23 March. Saturday in the Fifth Week of Lent
Ezek 37:21ff. I will bring them back to their own land, and I will cleanse them.
Jn 11:45ff. Unwittingly, Caiaphas prophecies that One must die on behalf of the whole people.
First Reading: Ezekiel 37:21-28
Say to them, Thus says the Lord God: I will take the people of Israel from the nations among which they have gone, and will gather them from every quarter, and bring them to their own land. I will make them one nation in the land, on the mountains of Israel; and one king shall be king over them all. Never again shall they be two nations, and never again shall they be divided into two kingdoms.
They shall never again defile themselves with their idols and their detestable things, or with any of their transgressions. I will save them from all the apostasies into which they have fallen, and will cleanse them. Then they shall be my people, and I will be their God.
My servant David shall be king over them; and they shall all have one shepherd. They shall follow my ordinances and be careful to observe my statutes.
They shall live in the land that I gave to my servant Jacob, in which your ancestors lived; they and their children and their children’s children shall live there forever; and my servant David shall be their prince forever.
I will make a covenant of peace with them; it shall be an everlasting covenant with them; and I will bless them and multiply them, and will set my sanctuary among them forevermore.
My dwelling place shall be with them; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people.
Then the nations shall know that I the Lord sanctify Israel, when my sanctuary is among them forevermore.
Gospel: John 11:45-56
Many of the Jews therefore, who had come with Mary and had seen what Jesus did, believed in him. But some of them went to the Pharisees and told them what he had done. So the chief priests and the Pharisees called a meeting of the council, and said, “What are we to do? This man is performing many signs. If we let him go on like this, everyone will believe in him, and the Romans will come and destroy both our holy place and our nation.” But one of them, Caiaphas, who was high priest that year, said to them, “You know nothing at all! You do not understand that it is better for you to have one man die for the people than to have the whole nation destroyed.” He did not say this on his own, but being high priest that year he prophesied that Jesus was about to die for the nation, and not for the nation only, but to gather into one the dispersed children of God. So from that day on they planned to put him to death.
Jesus therefore no longer walked about openly among the Jews, but went from there to a town called Ephraim in the region near the wilderness; and he remained there with the disciples.
Now the Passover of the Jews was near, and many went up from the country to Jerusalem before the Passover to purify themselves. They were looking for Jesus and were asking one another as they stood in the temple, “What do you think? Surely he will not come to the festival, will he?”
The Great Uniting Force
If all the dispersed children of God are to become one family as the prophet Ezekiel announced, we still have a long way to go! But we pray that our new pope, France, may lead us strongly in that quest for unity of mind and heart. Many centuries after Ezekiel’s vision, St Paul asked his converts to “ponder and preserve all that is true, honest, pure, admirable, decent, virtuous or worthy of praise.” (Phil 4:8). These God-given talents and qualities must be shared and thereby further enriched in a covenant of peace.
“To share the best that we have” is where it pinches. No one of us sweats too much over sharing superfluous items. In fact we are anxious to clean house, give them away, and forget about them. But the Bible does not want us simply to get rid of things; such an action runs the risk of being pompous, altruistic, better-than-thou and at best highly impersonal. The Scriptures want us to share as one family. “I will gather them from all sides and never again shall they be divided.” But what God asks us to share is the best that we have. What we prize most consists not only in artefacts or devices or family heirlooms; it includes especially our home, our family, our very independence. Ezekiel, always practical minded about details, adds that we be united in politics (one prince), in worship (one sanctuary), in neighbourhood (one land).
Jesus interacted with politics, religion and social customs. He cured the sick and the handicapped on the Sabbath and broke religious taboos; he threatened political structures where even the high priest was the tool and appointee of the Romans; he ate and drank with publicans and other non-observant people. Jesus was showing how to share the best of himself, even at the risk of his life. His last great miracle was to restore the family of Mary and Martha by raising their brother Lazarus from the dead.
As the Church struggles through this challenging and hopeful period, under the inspirational guidance of our new pope, Francis, we seek to recover the truly good things, momentarily lost, only that they be shared and thereby transformed. To realize the prophecy of Ezekiel and to fulfill his own commandment from the heavenly Father, Jesus seemed to lose everything. He was killed – and yet, because he lost his life in an act of sharing all that was his, that life was raised up to new glory.