From my vantage point in the United States of America, I am watching disasters unfold globally. Annually in this season, the press in the USA spends the bulk of its energy reporting on hurricanes and their attendant damage from wind and flooding. I have “up close” experience in 1996 and 1999! This year, hurricanes Harvey and Irma have done damage to some heavily populated areas, including Houston, Texas, the US’s fourth largest city and the site of our 2016 World Methodist Conference. We are all in prayer for the new friends we made there, even as we wonder how they have survived the flood. May God bless them in their recovery.
At the same time, in the western United States firefighters are doing battle with over sixty wildfires affecting tens of thousands of hectares of forests. But the press has had very little to say about the damage done to homeowners, farmers, ranchers and those who harvest timber. In the same light, our press has largely ignored the famine conditions for twenty-one million people! They are in places like South Sudan, Somalia, Yemen, and parts of Nigeria, as well as the most war-torn parts of Syria. And has there not been massive flooding in Bangladesh and Nigeria? I haven’t read about it in our news reports. Thankfully, the religious press is paying more attention!
I’m not sure what all that means, but I do know we are too often quick to judge those who have built homes and businesses near oceans, in flood plains, amid forests, or in areas that we might say after-the-fact, “There was too much risk.”
In the gospel of St. Luke (chapter 13), Jesus reflects on at least two disasters. The first was in response to the report “about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices.” Surely that came upon them most unexpectedly – who expects to be attacked while worshiping God? As Jesus responded to that one, he added the second, the eighteen people who died when the tower of Siloam fell on them. Perhaps they had just gone to work building that tower, or were simply nearby… how unexpected! Jesus said, if you think the deceased worshipers or the tower people were any worse sinners than anyone else, you’re wrong. Everyone is called to repent, or to perish as they did.
It sounds to me like we are all in the same boat! Is not Jesus also clear that there is no sense in “blaming the victim?” Perhaps the people were asking Jesus the “why” question – just as his own disciples did in John 9: “Who sinned, this (blind) man or his parents?” That is, who is to blame? Jesus is clear: no one’s sin caused his “disaster.” This is not to teach him or his parents a lesson, but rather to reveal the glory of God. When Jesus changed the man’s blindness to sight, God was indeed glorified!
I don’t know the “why’ of many disasters, certainly, science gives us good clues to others. But in all of them, our response can glorify God. How will we share our food, our financial resources, and our labors? How will we be present with those for whom hope has been lost? How will we lift up those broken down by grief? In the face of the many disasters, the gospel challenges us to glorify God!