29 January – 4 February 2017.
One day when I was walking in Taipei, I saw a church group on the street calling out to people, saying “Become a Christian, and all your troubles will disappear!” As I heard this, it made me really uncomfortable – because that’s not true at all. As Christians we know that our lives still have lots of troubles. It’s not true to say that good, faithful people will never have problems. And in the same way, it’s not true to say that it’s only evil sinners who will suffer in life.
In the Old Testament, that’s the lesson that Job taught us. And in Luke 13, Jesus teaches us this lesson too. Back in the Bible days, many people really did believe that if you were sick or suffering, then it was because God was punishing you for your sins. That’s what Job’s friends told him – that God was punishing him because he was a bad person. They didn’t want to listen when Job said he was innocent and had done nothing wrong.
In Luke 13:1–5 we see the same problem. People looked at the way others around them were suffering and dying, and then assumed that they must all be terrible sinners being punished by God. But Jesus tells them: no. Jesus tells them how very wrong that idea is. Troubles and problems affect all of us. And sickness and death come to all people. Our hospitals aren’t just filled with non-Christians!
Several times in the gospel stories Jesus tells his disciples to stop thinking of suffering as God’s punishment for sin. That’s because the idea is really a very dangerous one. We know that Jesus commands us to love and care for those who are suffering. But if we look at those people and tell ourselves that they are evil sinners being punished by God, what will we do? We won’t go and help them at all. Instead we’ll judge them as evil people, ignore their suffering, point at them and make fun of them, or even blame them for their own troubles. That’s not what Jesus wants us to do.
All people, good and bad, go through hard times. So when we see people in trouble, we must not blame them or ignore them. Instead we should do what Jesus commands us to do: reach out to them in love and care.
Pastor Stephen Lakkis