23 March 2013

Caiaphas plots, God plans

5th Week of Lent (S)
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
St. Dominic Church, NOLA

Raising Lazarus from the dead is the last straw for the Pharisees. Since the miracle at the wedding in Cana some three years earlier, Jesus has been busy fulfilling the prophecies of the Old Testament. By word and deed, he's revealed himself to be the long-promised Messiah, the Suffering Servant given by God to His people for their salvation. Our Lord's enemies have repeatedly challenged his claims to be the Christ, and each time he's shown them that their animosity towards him is rooted in ugly political calculation and hypocrisy and not a genuine concern for the honor of God. Despite their many public humiliations, the Pharisees calculate the risks of arresting Jesus and decide each time to let him go. He's too popular with the people. However, when reports about Lazarus reach the Pharisees, the point is tipped and they act. Worried about what their Roman masters might do to the Jewish people and nation, Caiaphas, the high priest, unwittingly prophesies, “. . .it is better for you that one man should die instead of the people, so that the whole nation may not perish.” This is how the Good Shepherd guards his flock. Will we stay with him or will we scatter? 

Caiaphas' plot to murder Jesus is motivated by a utilitarian, political calculation: it is better for one to suffer rather than many. It is better that Jesus die rather than the whole nation of Israel. That Jesus is truly innocent of any crime leads us to believe that Caiaphas is plotting evil. However, isn't Caiaphas' justification for murdering Jesus exactly God's plan for His people? I mean, hasn't it been God's plan all along to sacrifice one man for the salvation of the world? It would seem that Caiaphas and the Sanhedrin are doing for their people what God plans for all of creation. The Sanhedrin “passes a resolution” to execute Jesus in response to his miraculous revival of Lazarus after death. So, Jesus, in one fateful act, gives life to one man and signs his own death warrant in the doing. This is our salvation history writ small, our redemption from sin and death in one act. John notes that Caiaphas unwittingly prophesies the consequences of Jesus' death, “He did not say this on his own. . . he prophesied that Jesus was going to die for the nation. . .but also to gather into one the dispersed children of God.” We have been gathered into one by the death and resurrection of the Christ. Do we remain one or do we scatter? 

Addressing the diplomatic corps assigned to the Vatican yesterday, our Holy Father, Francis, pointed to a serious disease infecting first world nations: spiritual poverty. He said, “[this poverty]. . .is what Benedict XVI, called the 'tyranny of relativism', which makes everyone his own criterion and endangers the coexistence of peoples. . .there is no true peace without truth!. . .” If we take refuge in our privilege, our wealth, our education, rather than under the lordship of Christ, we deny the fruit of his resurrection, and we find ourselves scattered, lost one-by-one to the wolves. The Good Shepherd gathers us to him so that we may know the Truth and so that Truth may set us free. The truth is: we are redeemed by Christ for Christ to become Christs for the whole world. We are not set free by Christ to make ourselves into little gods governed by our own passions and preferences. Caiaphas plotted to kill Jesus to save his people. God planned to sacrifice Christ to redeem the world. Both plot and plan succeeded. We come to Christ lost and remain with him free. In Christ, no man or woman is his/her own. We belong to Christ—one Lord, one people, one nation under his protection for the salvation of the world and the greater glory of God. 

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  1. Question re: Suffering Servant - my understanding was that the Suffering Servant motif was not tied to Jesus until after the resurrection. My son and I just studied that this week . . . Was Jesus seen as the Suffering Servant prior to His crucifixion and death? We don't have the best OT study guide, so if I am wrong please let me know so I can correct this with my son. Thanks.

    1. I'm not sure when the Suffering Servant prophecies from Isaiah were applied to Jesus. Many times in the gospel, Jesus seems to be alluding to the prophecies; e.g. when he tells the disciples that he will be handed over to his enemies, tortured, and killed.