What Jesus Thought About Universal Victim Blaming (Part 4 of 5)

As you can see this is one piece of a five-part essay. If you’d rather read it all at once, you can find it in barneywiget.com

Luke 13:1 Now there were some present at that time who told Jesus about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mixed with their sacrifices. 2 Jesus answered, “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans because they suffered this way? 3 I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish. 4 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? 5 I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish.” 

In the previous scene it was the disciples who presumed that bad behavior led to the man’s congenital blindness. In this one it was a number of unnamed moral critics who equated the suffering of fellow Jews with their sin. It seems they believed that the ones who were slain by sword or crushed by tower got what they deserved. They must have been “worse sinners” than everyone else who were exempt from these catastrophes. The ones who narrowly escaped Pilate’s blade or Siloam’s tower must have been more virtuous than they. That’s the way it works. Bad stuff happens to bad people and good to the good.

It’s not clear whether Jesus read their thoughts or they actually said them out loud, but it is evident that they had their minds made up when Jesus challenged their faulty thinking. “Do you think…?” Jesus pushed back. Their simplistic premise was, “Just as prosperity is proportionate to one’s piety, misfortune corresponds with God’s displeasure over impiety.”

I honestly think that in order to sound spiritually superior some people claim that disasters, whether by nature or at the hands of sinister individuals, come as a result of the evil behavior of the victims. I’ve heard ludicrous statements like these:

“Hurricane Katrina was obviously God’s judgment against the wickedness in New Orleans.”

“God was tired of their sorcery and sent an earthquake to Haiti.”

“The reason the Jews suffered the Holocaust was because of their rejection of Jesus in the first century.”

“Hinduism is the cause of starvation in India and God judged Indonesia with a tsunami for its Islamic majority.”

These may sound “spiritual” to some, even prophet-like, but they’re biblically uninformed and simple-minded – not to mention, in light of these two passages (John 9 and Luke 13), in sharp contrast to Jesus’ way of thinking.

A lot of Christians rush to attribute calamities to divine judgment. But I’ve noticed that if similar disasters were to happen to them or to people they love they call it “persecution.” Maybe it makes them feel better about their own pitiful spirituality when they can point to someone else whose life they judge to be more defective than theirs. Maybe they think they’re being saintly when they get together and carp on the evil state of the world. “Abortion, twisted sexuality, divorce, addiction, gambling, terrorism – God isn’t having it anymore!” they say with a swagger. But Jesus’ response in this passage counters that elitist attitude and flawed philosophy.

“Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans because they suffered this way? I tell you, no! … 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!”

Among the most fundamentalistic Jews of Jesus’ day Galileans were just one wrung above Samaritans, who were one wrung above Gentiles – quite a caste system to be sure. Most of these religionists had very little going for them spiritually so, like most of us, they felt better if they had someone below them on which to tread. When tragedy visits we say, “It’s because they’re Catholics, or Mormons, or environmentalists, or Muslims, or New Agers, or worse – Democrats!”

When we disagree with or disapprove of someone it’s easier to assume that their misfortunes are a direct result of their guilt. I’ve observed that until we experience our own tragedies we tend to assign blame to all the other bad people of the world. I suppose we’re trying to make sense of suffering in the world, and since we have such a hard time saying, “I don’t know,” the easiest alternative is to assign it to God’s wrath.

Stay tuned for the final post on this subject…

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