“…unless you repent you will all likewise perish.” (Luke 13:3)
Slavery can be described as an act of man’s inhumanity to man. To be enslaved is to be dehumanized; reduced to an object lacking the rights and privileges. To be enslaved is to be oppressed and afflicted. In today’s first reading, we read that God felt the pains of Israelites who were slaves in Egyptians at that time. “I have seen the AFFLICTION of my people and have heard their CRY. I know their SUFFERINGS.” (Exodus 3:7).
Apart from physical slavery, there is another type of slavery that is just as dangerous and oppressive; one that brings about both physical and spiritual death. This is the slavery of sin. In today’s second reading, St. Paul reflecting on the outcome of our ancestors in the faith spoke of how they “were destroyed by the Destroyer” as a result of their sinful actions. St. Paul says their stories are written in the Scriptures to “warn us against desiring evil.”
In today’s Gospel passage, Jesus continues the warning when upon reflecting on the calamity that had befallen the Galileans said: “Unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.” The message in all of our readings today is quite clear: “There is a day of reckoning – a day we shall have to give an account of our lives. We may assume that all is well for now but a time would surely come when we would have to suffer the consequences of our sins.” Let us now consider this message in detail.
1. Unless You Repent, You Will All Likewise Perish
Twice in today’s Gospel passage, Jesus says: “unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.” Unless you repent is a conditional statement. It implies that there is a time-frame one is given to rethink his or her actions, to make a change, to stop doing that evil. When we say God is merciful, we mean that God gives us ample time to repent, reconsider our ways and refrain from evil. The mercy of God lies in the fact that He does not punish the sinner immediately but like the man who planted a vineyard keeps coming back hoping to find fruits. God continues to speak gently to us through our conscience, through the scriptures, and through avenues such as this homily.
Today, God is giving you another opportunity to look inwards. In the words of St. John the evangelist, “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just, and will forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” (1 John 1:8-9). The fact that you are still alive is a sign that you still have an opportunity to repent. Never postpone your repentance because you do not know what would happen the next minute.
The vinedresser pleaded with the owner of the vineyard to leave the vine till the next year but if it fails to bear fruit, he can cut it down. You do not know when your days of grace would be over; when you will have to face the full wrath of your sins. St. Paul teaches us: “For you yourselves know well that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night. When people say, ‘There is peace and security,’ then sudden destruction will come upon them as travail comes upon a woman with child, and there will be no escape. But you are not in darkness, brethren, for that day to surprise you like a thief. (1 Thessalonians 5:2-4)
You may have been committing a particular sin and getting away with it. A day would come that you will either get caught red-handed or your past would be exposed. Jesus warned us: “Beware of the leaven of the Pharisees, which is hypocrisy. Nothing is covered up that will not be revealed, or hidden that will not be known. Therefore, whatever you have said in the dark shall be heard in the light, and what you have whispered in private rooms shall be proclaimed upon the housetops.” (Luke 12:1-3). If you do not repent today, you are only postponing the evil day.
Jesus said: “unless you repent, you will ALL likewise perish” That means, no one is exempted, not even me the preacher. Regardless of who you are or the position you hold in the church, if you fail to repent, a day of reckoning will come. It is instructive that St. Paul concludes today’s second reading with this statement: “Therefore let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall.” (1 Corinthians 10:12)
2. Those Who Suffered, Were They Worse Sinners?
Those who told Jesus about the Galileans assumed that for them to have suffered in that way, they must have been far worse sinners than anyone else. They concluded that God must have allowed them to die in that manner as a punishment for their sins. To their greatest surprise, Jesus said: “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners… because they suffered thus? I tell you, No… or those eighteen upon whom the tower of Siloam fell… were they worse offenders? I tell you, No.”
Now, if those who suffered like this were not worse sinners, the question is: “what about me?” This teaches us that if we are still alive today, it is just because God is merciful to us. The Psalmist says: “He does not deal with us according to our sins, nor requite us according to our iniquities.” (Psalm 103:10). In Ezekiel 18:23, we read: “Have I any pleasure in the death of the wicked, says the Lord God, and not rather that he should turn from his way and live?” Can you imagine what would happen if God were to treat us according to what we truly deserve?
On the other hand, if those who suffered these calamities were not worse sinners or worse offenders, it means that it is not every calamity we face that is a result of our sins. Sometimes, bad things happen can happen to good people. Job was a righteous man by every standard but he lost everything and was afflicted with a skin disease. Jesus Christ was totally sinless but He suffered great cruelty, agony, and death on the Cross. Do not be tempted to sin just because things are not going so well for you and you see the wicked prospering. Hold on to the cross, keep walking in righteousness. God never forsakes His own.
3. God Hears the Cry of the Oppressed
Am I a taskmaster? Do I oppress my workers, treat them like slaves or deny their just wages? Do I act like a god over those under me? Am I merciful or humane in my dealings with those over whom I exercise power and authority? Do I somehow forget that there is a tomorrow when I maltreat, insult, and dehumanize others, especially the younger ones? Do I see injustice going on and keep quiet just because I am not a victim? Of course, they may not be able to fight back or do anything to you but if they cry out to God, He will not turn a deaf ear on them.
God said to Moses: “I have seen the affliction of my people who are in Egypt and have heard their cry because of their taskmasters; I know their sufferings, and I have come down to deliver them out of the hand of the Egyptians…” (Exodus 3:7-8). Jesus said something similar at the start of His public ministry: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord.” (Luke 4:18-19)
Hear this: you may be powerful today but you are not more powerful than God. He will surely fight on behalf of the defenceless. If you do not repent from oppressing others, get ready to dig it out with God. Yes, Moses did exactly what God told him to do and as expected, Pharoah tried to resist. We all know what became of Pharoah. Some of us behave as though our hearts were made of stone; we even take pleasure in seeing others suffer when it is within our power to help them. Repent. God hates oppression.
4. Increase Your Prayers, Make More Efforts to Repent from Sin.
The Good News today is that no matter the extent of sin in our lives, God will not abandon us when we cry to Him. Just as the Israelites could not save themselves, we cannot do it on our own. It takes grace to come out of sin but Grace is available to us if we ask. Like the children of Israel who called out to God in prayer when they were suffering in the hands of the Egyptians, the key to fighting sin is prayer. Jesus said: “Ask, and it will be given you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened.” (Matthew 7:7-8)
If asking has to do with praying, seeking has to do with making efforts. Yes, God is interested in the efforts you are making. For three years, the man who planted the fig tree did not see any fruits and he decided to cut it down. The vinedresser pleaded for more time to INCREASE HIS EFFORTS; that is, to dig around it, to apply manure and water it more. What efforts are you making? Before you conclude that you cannot live above sin, why not increase your efforts, why not dig around your heart and apply the manure of the word of God? What if you decide to increase the time you spend daily in prayer? What if you decided to end that relationship or leave that environment that constantly lures you into sin?
The worst thing that can ever happen to you is to trivialize sin, painting it as “normal”. Every sin is a disaster.
Let us pray: Lord Jesus, grant me the grace of freedom from the captivity of sinfulness. Amen.
Bible Reading Exodus 3:1-8,13-15, Ps. 103:1-4,6-8,11, 1 Cor. 10:1-6,10-12, Luke 13:1-9).
© Rev. Fr. Evaristus Abu