Luke 13:1-9 (NRSV)
Chapter 13At that very time there were some present who told him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. Verse 2He asked them, "Do you think that because these Galileans suffered in this way they were worse sinners than all other Galileans? Verse 3No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all perish as they did. Verse 4Or those eighteen who were killed when the tower of Siloam fell on them-do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others living in Jerusalem? Verse 5No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all perish just as they did."
Verse 6Then he told this parable: "A man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard; and he came looking for fruit on it and found none. Verse 7So he said to the gardener, 'See here! For three years I have come looking for fruit on this fig tree, and still I find none. Cut it down! Why should it be wasting the soil?' Verse 8He replied, 'Sir, let it alone for one more year, until I dig around it and put manure on it. Verse 9If it bears fruit next year, well and good; but if not, you can cut it down.'"
A computer programming idiom says, "Garbage in, garbage out." Your input determines your output. For years I believed God was a Great Computer, and I had to get the code right. Whenever adversity struck, I assumed I was responsible. Garbage in, garbage out; therefore I'm garbage.
But Jesus makes a terrible computer programmer. He says sin is not the cause of all suffering; sometimes bad things just happen. And Jesus would know. His life was one of suffering. But his sorrow is our consolation—when he poured out his life on the cross and took it up again Resurrection Morning, he changed the calculation. Now we can repent, for God has already forgiven us. Now we can face suffering and death, for Jesus has passed through it. Now it's garbage in, grace out. And grace replicates, re-creating us all as conduits of grace—grace upon grace upon grace upon grace upon grace.
Lord Jesus, when we see suffering, remind us to withhold judgment about its cause. Give us strength to face difficult things, knowing that you have passed through it and are with us there. Amen.