“There were some present at that very time who told him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. And he answered them, “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans, because they suffered in this way? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish. Or those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them: do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others who lived in Jerusalem? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.”” (Luke 13:1–5 ESV)
Two seemingly obscure events are mentioned in this text that we find nowhere else in scripture. In the first event, Pilate had apparently murdered a group of Galileans who were trying to offer sacrifices. The second event involved what appears to be an accident at the tower of Siloam which was probably part of the wall in Jerusalem near the pool of Siloam. Jesus, after each event, asks “do you think that they are worse sinners than you are?”
What is He doing? He is deconstructing the popular idea that accidents, tragedies, sickness & suffering is directly traced to personal sin (see John 9:2). Our common logic is that bad people get bad things and good people get good things. Jesus deconstructs that belief with this story. He presses on us to evaluate if we really are deserving of the good in our lives as we tend to look down on those who are experiencing hardship and travesty in their lives. This is the same logic that Job’s friends used on him, “Job, you obviously have unrepentant sin in your life or else you would not be suffering like you are.”
We seem hardwired to look down on others who are going through difficult circumstances and reckon (though we’d rarely say it) that they probably deserve it. Conversely, we think that we deserve to be spared from difficulties because we are pretty good people; we cry “foul” when things go badly, because we didn’t deserve that turn of events! This belief is cancerous to our souls because when things are good, we become puffed up & self righteous, and when things are difficult we feel condemned (or unfairly treated) and jump on the treadmill of good works to remedy the situation and earn some of God’s blessing & favor.
Jesus shatters this thinking by saying, “no, but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.” What? Were those people blatant sinners? They were no worse than His hearers and no worse than you or me. Jesus connects this with the broader truth that a final judgement is coming and that we should be prepared. This is jarring & sobering and should cause deep introspection because not all who proclaim Jesus as Lord are really redeemed (Matthew 7:21-23).
Nothing that you can do will earn God’s favor or affection. Jesus earned that at the cross when He cried, “It is finished.” When something is finished there is nothing else that needs to be done. The beauty of grace is that we get what we do not deserve (and could never earn) based on the performance of Another. Religion says, “you must work hard to keep the approval of God.” Grace says, “there is nothing that you can do to keep the approval of God, it was secured at the cross and can never be lost.”