Sadly the phrase γίνεται σκύβαλα is not found in the New Testament. However, today’s gospel is as close as it comes outside the books of Ecclesiastes and Job, and Jesus is the one making the point.
I confess that in reflecting at mass today on the opening verses of Luke 13, I had to work quite hard to remember to say “stuff happens” and not “shit happens”, which has always struck me as a better and more eloquent expression of the sentiment. Sometimes swearing is an enrichment of our vocabulary, not the sign of a limited one.
More often than I would like, I find people asking “But what’s she done to deserve that?” as if cancer or bereavement and so on were part of some kind of moral calculus. It seems ingrained, as if Job had never been written.
In today’s reading Jesus is quite clear that accidents do not only happen to the deserving, they can happen to anyone. In his response to his questioners he challenges people to examine their own lives instead of speculating on other people’s fate. (Cranmer would have agreed: the whole point of his funeral service is to say to the mourners: “You’re ALL going to DIE! “)
Elsewhere in the gospel tradition Jesus remarks: “God makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous (Matt 5:45).” Oddly, most people regularly misquote it, but only when the sun is shining (“God makes his sun shine on the righteous”), except for one piece of variously attributed doggerel:
The rain it raineth on the just
And also on the unjust fella,
But chiefly on the just, because
The unjust steals the just’s umbrella.
We can’t control what happens to us, and in human terms it will often look like “the righteous were punished, even though their hope is of immortality” (Wis 3:4). Shit happens. There is no moral arithmetic which results in being either the victim of random disaster (the tower of Siloam) or someone else’s violent oppression (Pilate’s mingling the blood of the Galileans with their sacrifices).
What we can do is look at how we can make meaning out of meaningless circumstances, how we can try to bring love into loveless situations, or how we can bring or receive the light of hope in the darkness of despair. Faith is finding the ability to do that in the face of a seemingly silent heaven, not a glib assurance that all is for the best in the best of all possible worlds.