Siloam is an ancient site in Jerusalem, in the southern part of the Old City. According to the Old Testament, “Siloam was built around the “serpent-stone”, Zoheleth, where Adonijah gave his feast in the time of Solomon. It is the site of the Pool of Siloam and the Tower of Siloam, both mentioned in the New Testament.”1 Siloam was an important area of the city. The historian “Josephus describes the waters of Siloam as “sweet and abundant.”2 “According to the Gospel of John,[9:1-9] Jesus healed a man who had been blind from birth. Jesus spit on the ground, made mud with the saliva, and spread the mud over the blind man’s eyes. He then told the man, “Go wash yourself in the Pool of Siloam.” So the man went and washed and came back seeing.”3
Siloam had a tower as well, most likely built as part of a protective wall around that part of the city. The tower is only mentioned once in the New Testament, in the passage from Luke that we just heard, and so therefore is attached forever to some pretty tragic, gruesome stuff.
“There were some present”, Luke tells us, who “at that very time who told him of the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices.” Those people “reported to Jesus that the cruel ruler Pontius Pilate had killed some Galileans while they were worshiping. Their example was particularly gruesome since at the moment the Galileans were killed, they were worshiping God by offering sacrifices according to…Jewish religious law.”4 A contemporary analogy is difficult to find, since the blood of those faithful Jews was mixed with the blood of the sacrificed animals, but the closest analogy might be if, say, some government group came in here right now and slit our throats, mixing our blood with the Blood of Christ in the chalices.
You would expect Jesus to be horrified at this news, and I am sure He was. But Jesus also knows that He is being told this news for a reason, the reporters had a motive for giving Him the news. Luke tells us that Jesus answered them, “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans, because they suffered thus? I tell you, No; but unless you repent you will all likewise perish.” Then Jesus gets to the Tower of Saloam: “Or those eighteen upon whom the tower in Silo’am fell and killed them, do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others who dwelt in Jerusalem? I tell you, No; but unless you repent you will all likewise perish.”
That’s kinda harsh, no? The people who came to Jesus were hinting that those who perish in horrible fashion had it coming, right? Some might think that these people were coming off as being incredibly self-righteous, but I think that in a weird way, they exposed their fears to Jesus, their fear that they themselves had something gruesome or random or tragic coming their way, and they wanted Jesus to tell them that they would be alright, that they were not terrible sinners, that Pilate’s men were not out looking for them, that towers would not topple on them and their children.
But that’s not what they got; they didn’t get the Jesus they had hoped for. Maybe this isn’t the Jesus that we hope for either, “all grace and smiles and forgiveness. This Jesus has some sharp edges, some seriousness of purpose even as he exudes a pretty intense set of warnings. It’s easy in reading the gospels to want to divide up everyone into the camp of either the Good Guys or the Bad Guys but the sheer fact of Jesus’ presence on this earth as the incarnate Lord tells us that we’re all finally in the same boat: we all need what Jesus alone can give: grace unto forgiveness for all those who recognize their utter need to repent of everything that is wrong with this world (and of our multiple complicities in that wrongness).5
The fact is, bad things happen to good people and good things happen to bad people. The rain falls on the righteous and the unrighteous, and no one has ever liked that fact. Unless you repent, Jesus tells us today, we will all die a gruesome death, a death with no value, a death that leads to nothing but more death. But if we repent, if we turn from our wickedness, we will live, live so much that even when die we shall live, our souls of infinite value, our deaths leading to more perfect life.
Sometimes to get there, we need to hear things that challenge us, that put us ill at ease. Jesus is pretty good at that still, so here’s to hoping that this Lent, we don’t get the Jesus we want, but the Jesus we need.
4Tower of Siloam, Wikipedia
5Scott Hoezee, This Week.