Saturday, March 27, 2010

Caiaphas said, "It Is Better For One Man To Die For The People, Than For The Nation To Be Destroyed"

Saturday of the Fifth Week of Lent
Reading I
Ezekiel 37:21-28
Thus says the Lord GOD:
I will take the children of Israel from among the nations
to which they have come,
and gather them from all sides
to bring them back to their land.
I will make them one nation upon the land,
in the mountains of Israel,
and there shall be one prince for them all.
Never again shall they be two nations,
and never again shall they be divided
into two kingdoms.

No longer shall they defile themselves with their idols,
their abominations, and all their transgressions.
I will deliver them from all their sins of apostasy,
and cleanse them so that they may be my people
and I may be their God.
My servant David shall be prince over them,
and there shall be one shepherd for them all;
they shall live by my statutes
and carefully observe my decrees.
They shall live on the land that I gave to my servant Jacob,
the land where their fathers lived;
they shall live on it forever,
they, and their children, and their children’s children,
with my servant David their prince forever.
I will make with them a covenant of peace;
it shall be an everlasting covenant with them,
and I will multiply them,
and put my sanctuary among them forever.

My dwelling shall be with them;
I will be their God, and they shall be my people.
Thus the nations shall know that it is I, the LORD,
who make Israel holy,
when my sanctuary shall be set up among them forever.
“The union of all tribes is a frequent element in messianic prophecy. God is to unite the nation in a new covenant in which there are five essential elements:
          - Yahweh, its God
          - Israel, his people
          - Life, ‘on the land where their fathers lived’
            - ‘My sanctuary among them’,
                      as a sign of the presence of the Lord and law;
            - David, as the one shepherd over them.”
            (St Joseph Weekday Missal)

The prophet foresees a time when the two divided kingdoms of the Jews (Israel/Ephraim and Judah, the Northern and Southern kingdoms) will be united into one and forever and when all those living abroad who belong to Israel will come back. This will be a feature of the Messianic age.

“I shall gather them together from everywhere and bring them home” a sentence which is echoed in the Gospel when John says that Jesus will die “not for the nation only, but to gather together in unity the scattered children of God”. They will give up all their sinful ways and all forms of idolatry and abominations, with which they had been plagued for so many generations, and will be cleansed by God.

“David my servant will be their prince for ever and there shall be one shepherd for them all.” The coming Messianic ruler is called David because he will be a descendant of David and will achieve for Israel what David had - except more fully. He is likened to a shepherd, who cares for his flock, echoing chapter 34 where Yahweh says he will be a shepherd for his people (Ezekiel 34). We recognise Jesus in this ‘Messianic David’ and later Jesus will also call himself the Good Shepherd, protecting his own and looking for those who are lost.

“I shall make a covenant of peace with them, an eternal covenant… I shall set my sanctuary among them forever.” The phrase ‘eternal covenant’ occurs 16 times in the Old Testament, referring to that made with Noah, with Abraham, with David, and a ‘new covenant’ made in Jeremiah (32:40).

The covenant formula is once again repeated: “I will be their God and they will be my people” - a pledge of mutual commitment. It is through Jesus, through the covenant signed by his blood on the cross, that the New Covenant will be ratified and is still in force. With one big difference - it extends now not to one people or race but to the whole world.

“The nations will know that I am Yahweh, the sanctifier of Israel, when my sanctuary is with them forever.” And that ‘sanctuary’ for us is the ongoing and visible presence of the Risen Lord no longer identified with a building but in his People, who are now his Body. “Surely you know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit lives in you” (1 Corinthians 3:16) and “Don’t you know that your body is the Temple of the Holy Spirit, who lives in you?” (1 Cor 6:19). Again, “And the bread we break: when we eat it, we are sharing in the body of Christ. Because there is the one loaf of bread, all of us, though many, are one body, for we all share the same loaf” (1 Cor 10:16-17).

And indeed, as today’s Gospel ends it points to the coming Passover feast when the sacramental celebration of Jesus’ Pasch will be celebrated, that celebration by which we commemorate and make present the inauguration of the New Covenant on Calvary.
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Responsorial Psalm
Jeremiah 31:10, 11-12
The Lord will guard us, as a shepherd guards his flock.

Hear the word of the LORD, O nations,
proclaim it on distant isles, and say:
He who scattered Israel, now gathers them together,
he guards them as a shepherd his flock.
The Lord will guard us, as a shepherd guards his flock.
The LORD shall ransom Jacob,
he shall redeem him from the hand of his conqueror.
Shouting, they shall mount the heights of Zion,
they shall come streaming to the LORD’s blessings:
The grain, the wine, and the oil,
the sheep and the oxen.
The Lord will guard us, as a shepherd guards his flock.
Then the virgins shall make merry and dance,
and young men and old as well.
I will turn their mourning into joy,
I will console and gladden them after their sorrows.
The Lord will guard us, as a shepherd guards his flock.
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John 11:45-56
Many of the Jews who had come to Mary
and seen what Jesus had done began to believe in him.
But some of them went to the Pharisees
and told them what Jesus had done.
So the chief priests and the Pharisees
convened the Sanhedrin and said,
“What are we going to do?
This man is performing many signs.
If we leave him alone, all will believe in him,
and the Romans will come
and take away both our land and our nation.”
But one of them, Caiaphas,
who was high priest that year, said to them,
“You know nothing,
nor do you consider that it is better for you
that one man should die instead of the people,
so that the whole nation may not perish.”
He did not say this on his own,
but since he was high priest for that year,
he prophesied that Jesus was going to die for the nation,
and not only for the nation,
but also to gather into one the dispersed children of God.
So from that day on they planned to kill him.

So Jesus no longer walked about in public among the Jews,
but he left for the region near the desert,
to a town called Ephraim,
and there he remained with his disciples.

Now the Passover of the Jews was near,
and many went up from the country to Jerusalem
before Passover to purify themselves.
They looked for Jesus and said to one another
as they were in the temple area, “What do you think?
That he will not come to the feast?”
We are now on the threshold of Holy Week and today’s Gospel sets the stage for the coming events. Today’s Gospel passage is full of irony, where people make statements with a meaning far beyond what they intend to say.

The raising of Lazarus had led many to believe in Jesus but others were alarmed. They went off to the chief priests and asked what was being done to stop this man in his tracks. Their report was serious enough to warrant calling the Sanhedrin, the ruling council of the Jews, into session.

"What are we going to do? This man is performing many signs.” Far from seeing the great significance of the “signs”, they go into a panic. “If we let him go on in this way everybody will believe in him, and the Romans will come and destroy the Holy Place and our nation.”

Of course, what they feared and wanted to stop is exactly what happened. Jesus did go on “in his Way” and the Temple and the nation were destroyed.

Caiaphas, the high priest, moves to quell their fears and then goes on to make his own unwitting prophecy. A gift of prophecy, sometimes unconscious, was attributed to the high priest. He says: “You fail to see that it is better for one man to die for the people, than for the whole nation to be destroyed.” He wants to say that it is better to get rid of Jesus than put the whole nation in jeopardy. In fact, in a very different way, Jesus did die for his own people and John comments that Jesus died not only for the Jewish people but for people everywhere. And it was not for the political preservation of a nation but for the giving of new life to a people where all conventional divisions became irrelevant.

The end for Jesus is coming close so he goes into hiding until the time is ready. Again he goes to Ephraim, a place thought to be about 20 km (12.5 miles) northeast of Jerusalem, where mountains descend into the Jordan valley. It was a remote desert area where Jesus was relatively safe.

As the Passover approaches, people are on the watch for Jesus to appear. Instructions have been given out that any sightings of Jesus were to be reported so that the authorities could arrest him.

Again there is another ironic question: “What do you think? Will he come to the festival or not?” Little did they know that Jesus would be the central character of this Passover and make it the most famous Passover in history.

We are now ready to enter the great finale of Holy Week.

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