“Repentance” and “Perish” are the two keywords in this gospel passage. Because of the fall of the first parents, all are born in sin and are under the evil’s influence. Jesus declared that it is time to repent and reconcile with God to escape the last destruction. Showing two tragedies as examples that happened in Jerusalem for some Galileans and 18 inhabitants of Jerusalem during Jesus’ public ministry, he said that all who reject the Messiah and his message would also perish. Jesus predicted two destructions: the destruction of the Temple of Jerusalem that happened in 70 A.D. and the eternal punishment of the evildoers and everlasting reward for the righteous at his second coming. Though baptized, we need repentance and constant spiritual renewal as we await the second coming of Christ.
Settlement with the Opponent
(Luke 12:57) And why do you not judge for yourselves what is right? (58) When you go with your accuser before the court, try to settle with him on the way, lest he drag you to the judge and the judge deliver you to the jailer, and the jailer throw you in prison. (59) I tell you, you will not get out until you have paid the very last copper coin.
A Call to Repentance
(Luke 13:1) One day some people told Jesus about the Galileans whom Pilate had killed in the temple, mingling their blood with the blood of their sacrifices. (2) Jesus replied, “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans because they suffered this? (3) I tell you, No. But unless you change your ways, you will all perish as they did. (4) And those eighteen persons in Siloam who were crushed when the tower fell, do you think they were more guilty than all the others in Jerusalem? (5) I tell you, No. But unless you change your ways, you will all perish as they did.
Background of the gospel passage
Jesus talked about the signs of times. He acknowledged how the people were good in interpreting rain from the rising cloud in the west and the coming of heat based on the wind blowing from the south. He then asked, “You hypocrites! You know how to interpret the appearances of the earth and the sky. How is it that you cannot interpret the present times?” (Luke 12:56). “The present times” for Jesus was the Messianic time of “repentance and belief in the gospel” for which John the Baptist prepared the Jews.
Settlement with the Opponent
(Luke 12:57) And why do you not judge for yourselves what is right?
The implied understanding was that Jesus’ listeners knew what was right, but they were not willing to act on it. They knew that Jesus came as the Redeemer. However, they rejected him because of their selfishness and unwillingness to change their lives.
(58) When you go with your accuser before the court, try to settle with him on the way, lest he drag you to the judge and the judge deliver you to the jailer, and the jailer throw you in prison.
Jesus told a parable from the ordinary life to illustrate the need of reconciliation with God in time to avoid punishment. The parable’s implication is that the one who went with the opponent was the culprit. Unless he reconciles on the way, the judge might punish him. The challenger is the righteous person represented by Jesus. He might seem like an adversary to the selfish and sinful people. They need to reconcile with the Messiah before they reach God, the judge. Time was running out for reconciliation. This applies to us who are also nearing death and approaching God for our judgment.
(59) I tell you, you will not get out until you have paid the very last copper coin.
This parable is a Biblical proof for the existence of purgatory. In the parable, the accused person is not in prison for lifelong but until he paid the last penny, the least valuable coin. Most humans are gray, and not black or white in their spiritual status. Though God absolves sins through sacraments like confession and anointing of the sick, the penitent must cleanse the stains of sins through compensations for the damages done.
A Call to Repentance
Unlike usage of parables, Jesus here made use of two tragic accidents that happened. The victims could be innocent people, and the tragic death might not be a divine punishment. However, such a tragic death or calamity will happen later for those who do not keep up the commandments of the Lord.
(Luke 13:1) One day some people told Jesus about the Galileans whom Pilate had killed in the temple, mingling their blood with the blood of their sacrifices.
The punishment that Jesus mentioned had a double meaning. Revolution was developing among the Jews against the Roman rule. Groups like Zealots organized such revolts. According to the Holy Scripture, the Israelites suffered attacks and slavery from enemies because of their disloyalty to the covenant they and their ancestors had made with God. When they committed sin, God withdrew their protection, and they became preys to their enemies. When they had repented and turned to God with a humble heart for help, God raised leaders from them and saved them from their powerful enemies.
So, the concern of Jesus was not eradicating the Roman rule but resolving the root cause. Reconciliation with God is the solution, for the separation happened between God and the humans through sin. The conversion of the Jews would lead to their spiritual and political liberation. Jesus had predicted Jerusalem’s destruction along with its Temple because of their denial of him as the Messiah. It happened in 70 A.D., 40 years after Jesus’ prediction. Besides this political destruction, those who do not follow Jesus’ message of reconciliation would also face eternal punishment at the last judgement.
When Jesus mentioned the need of reconciliation before the punishment, some people from the audience brought to Jesus’ attention a tragic massacre of some Galileans in Jerusalem. There is no other historical documentation of this event, though similar slaughters had happened from the part of Pilate during the religious gatherings. For example, Josephus had reported that Pilate had killed some Samaritans while they were worshipping on Mount Gerizim (Antiquities 18:86-87). On another occasion, Pilate had killed many Jews who opposed him for using the Temple money for the reconstruction of an aqueduct in Jerusalem (Jewish War 2:175–77; Antiquities 18:60–62).
A group of pilgrims from Galilee who came to worship in the Temple of Jerusalem were revolutionaries against the Roman rule. Pilate’s soldiers might have killed them, and thus their blood got mixed with the blood of the Passover lambs. This might have caused enmity between the Herod Antipas, the tetrarch of Galilee and Pontius Pilate, the Roman governor of Judea.
Those who presented the massacre of the Galileans in the Temple of Jerusalem brought that up to agree with Jesus that opposition with Rome could bring severe punishment or disaster for the offenders. Jesus added a spiritual application to it in his message that followed.
(2) Jesus replied, “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans because they suffered this? (3) I tell you, No. But unless you change your ways, you will all perish as they did.”
Jesus, while acknowledging the tragic death of Galileans in Jerusalem, questioned whether they were greater sinners than all others in Galilee. Jesus said similar tragedy could happen to all if they do not repent. It happened in 70 A.D. when the Roman army under the leadership of Titus attacked Jerusalem as a reaction to the Jewish revolt against Rome. According to the historian Josephus, the Roman army killed 1.1 million people and took away 97,000 as slaves to Rome. Many fled to areas around the Mediterranean Sea. The Roman army destroyed the prestigious Jewish Temple. Some viewed it as a wrath of God against Jews and Titus as God’s instrument for the punishment.
(4) And those eighteen persons in Siloam who were crushed when the tower fell, do you think they were more guilty than all the others in Jerusalem?
This also was another tragedy not recorded elsewhere. The tower might be the one under construction to support the aqueduct for the pool of Siloam in Jerusalem. Tragedy happened this time to people in Jerusalem, the holy city. Since Pilate used the offering money of the Temple, some people considered it as a judgement from God for the sacrilege and God punished the victims who had accepted the Temple offering.
The Jews judged the victims as sinners and misfortunes as punishments from God for their sins. According to Jesus, the 18 people whom Pilate killed were not greater sinners than all the others. Jesus used this accident also to clarify that the tragedy or misfortune in this world is not in proportion to the sins of the victims or not God’s punishments because such disasters can happen even to the innocent.
(5) “I tell you, No. But unless you change your ways, you will all perish as they did.”
The prophecy on the destruction happened within 40 years. The Christians who believed in Jesus escaped from the Roman attack. Many had fled from Jerusalem because of persecution from Jews, and others, believing in the words of Jesus about the imminent destruction of Jerusalem, fled when they saw the sign of Roman attack. “Now, those who had been scattered because of the persecution that began over Stephen traveled as far as Phoenicia, Cyprus, and Antioch, telling the message, but only to the Jews.” (Acts 11:19). According to the ancient Christian historians Eusebius and Epiphanius, the Christians in Jerusalem escaped to Pella, a Decapolis city prior to Jerusalem’s destruction by the Romans in 70 A.D.
The Biblical Meaning of Repentance
Repentance is a prevalent theme in the Old and New testaments. Whenever Israelites broke away from God, He sent prophets asking them to repent and reconcile with Him. The message of John the Baptist, who came to prepare the way for the Lord, was also repentance. The baptism he administered was the official sign of accepting repentance. Jesus and his disciples also called people to repent.
Jesus presented repentance in the vivid parable of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15:11-32). The son had deviated from his father by his own mistake. He came back to his senses, returned, and reconciled with his father. However, the father was generous to accept him as his son with full rights far beyond what the prodigal son expected. In the parable, repentance presumes sin, which deviates from the intimate relationship with God by our own fault. Our reviewing of faults, regret for the wrong actions, a resolution to change our behavior, meeting God through baptism, and receiving absolution through the sacrament of reconciliation are necessary.
The Greek word for repentance is Metanoia. It implies a change of mind and a change of conduct. The prodigal son changed his behavior and relation with his father. Jesus said to the adulterous woman: “Neither do I condemn you. Go, and do not sin again.” (John 8:11). Repentance and reconciliation become complete only with our willingness to change our sinful life and God’s acceptance of our repentance.
The Biblical meaning of perish
The influence of Satan, sin, disease, and death came into the world because of the fall of the first parents. Jesus has redeemed us. However, if we reject his salvation, we will perish for eternity. “God so loved the world that he gave his only Son that whoever believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.” (John 3:16). The Greek word for perish is “apollumi” which means “to lose.” The original sin caused the loss of grace. Only Jesus can redeem us through his liberating action.
The expulsion of the first parents from paradise was a temporary removal with the promise of retrieval through a savior. So, God sent Jesus in search of the lost sheep (Matthew 15:24). Just like the fall of the first parents was a free-will decision, our acceptance of salvation through repentance is also a free-will choice we have to make. If we opt not, we are losing our chance for rescue and accepting our last and everlasting destruction. So, our destruction is not from God but by our own choice.
Here are some examples of choice in favor of saving or perishing: Careless parents might destroy the life of a child. A lazy student might opt for a less quality adult life. A patient who denies taking medication or required surgery for terminal illness is accepting his own imminent death. A driver disregarding the traffic signal can lead to accident and even death. In each of these examples, there is an external support as the guide for a better life. Jesus is that guide and last rescue for regaining our sonship with God.