Friday, April 7, 2017

"IT IS EXPEDIENT THAT ONE MAN DIE."


Homily for April 8th, 2017: Ezekiel 37: 21-28; John 11:45-56.

          “It is better to have one man die [for the people], than to have the whole nation destroyed.” These words of the Jewish high priest Caiaphas in today’s gospel reading are cynical. They were spoken at a meeting of the Sanhedrin, the Jewish ruling council, called together to discuss what should be done about the crowds who were becoming followers of Jesus following his raising of Lazarus from the dead. “What are we going to do?” members of the Sanhedrin ask. “This man is performing many signs. If we leave him alone, all will believe in him, and the Romans will come and take away our sanctuary and our nation.”  

          Palestine was already controlled by the Roman government of occupation. But the authorities had an agreement with the Sanhedrin, allowing them to control internal affairs, as long as they kept order and saw to it that things remained quiet. Jesus’ miracles, culminating in the raising of Lazarus from his tomb, threatened to destroy this stability. If things got out of hand, the Romans would crack down hard; and the Sanhedrin’s limited authority would be swept away. Caiaphas was proposing a simple solution. Let’s show the Romans we can still control things. We’ll just remove Jesus, he says, and things will quiet down.

          Jesus was removed, as we know: by crucifixion. But although it was the hated Romans who executed him, working with the small ruling clique around the Sanhedrin, God remained in charge. As the great nineteenth century convert, Blessed John Henry Newman wrote in a memorable phrase, “God knows what he is about.” Jesus’ death and resurrection brought salvation not only to his own people, but to all peoples. As the gospel writer says: “Jesus died … not only for [his own] nation, but also to gather into one the dispersed children of God.”

          Through baptism we are members of that people; dispersed throughout the world, but united in worship of the One who, by rising from death, has opened for us the gate to life everlasting, with Him.