Friday, March 30, 2012

Friday in Passion Week

Jeremiah 17:13-18 / John 11:47-54

At that time the chief priests and the Pharisees gathered a council against Jesus ...

It would be easy to see this phrase as just so much introduction, to pass it by until we get to the meat of what the Gospel is trying to say. However, this would be to bypass a rather important, and chilling, fact, namely that the desire to take counsel from one another to oppose Jesus was sufficient to unite those who would otherwise be bitterly opposed to one another. While we recall that Jesus was opposed by both Pharisees and by the priests and Sadducees, we might forget that these two groups we quite hostile to one another. They differed on matters theological, jurisprudential, cultural, and political. Each saw the others' vision as a falsification of the Torah and of the religion received from God through Moses on Sinai. All things being equal, one might never expect the chief priests and the Pharisees to agree on anything.

This is what makes the episode so chilling. As bitterly as they were opposed to one another, they were more troubled that Jesus, this same Jesus by whom the sons and daughters of Israel had been cured of their illness and freed from unclean spirits, this same Jesus whose words of wisdom had confounded their best efforts to refute. While they could net yet admit it at first, after hearing the deadly if prophetic counsel of Caiphas — it is expedient for you that one man should die for the people, and that the whole nation perish not —  these once enemies, now co-conspirators were united not in charity and love, but in the desire for murder: From that day therefore they devised to put him to death.

While unity between enemies is the goal of the Gospel, breaking down the walls of hostility that divide us, we must be aware of this perverse kind of unity, a unity not of hearts and minds, but of wicked purpose, masked as seeking common cause for the good. We must, of course, seek to find common cause, even with those who oppose us on other grounds, for the sake of the good. Yet, there comes a time when our very desire to join forces with those who oppose us stems not from the work of the Spirit in our hearts, but from a disordered and culpable desire to do what is wrong and oppose what is right.

Are we, then, willing not to achieve our goals if gaining them comes at the cost of betraying what is right? Does our vision of the common good stand to close to what God demands that we can sacrifice innocent lives to succeed and coming to a mutual understanding with our enemies? Or, can we stand our ground, confident with the prophet Jeremiah that we will not be left without hope, we will not be confounded, however many and however strong those who oppose us may be?

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