This passage is comforting to a lot of people. It implies that, even if the world has gone crazy around them, that somehow God is still in charge, and God will not let it get so bad that they lose everything. And that is true.
I would like to lift up two things about this passage before I connect it to the Gospel lesson for today. First of all, I’m not sure we are always entirely clear as to what the test really is. Sometimes we think the test is whether we have a perfect family or not. Or whether we have a stellar career or not, or a perfect family and a stellar career. Sometimes we think the test is whether we are admired by our associates, whether we have perfect grades at school, whether we are popular, whether we have a boyfriend or girlfriend, a husband or wife, whether we have a generous proportion of money.
So let’s try to make clear what Paul is talking about here. For Paul, the test is whether we are willing to walk the journey of the cross, whether we are willing to depend on Jesus and his power in the world, whether we bear fruit, whether we love.
Remember, this is First Corinthians, the book of the Bible with the hymn to love: If I speak in the tongues of humankind and angels, and do not have love, I am a noisy gong and a clanging cymbal. If I understand all mysteries and all knowledge and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, and do not have love, I am nothing. . . Love is patient and kind. It is not jealous or boastful or arrogant or rude. Love never ends. . .So faith, hope and love abide, remain, endure, dwell with us, sit with us and watch the sunlight mellow into gold on a lazy afternoon. Faith, hope and love do this, but the greatest of these is love.
The trial has to do with whether we love. It is more important to love than it is to have a perfect family. It is more important to love than it is to have a stellar career. It is more important to love than it is to be popular or successful or rich or to have a boyfriend or girlfriend or husband or wife. It is more important to love than it is to realize all of your potential or to have peace in your own soul.
Secondly, I would lift up to you the fact that, oftentimes, people interpret this passage to speak to them individually. God will not let you, as an individual, be tested beyond your strength. The word “you” in the Greek is plural. It refers to many people, not just one. Paul is saying God will not let you all be tested beyond you’all’s strength, you, the Corinthian church, you, the Christian community.
So we are in this together. We are not supposed to try to go it alone. This applies especially to those of us who might be suffering from mistreatment by others, whether sexual mistreatment, or physical or emotional or verbal, whether in the home or at school or at work or online, or in the way we speak to ourselves in our own heads. It is not God’s will that we deal with abuse or mistreatment alone. I don’t care who might have told you otherwise, God calls us to work together on these kinds of important and scary situations. We are a church, you Corinthians, you St. Johnians. We meet the trials together.
That’s good. Because we live in a crazy world. Jesus deals with a crazy world in our Gospel lesson for today. For example, the authorities who are supposed to be governing, supposed to be serving the people and protecting them and keeping the peace, instead kill them. Evidently, some Galileans have come down a couple of days’ journey from Galilee to make sacrifices at the Jerusalem temple. And Pilate sends his henchmen. We don’t know why, we have no further information about this incident. But the henchmen have killed these Galileans in such a way that their blood mixes with the blood of the animals they sacrifice. We say “Ew. That’s brutal. That’s icky brutal.”
What other age in history do we find those in authority treating their own people in icky brutal ways? Every age. It’s a crazy world.
Jesus talks about these twelve people upon whom a tower fell in the region of Siloam in Jerusalem. We think maybe it was one of the towers in the wall of Jerusalem. But again, we have no further information on the incident. Nowadays, there would be an investigation into whether the proper building materials were used, whether there was enough steel reinforcement in the concrete, whether the foundation was laid out properly and so on. Nevertheless, it was a random, crazy event.
How do we deal with a crazy world? Jesus says, “This is how you deal with a crazy world. You repent. You bear fruit. You love.” Here is this parable of the fig tree in which the gardener digs around the roots of the tree, digs around the roots, sets fertilizer on it in hopes that it will bear fruit. That’s kind of what we are trying to do in the church. Trying to help each other grow, to walk a journey of daily repentance, daily turning back toward God’s life. So we try to be open to Christ’s work, that helps us to love.
I guess that’s what we are called to do nowadays in this crazy world. I suspect this is the trial that God has sent to us. Can we love each other? Can we listen to each other and respect each other even when we disagree with each other?
Don’t you think that would be a powerful witness, especially in this time when it seems so popular to not respect people with whom we disagree, to not love?
I have seen you love each other. I believe you can do it.
Can we love the world? I suspect that’s what we are called to do when the world gets crazy, we are called to love it, even when the world might not necessarily love us in return.
So today is the last day we bring sweatpants for the youth to take to the VA for homeless veterans. Have you noticed the boxes for soap and washcloths for the men at St. John’s center? Overflowing. Last spring, Education committee set out to have a service project for the children of the congregation once a quarter. Guess what, they have done just that. Thanks be to God.
Now there is talk of other kinds of projects in the near future. Support for special Olympics from Vacation Bible School, a Habitat for Humanity workday. Can we love the world, when the world is this crazy? When the world might not necessarily love us in return?
I think that’s our trial. I think that’s the test God is sending us, that, with God’s help, will not be beyond our strength.