I have been meditating on the book of Job since the beginning of Lenten season. This book focuses on the theme of retribution, which states that the good person will receive blessings and the evil person will receive evil. It is about punishment and reward. Job considered himself as an upright and righteous man. Despite his righteousness, God inflicted him with disease and the death of his children. Job accused God of being unjust and not operating the world according to the doctrine of retribution. God supposed to make Job happy ever after because he was a righteous man. Job’s wife and friends believe that Job's sin caused his suffering. God is just in punishing a sinner like Job. Job kept defending himself and spoke to God directly asking for an explanation about his suffering. Finally, God spoke to Job, but without answering his questions. God assures Job that God was in control and God alone knew the reason behind Job’s suffering. God taught Job that: It is better to know God than to know all the answers. Job repented, “I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees you; therefore, I despise myself and repent in dust and ashes” (42: 5-6). God rewarded Job because he repented. The relationship between God and Job was restored.
Lent is a season of preparation and repentance. ELCA gospel readings for Sundays during Lent center on repentance. Repentance is a strong theme in the gospel of Luke. John the Baptist called people to repent. Jesus ministry also invited people to live a life of repentance. Jesus emphasizes that repentance is a necessary step to enter the kingdom of God. According to Luke 13, Jesus teaches that the end of time is coming, and his followers need to be prepared through living a life of repentance. In the previous chapter, Jesus exhorts his disciples that through repentance they can be ready for the apocalypse.
“Jesus uses the example of settling a legal case before the case gets to court to encourage the disciples to take actions necessary to be part of the Realm [the kingdom of God]. If they do not, they will pay the apocalyptic price (12:57-59).” In chapter 13, the evangelist Luke narrates that “at that very time there was some present” referred to Jesus the massacre of a group of Galilean pilgrims in Jerusalem (v.1). Scholar Ronald J. Allen explains their question:
Their implied question is: Were those Galileans so much worse sinners than other Galileans that they were beyond the possibility of preparing for the Realm [kingdom of God] in the way Jesus had described in Luke 12:1-56? Jesus gives a straight forward answer: ‘No.’ They were not killed because of their sin. They were brutally murdered by the Romans. But Jesus uses the deaths of the Galileans to make a point. To expand slightly: Unless you repent, you will all perish as they did when the apocalypse occurs.
Those who asked Jesus about the violent death of Galileans believed in the doctrine of retribution: God punishes the sinners and rewards the righteous. Jesus did not discuss the principle of retribution. It was not something necessary for Jesus. Repentance is more important than retribution. Jesus gives them another example of those who died at Siloam. The purpose of these two is examples “is to stress the importance of repentance as a decisive step on the journey to the Realm [the kingdom of God].”
Let me give you a more contemporary example. Imagine that Jesus is teaching on repentance as a way to prepare for the kingdom of God and one of you asks him about those who were killed in shootings at two mosques in New Zealand. And Jesus responds, do you think that because these Muslims suffered in this way they were worse sinners than all other New Zealanders? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all perish as they did.
Jesus elaborates his teaching through the parable of the fig tree. Jesus’ parable implies that “ A cultivated yet unproductive tree may continue to live even without bearing fruit, only because it has been granted additional time to do what it is supposed to do. Unless it begins to bear fruit (an image of repentance, according to Luke 3:8), the result will be its just and swift destruction.”
God is patient with sinners, and will give them an opportunity to repent. God forgives those who sincerely repent.
Jesus teaches that life is short and full of suffering. Life is unpredictable, and death might come unexpectedly. Accordingly, we always need to be ready to meet the Lord. Many Christians confess their sins, but very few repent. Repentance does not mean to feel bad over your behavior for a short period of time and then return to your sinful manner. Repentance means shifting your thinking, behavior, and heart toward God. Repentance might be a long process. Sometimes this process is painful, but it will lead to forgiveness and peace. Jesus’ teaching on repentance and judgment make many of us uncomfortable. We prefer to hear about God’s forgiveness and love but not about God’s judgment. But God’s judgment is real. Christ’s grace is not cheap grace. It cost him his life.
In this Lenten season, remind yourself that your life is a gift and fragile. Remind yourself of your vulnerability as a human being living in a broken world. You need Christ’s grace and mercy every single moment in your life. You might suffer or die unexpectedly because bad things happen to the righteous. So, live a life of repentance. I want to share with you a hymn chanted during the Great Lent in Eastern Orthodox. Let us read this hymn together in the spirit of confession.
Open to me the doors of repentance, O Life-giver,
For my spirit rises early to pray towards thy holy temple.
Bearing the temple of my body all defiled;
But in Thy compassion, purify me by the loving-kindness of Thy mercy.
Now and ever and unto the ages of ages. Amen
Have mercy on me O God, according to Thy great mercy,
and according to the multitude of Thy compassions,
blot out my transgressions.
When I think of the many evil things I have done, wretch that I am,
I tremble at the fearful day of judgment.
But trusting in Thy living kindness, like David I cry to Thee:
Have mercy on me, O God, according to Thy great mercy.
 Ronald J. Allen, “Commentary On Luke 13: 1-9,” Working Preacher, accessed March 22, 2019, https://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=3991.
 Matt Skinner, “Commentary On Luke 13: 1-9,” Working Preacher, accessed March 22, 2019, https://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=530.