Saturday, April 4, 2009

It is better for one man to die than for the entire nation to be destroyed.

First Reading
Ezekiel 37:21-28

Thus says the LORD: I will gather the people of Israel from all of the places where they have been scattered, and bring them home to their own land. I will make them one nation, with one ruler. Never again will they be divided into two nations, or two kingdoms. No longer will they defile themselves with idols. I will cleanse them from their transgressions. Then, they will be my people, and I will be their God.

My servant David will be their king, and there will only be one shepherd. They will obey my statues, and observe my decrees. They will live in the land I gave to my servant Jacob, the land where their forefathers lived. I will make a covenant of peace with them, an everlasting covenant. I will make my home among them. I will be their God, and they will be my people. I will place my Temple among them forever. Then the nations will know that I am the Lord, who makes Israel holy.

Responsorial Psalm
Jeremiah 31

R/ The LORD will guard us, as a shepherd guards his flock.

Hear the word of the LORD, you nations of the world;
Proclaim it in distant coastlands.
He who scattered his people with gather them together,
And guard them as a shepherd guards his flock. R/

For the LORD shall ransom Jacob,
And redeem him from the hand of his conqueror.
They will come home rejoicing,
Singing songs of joy on the heights of Zion.
They will be radiant with the LORD’s blessings,
Abundant crops of grain, wine and olive oil
Healthy flocks and herds. R/

Then the young women will dance for joy,
The young men and old will join the celebration.
For I will turn their mourning into joy,
I will console them, and exchange their sorrow for joy. R/

John 11:45-56

Many of those who had come to Mary believed in Jesus when they saw him raise Lazarus from his tomb. But some went to the Pharisees, and told them what Jesus had done. The chief priests and the Pharisees then called the Sanhedrin together.

“What are we going to do?” they asked themselves. “This man is performing many miraculous signs. If we allow this to continue, everyone will believe in him. Then the Roman army will come and destroy our Temple and our nation.”

Caiphas, who was high priest that year, said, “You don’t know what you’re talking about! Don’t you realize that it’s better for one man to die for the people, than for the entire nation to be destroyed?” He did not say that on his own. Because he was high priest at the time, he was led to prophesy that Jesus would die for the nation. But not only for that nation, but to gather together and unite the people of God scattered around the world.

Beginning then, the Jewish leaders began to plot the death of Jesus. So Jesus stopped walking about in public among the people, and left Jerusalem. He went to the village of Ephraim, in the desert, and remained there with his disciples.

It was nearly time for the Passover celebration, and people from all over the country came up to Jerusalem early, so they could go through the purification ceremony before the Festival began. They kept looking for Jesus, but as they walked in the Temple precincts, they asked one another, “What do you think? He’s not coming here for the Feast, is he?”

This reading from Ezekiel and the psalm of Jeremiah tell of God’s promise to gather the scattered remnants of Israel from around the world, and bring them home to the Holy City. The raising of Lazarus from the tomb is the seventh and last of the “signs” in John’s gospel of the coming of the Savior.

Consider the effect the raising of Lazarus upon the witnesses. Some believe in him, others go and report the event to the Priests and Pharisees, who have decreed that “anyone who acknowledges Jesus to be the Messiah is to be expelled from the synagogue (John 9:22). Reflect on the true meaning of Caiaphas’ comment, which John interprets as prophecy: “It is better for one man to die than for the entire nation to be destroyed.” Ironically, the Priests and the Pharisees, the religious authorities of God’s chosen people, decide to silence this obstreperous street preacher from Galilee by having him arrested and put to death. And by his death and resurrection, Jesus will open the gates of Heaven to all who have died in God’s favor, from the beginning of time, until the day He comes again in glory to judge the living and the dead.

John composed his gospel well after the destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70. I imagine there might have been a wry smile on his face as he penned these words.

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