It is the common lot of mankind to suffer. Indeed, we expect it—at least in others. Our usual question when tragedy strikes is not, "Why?" but "Why me?"
Often, as we look at the suffering of others, we presume that this must be the result of some secret sin. Oh, that fellow may appear righteous enough; he may teach Bible School or preach, but be sure that his secret sins have found him out. Job's "comforters" were largely of that opinion. There is some merit in this view, but it is not sufficient.
· It is the "small view" of the righteousness of God. God is righteous, we say, and who would he be more likely to smite than a secret sinner, a hypocrite now revealed?
· Jesus tells us to the contrary. Using some local examples now lost to history, he points out that all of us are sinners. Therefore, the righteousness of God must be greatly tempered by his mercy—for so many of us are not stricken—yet.
The key to understanding this mystery is to remember that God is both righteous—and therefore cannot abide any sin—and also merciful. So then we need to know the secret of obtaining his mercy. And that is no secret; it is repentance.
Our reaction to the punishment of others
There is a temptation common to all of us: when we see a sinner punished, we rejoice. The feeling that "he got what he deserved" is very strong. But do remember: you don't want what you deserve—you want mercy. Else why become a Christian?
So follow our Lord's commandment and treat them as you would be treated. Do not rejoice when the Lord disciplines some other child. Rather, make that discipline be an example to you. It is exactly true that "There but for the grace of God go I." It is grace, and grace alone, that keeps you from a similar (or worse) fate. Therefore, when you see such a thing, commiserate and help to bear this discipline if you can, and in any case use it as an example to further your own repentance.
Jesus tells the crowd that unless they repent, they will perish in the same way. It is a prophetic statement. The Romans slaughtered some of those mentioned; walls collapsed on others. Both of these things happened to Jerusalem a few years later when the Romans sacked the city. Do you know someone enduring the discipline of the Lord? Repent at such an example.