5th Week of Lent
April 8, 2017
John 11: 45-56
Salesian Cooperators, Champaign
“Caiaphas … said to them, ‘… it is better for you that one man should die instead of the people, so that the whole nation may not perish’” (John 11: 49-50).
The House of Caiaphas
by Gustave Dore'
That quotation—obviously obtained by some surreptitious wiretapping—is the central point of today’s gospel. St. John treats it as a prophecy spoken by God’s high priest. However unworthy the man was—and Caiaphas was no saint, as we know not only from the Gospels but especially from the writings of the 1st-century Jewish historian Josephus—nevertheless, John credits him as divinely appointed to prophesy because of his sacred office.
As an aside, you may remember that in John’s passion narrative, he informs us that “another disciple,” not named, “was known to the high priest” and followed Jesus after his arrest into “the courtyard of the high priest” and then got the doorkeeper to let Peter in, also (18:15-16). So this unnamed disciple may be our mole within the meetings of the Sanhedrin.
So Caiaphas prophesies that one man will die instead of the entire Jewish nation. Unspoken is the sacrifice of the paschal lamb as a substitute for the 1st-born of the Hebrews and the identification of Jesus as the Lamb of God—also a theme in John’s Gospel (see ch. 1). “One man should die instead of the people.”
John interprets further: Jesus will not die only for the whole nation of Israel but even for all “the dispersed children of God” (11:52), those dispersed by not being part of Israel by birth, i.e., the Gentiles, and those dispersed by the alienation of sin, whoever they are. John speaks of the reunion of the whole human race under God’s fatherhood.
This union or unity is the theme running thru the liturgy. The prophet Ezekiel speaks of the reunion of the 2 kingdoms of Israel and Judah into one nation (37:21-28) ruled by “my servant David” (37:24), “delivered from all their sins of apostasy, and cleansed” (37:23). To refresh your memory, after the death of King Solomon (1 Kgs 11:43), the 9 northern tribes of Israel rebelled against Solomon’s son and formed a separate kingdom of Israel (1 Kgs 12). Only the tribes of Judah and Benjamin remained loyal to David’s dynasty in what was called the kingdom of Judah. (The priestly tribe of Levi had no territory within either kingdom, and the Levites dwelt in both.) The kingdom of Israel turned to idolatry and other sins and was conquered by Assyria in 721 BC, and the people dispersed into exile to disappear from history (unless you buy the Mormons’ story that they migrated to America and became the ancestors of the American Indians). The kingdom of Judah alternated between faithfulness to the Lord, and idolatry and other sins until conquered by Babylon in 597 BC, when the king and some of the other leaders were taken as prisoners to Babylon, and Nebuchnezzar placed a puppet king (Jeremiah’s nemesis Zedekiah) on the throne. But after a revolt, Jerusalem was destroyed in 587 and all the remaining civil and religious leaders were taken into exile in Babylon. Ezekiel seems to have been among the captives in Babylon after 597 and prophesied to both his fellow exiles and the Jews back in Palestine.
Thus are the Israelites “among the nations” and in need of gathering back to their own land (Ezek 37:21). You can see why he would speak of Israel’s national resurrection in his prophecy of the dry bones in the 1st part of ch. 37 (1-14), part of which was our 1st reading last Sunday, and of the nation’s reunification under the house of David in the 2d part of ch. 37, our 1st reading today.
God had another plan for fulfilling Ezekiel’s prophecy, however—another plan for cleansing the people of their apostasy, their unfaithfulness to the covenant. The Son of David—Jesus of Nazareth—came for that cleansing, which was symbolized by his washing his apostles’ feet at the Last Supper (John 13:1-10) and by the water that gushed, with blood, from his pierced side (John 19:34). The Son of David came to gather all the dispersed children of God into one new kingdom founded on a new “covenant of peace,” “an everlasting covenant” centered on the sanctuary (Ezek 37:26) that is, in fact, Jesus himself, as the Book of Revelation says: “I saw no temple in the [heavenly Jerusalem], for its temple is the Lord God almighty and the Lamb” (21:22). All peoples shall be redeemed and made one by the Lamb, who is also the Son of David. All peoples of the earth shall recognize the Son of David as “their prince forever” (Ezek 37:25).
Our Collect this morning prayed along those lines. We praise God for having “made all those reborn in Christ a chosen race and a royal priesthood.” There’s a unity in this race and priesthood that doesn’t depend on any blood except Christ’s, nor on any national or ethnic or racial origin.
Then we make our prayer: “Grant us the grace to will and to do what you command,” i.e., to be faithful to the new, everlasting covenant of peace that God established with humanity thru the blood of Christ. What we will and what we do so often are not unified, as even St. Paul experienced: “I do not do what I want but I do what I hate” (Rom 7:15). So we pray that our actions may conform to a will that is united with God’s will.
The prayer goes on: if we faithfully do God’s will and do what he commands, then the people whom God has called to eternal life—all “the dispersed children of God”—will “be one in the faith of their hearts and the homage of their deeds.” There we have unity or union again: our deeds being in union with our wills, or our living as we profess to believe; and our being in union with the Father, who has given us this marvelous rebirth in Christ and chosen us to be his own beloved people, his own beloved children.
May God give us the grace to respond to Christ’s love, the grace to “believe in him” like Mary and Martha (John 11:45) and to pay him the homage of our daily living.