5th Saturday of Lent
The scriptures this morning put before us the stark contrast between a spurious “peace and unity” based on the sacrifice of the innocent and a reunion of the human family grounded in an everlasting covenant of peace with the living God. Egypt liked to tell itself that its prosperity and military power were the result of its own hard work and ingenuity…when in fact they were made possible by the brutal enslavement of the Israelites. Having been slaves themselves Israel was to live in a new way in the land of Promise, basing their life on care for the widow, the orphan, and the resident alien (that is, the immigrant).
The sacrificial cult of Egypt was just another face of their brutal oppression of the Israelites and other groups like them—so Israel must reject all idolatry, especially the sacrifice of the innocent. Rejection of child sacrifice and an ethos of care for the stranger go hand in hand. This dream of a new way of human being together was crystallized by Jesus—how we behave toward ‘the least of his brethren’, the outcast and excluded, becomes the standard for determining who is for or against the kingdom of God.
The Word made flesh joins himself to those the world excludes and makes the stone rejected by the builders of worldly ‘peace and unity’ the cornerstone of a new communion. The Sanhedrin has heard Jesus teach and seen the signs he’s performed—even raising Lazarus from the dead—but they succumb to a kind of fatalistic despair; they choose not to believe that God can and will effectively transform the world. …they don’t want him to! they are all too happy to follow Caiaphas in his posture of hardheaded political shrewdness; “The ‘kingdom of God’—how impractical! that’s something for your private life; in the real world, we need to take matters into our own hand.
It’s very tragic, yes, but an innocent man must be sacrificed so that the whole nation may not perish; you see, the good news, the kingdom of God as nothing to do with it; it’s ‘a matter of national security.’” Caiaphas means one thing by his statement and God means another. The high priest shrewdly exposes the primary structure of original sin, the basis of every merely human social order: unity and peace is created by collective persecution of a scapegoat.
The mystery we live through Holy Week is that God in Jesus willingly undergoes this logic of original sin in order to expose and turn it inside out. With Easter morning a new creation has begun, a new basis for human being together… Jesus embodies in his risen flesh the only true basis for unity, the everlasting covenant of peace. The question we must answer with our lives each day is the same one faced by the Sanhedrin: do we really believe that God can transform the world?