There were present at that season some that told him of the Galilaeans, whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. And Jesus answering said unto them, Suppose ye that these Galilaeans were sinners above all the Galilaeans, because they suffered such things? I tell you, Nay: but, except ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish. Or those eighteen, upon whom the tower in Siloam fell, and slew them, think ye that they were sinners above all men that dwelt in Jerusalem? I tell you, Nay: but, except ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish.Luke 13:1-5 KJV
This passage is quite instructive on a number of levels. First, we see that Jesus was not indifferent to current events. When the issue of the controversy with Pilate is raised for discussion, Jesus doesn’t say, “I do not care about these earthly matters, I’m far too heavenly minded for such things.” We see that he notes that the Galileans had indeed suffered, acknowledging the tragedy as such. He is not caught up in current events, in the same way that a teenage girl might follow the gossip columns on BuzzFeed. But He is not ignorant of the goings on.
The second thing we learn is that Jesus wants us to read the story correctly. The problem with those who were raising the issue is that they were reading history the wrong way. They looked at the tragedy and thought, apparently, that those Galileans must have really had it coming to them, otherwise something this bad wouldn’t have happened to them. But Jesus answers them by correcting their “spin” on the news story.
Which leads to a third thing we learn, which is the real pith of this passage. It is that when tragedy strikes a people, city, or nation, it is a warning. It is a prophetic sign, signaling the coming final judgement. In this way, every death, every tragedy, every hurricane, earthquake, etc. warns the unrepentant that this is their doom should they refuse to turn. The promise, however, nestled in this is that those who do repent “shall not perish, but have everlasting life (John 3:16).”
We as humans cannot help but try to read history. Every religion and culture seeks to do this. We instinctively know that history is pregnant with meaning. The problem is that we try to read history by filling in the margins with our own sinful bias. One sentence out of a book on the history of the Czars of Russia isn’t sufficient to make conclusions about Russia’s future. What we need is to read history as Jesus demonstrates for us here in this text. God’s redemptive purpose is the reference point for everything.