The story of the man born blind in John’s Gospel has the disciples asking, “Rabbi, was it his sin or that of his parents that caused him to be born blind?” Jesus answers unambiguously, “Neither.” (Although his alternative, “Rather it was to let God’s work show forth in him,” provides its own food for thought.) (John 9:2-3)
In today’s Gospel reading, Jesus is faced with a similar question regarding certain Galileans whose blood “Pilate had mixed with their sacrifices.” In this case He does not answer so clearly. Instead, as He often does, He switches the emphasis by posing a counter question: “Do you think that these Galileans were the greatest sinners in Galilee just because they suffered this?” What had been a matter of intellectual curiosity becomes an occasion for self-examination. It is not the business of the questioners to pass judgment on the slain Galileans, but rather to reform their own lives. His reply echoes his command expressed elsewhere: “Judge not.” It is notable that He Himself refrains from any judgment of guilt or innocence.
However, He does not deny that there may be a connection between the conduct of the Galileans and their fate. Our actions do have consequences for good or evil-or for both at the same time. The questioners in the episode reflect the perennial human preoccupation with the mysteries of good and evil.
The slain Galileans may have been martyrs; they may have been criminals. One thing is clear. Jesus is not going to provide a simple rational explanation for their suffering, but only a call to moral action on the part of his hearers: Reform your lives. In the context of the full Gospel story, He does not offer to solve the difficulties. On the contrary, He demands surrender in faith; a surrender that leads us to embrace the Paschal Mystery, the enigma of the Passion, Death and Resurrection of the Christ.
Sister Mary O’Brien, C.P. is a member of the Passionist Sisters’ community in Union City. NJ.
- Squeezing Our Way into Jerusalem (thepassionists.org)
- The Feast of St. Paul of the Cross (thepassionists.org)
- The Passion of Christ is the Greatest Expression of God’s Love (thepassionists.org)