change a person’s life in an instant. One minute
teenage boys are running scrimmage at football practice and the next minute one of them gets tackled and cannot get back up. The boy is rushed to the hospital where the doctors say that even after he recovers, he will always have a three-inch difference in the length of his legs. His dreams of football glory are over.
A teenage girl is having a great night of partying with her friends when suddenly their car is hit by a drunk driver. The girl doesn’t have her seat belt on and goes flying out the window. She is paralyzed forever.
A family reunion turns tragic when a man dives into a shallow lake and breaks his neck, leaving him a quadriplegic.
In a moment, these individuals go from being able to walk to having to learn how to do everything from a wheelchair. Even if you are born with a physical disability and grow up with limitations, the teenage years can be rough when you are different and cannot always do what your peers are doing. Whether you were born with physical limitations or you were left with a limp or paralyzed by an accident, it is normal to go through a time period when you wonder if God is punishing you. As a teenager, I remember feeling isolated
by my peers, because I could not do everything they could do. My peers did not invite me to go out with them. I did not have friends over very often. I often wondered: Why did God allow this to happen to me? Why is God punishing me? Why? It’s easy to feel hopeless, alone, and angry.
Jesus asks the crowd why they can read the changes in the sky for the upcoming weather, but they cannot interpret the current events (Luke 12:56). Though the question is not stated outright, a few people rise to the challenge and ask, “Why do bad things to good people?” The question is a result of Pilate killing Galileans in a ghastly event (Luke 13:1). The people ask why Galileans died so tragically—even the good people. The question implies a punishment and reward system with God: if you are a good person, God will reward you, but if not, God will punish you.[i] When individuals are killed or become disabled, we search for a reason why. There has to be a reason for human suffering. There has to be an explanation why I have cerebral palsy, why I am paralyzed, or [whatever “it” is] from my past.
Jesus meets the implied question with his own questions: “Do you think that because these Galileans suffered in this way they were worse sinners than all other Galileans? … Or those 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?” (Luke 13:2, 4 NRSV). These questions can easily be reframed to fit any situation. Do you think you have cerebral palsy because of your parent’s sin? Do you think you are paralyzed because you are a horrible human being? Do you think you are suffering because you are the worse sinner ever?
Jesus answers both of his questions, “No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all perish just as they did” (Luke 13:3, 5 NRSV). Suffering is not always the result of divine judgment and punishment, because God grants us freedom of choice and free will. In John 9, the healing of the blind man happens not because of anyone’s personal sin, but in order to bring glory to God the Father (John 9:1-3). This provides the Lord a way to enter life in the world in order to be present in our lives. In times of tragedy and suffering, Jesus calls upon us to repent and to turn back to God, so we can call out, “Lord, have mercy,” and receive redemption. However, if we do not repent our sinful ways and turn back to God, then we will perish—not just a physical death but a separation from eternal life in the kingdom of God.
When we are suffering, we are given a choice: to blame God or to seek mercy and redemption through Jesus Christ. When we become disabled (at birth or otherwise), we are given the opportunity to bring glory to God the Father through our suffering—just as Jesus suffered on the road to the cross and at his crucifixion. A person who is disabled has the opportunity to bring God glory by living her life according to her abilities and God’s call for her.
Isaiah also calls upon us to turn back to God to receive goodness: “come to the waters,” “buy wine and milk without money,” “eat what is good,” and “listen, so that you may live” (Isaiah 55:1-3). This call reminds us God provides everything we ever need and want. God will also grant the wicked and the unrighteous abundant pardon (Isaiah 55:7). God the Father is gracious and forgiving.
The parable of the fig tree reminds us of God’s mercy. A man planted a fig tree, and after three years it never produced any fruit, so he told his gardener to cut it down (Luke 13:6-7). The gardener begged the man to give it another year, offering to tend and fertilize it, giving it the best possible chance to produce fruit (Luke 13:8). The owner agreed, but threatened to cut it down after that time period if it did not produce any fruit (Luke 13:9). Jesus is like the gardener: on the cross, he steps in and intervenes on our behalf. God’s mercy is for everyone as long as you acknowledge your sins and humbly repent. When you accept God’s mercy (the fertilizer), you use the gifts God gives to answer his personalized call for you to share his good news with others. In his crucifixion, death, and resurrection, Jesus allows us to have this second chance to be in a relationship with God the Father.
As you continue to travel to the cross with Christ, let your suffering give glory to God, just as Jesus suffered in order to give us God’s glory. Let the mystery of the resurrection to give you hope, because hope is what allows you to get a glimpse of the kingdom of God.
Thanks be to God!
Dear Heavenly Father, Thank you for your forgiveness, mercy, and grace. Give us your grace and understanding as we look toward the Kingdom of God. Allow us to be like Christ by letting our suffering bring you glory in the world. Forgive us as we forgive those who have sinned against us. Renew us and keep us in your grace through Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit. Amen.
- Have you ever asked God why something happened to you? If so, what was the situation?
- Has there been a situation that you thought was a result of a sin?
- When has God granted you grace and mercy?
- What gifts has God given you?
- How have you used your suffering to give God glory?
[i] Arland J. Hultgren, “Commentary on Luke 13:1-9,” Working Preacher, 23 February 2016, http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=1578.