One of the great opportunities we have as postulants in formation is the chance to give a homily once in a while at our in-house Masses. Rotating among the five guys, one is responsible each time for leading the group with an initial reflection before opening up the floor for others to give their extemporaneous reactions. Today was my third chance to do such, and I thought I would share it with you. Below is the core of what I worked from, but I also spoke candidly throughout when I thought clarification or additional details were necessary. Let me know what you think!
Today’s Gospel in a word, is “ironic.” Having the advantage of seeing history unfold, the Gospel writer has no reservations about intertwining humor into the powerful story of Jesus’ condemnation by the Pharisees.
Having just heard from the prophet Ezekiel that God would make all the tribes of Israel one through the leadership of David’s servant, we transition to the tail end of Jesus’ most profound and prophetic miracle: raising Lazarus from the dead. Here we find our first bit of irony. It is this very life-giving act, the raising of Lazarus as an example of the unending life offered to everyone through Jesus, that leads to His own inevitable death.
Driven by fear of persecution, (and potentially less altruistic motives) the Pharisees refuse to accept the miracles of Jesus and choose to see him as a threat to the status quo. Complaining, “If we leave him alone, all will believe in him, and the Romans will come and take away both our land and our nation.” Once again, we have to laugh at John’s wit in such statements: instead of recognizing the true son of God before them, the one that will unite the nations as foretold, they decide to kill Jesus, and instead put their hope in a false prophet 40 years later. This false prophet ended up waging a war with Rome, which caused the destruction of the Temple, the scattering of the Jewish people, and the extinction of the Sadducees.
The climax of John’s irony is found in what is a bit of prophetic double entendre: Caiaphas declares 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.” Intending to make the point that Jesus’ death will knock sense into the Jewish people, thus reuniting them around the “order” of the Law (held by the Pharisees), John can’t help but laugh at how prophetic Caiaphas was, and yet how little he understood the meaning of his own words!
Besides serving as the next step in the larger story of salvation history, I believe that there are two lessons to be learned from the Pharisees today.
1. If it is truly God that we seek, using evil will never help us reach Him. When we start believing that the ends justify the means, it might be time to reevaluate what exactly those ends actually are because it’s probably not God. In the case of the Pharisees, their ends were safety, order, comfort, power, and unity, all things that can certainly be gifts from God, and at times even resemble God, but are all ultimately not God, thus not ends in themselves. When we make things like these our ultimate ends, we risk missing the true God when he appears right in front of us.
We find concrete examples of this line of thinking throughout our world. For instance, in order for capitalism to function, it is required that a certain number of people be unemployed and unable to find work. “It’s a small price to pay for the greater good of the nation,” we say. In wartime, it is not only an acceptable loss for a certain number of soldiers to die for the sake of a mission, our government deems it reasonable, under certain circumstances, to kill unarmed civilians in order to kill the enemy. “It’s a small price to pay for the greater good,” we say. But what “good” is that, exactly? I don’t believe that it is God we are making compromises for, but it is God, the presence of God in our neighbor, that we are compromising for these ulterior ends.
2. The second thing is that God’s will will be done. I find the most powerful bit of John’s irony in the fact that those who denied and even killed Jesus were just as useful hands in God’s plan of salvation history as some of the disciples. It reminds me that God can use me to be a prophetic voice for this world without me even knowing it, and that, even if I refuse to be a part of His plan, he’s still going to have His way.
Because of this, I have to ask myself, “Am I a soft piece of clay that is easily molded to the needs of God, or am I an unwavering rock that needs to be beaten and chiseled into place?” Is my humility, love, and understanding going to be a light for the world, or is my bitterness, pride, and anger going to be used to show the world what’s possible without God, or even as display for God’s wrath? I have no doubt that God’s will will be done; I only hope that I may be an agent of His love, moving in His same direction, and not an obstacle in His way.