‘Good news is no news.’ Put that way round this might sound rather odd, but it’s the reality of most media outlets. Nothing sells better than bad news comprising tragedies, disasters, scandals or controversies. Good news sells well only when there’s a happy ending to an unhappy chain of events. Now, I could complain about media editors feeding on our lowest, perverse human instincts; but if we didn’t buy into that, they wouldn’t trade in bad news. As a society we are practically on a par with the news editors – which is really strange because, as individuals, each one of us wants to be happy and to avoid any unpleasant situations. And when we are faced with them, we usually feel undeservedly affected by – or punished for – crimes or sins that we ourselves haven’t committed. Our reactions might range from depression through frustration to anger and revenge. Quite a frequent reaction is to look around for those responsible for our afflictions. Quite often we succeed, either by finding them or by making them up.
In today’s gospel Jesus responds to a conviction common among his contemporaries that a sudden death, like that caused by the Roman soldiers or by a falling tower, was inflicted on the victims because they had been exceptionally sinful. This approach had two ‘useful advantages’: firstly, it helped people to cope with a tragedy; secondly, it made the living feel morally superior to those who had been killed. Jesus bluntly rejects such a notion; neither the murdered Galileans nor the victims of the tower collapse were more sinful than anybody else. The victims of both of these accidents were simply in the wrong place at the wrong time. The idea – still pretty common – that we get punished by God for our sins is simply wrong.
For many people, the very existence of evil and suffering are scandalising arguments against the existence of the loving God of Christianity. In simple terms the thinking is that if there were an acting, superior deity, it wouldn’t allow any evil to touch anybody. Since virtually everybody in the world throughout the centuries has been affected by evil in one way or another, it’s definitive proof that there is no God. Or, even if there were One, he’s either uninterested in our fate or he’s cruel.
In today’s gospel Jesus doesn’t explain why those killed were killed. He doesn’t present any theories about the reasons or causes behind those two tragic events. In this way Jesus accepts that unexpected and undeserved happenings are part of life, like it or not. In fact, he incorporates suffering into his own mission and makes it an instrument of salvation, clearly shown in his own passion and death. In today’s gospel Jesus gives a genuinely good piece of advice that we can summarise simply as: ‘make sense and make use of what’s happening to you.’
I’m still quite young, and I don’t tend to look back over my life too often. But I can see how my past experiences have shaped me as an individual, have shaped my approach to others, have shaped my attitudes, and so on and so forth. Who I am now has been a work in progress ever since I was born. I had no control over the initial part of that process, but I gained ever greater control of it as I matured and started making my own decisions. For who I am now, I give credit to everyone I’ve come across in my life; but I don’t blame anyone for my shortcomings and imperfections – those are of my own making. Bad things do happen; sometimes they are preventable, most of the time they aren’t. What I do about them is my responsibility: whether I use them for good or for bad ends. Do I allow them to make me bitter, vindictive or hateful? Or will I get over them and move on? The choice is mine. The choice is yours. Yours alone.