The Daily Bread, 4th April 2020
Readings: Ezekiel 37:21-28; Jeremiah 31:10-13; John 11:45-56
It’s clear from the Gospel reading today that the reason for which the Jewish Authorities wanted to kill Jesus was because they were afraid that, if everyone went after Him, then the Temple in Jerusalem would be destroyed by the Romans and the Jewish nation itself would disappear as a nation. And despite all of the miracles Jesus performed, despite the clear evidence that those miracles point to Him as being the Son of God, the Jewish Authorities closed their minds to that possibility. They give you the impression of suffering from a siege mentality. They’re determined to hold on to what they’ve got. They’re scared that Jesus is going to come and take it away from them (a bit like Herod at the time of the birth of the new-born king of the Jews) and they’re therefore scared of death, I suppose, or the end of their position of power.
It follows, then, that they’re not really particularly concerned whether Jesus is God or not. During the whole of the Gospel they put up specious reasons, smoke screens, for saying that Jesus must be resisted (and they sound holier than thou as they do so). They say that Jesus is violating the sabbath, the law of Moses, that he has no respect at all for the Temple, driving out the money changers and those doing good business to provide animals and birds for the Temple sacrifices. They sound as though they are defending the legitimate inheritance of Moses, but in fact they’re not really very interested in that. They are in a position of power, of wealth and of prestige. Their concern is not really so much about the inheritance of Moses as their own inheritance. It’s not so much about being faithful to the tradition of the prophets and the law or the great and distinguished history of the Jewish nation as wanting blind allegiance from the people to themselves. They are more concerned about themselves. For them, in effect, the Jewish religion and nation comes down to what they want them to be, and they want them to be for their own selfish interests.
You will recall that Jesus, at one point, weeps over Jerusalem because He knows that, being Himself rejected by the religious Authorities, it will lead to the destruction of Jerusalem. In other words, it’s not believing in Jesus that will, as Caiaphas feared, lead to the destruction of Jerusalem and the nation: it’s rather the fact that they won’t accept Him that will do so in the year 70 AD.
We could take this and apply it to the Church. We too have a long, distinguished tradition. We have people who are in “power”, the clergy (although they shouldn’t be perceived, or perceive themselves, as being in power because they are there to serve, not be served). It’s clear from the history of the Church that many clergymen, including Popes, Cardinals and Bishops assumed their position not as one of service but as one of domination. And while, with lip-service, they paid heed to Christ and the teaching of the Church, in many instances that was at the service of their being able to maintain their position of power. Perhaps it’s also present in the Church today, at least to some extent; we will all have different opinions about that. Again, if you are told that your power is to be used to serve, as Christ came not to be served but to serve, that’s not as comfortable or ego-pleasing as having power to dominate, as having the people adulate you and give you money, etc..
And if it can be true of the Church, it can also be true of the world. I remember being told by a diplomat not so long ago that, when the European Constitution was being signed in Rome in 2004, Pope John Paul II was very concerned that in its Introduction there was to be no mention of Christianity or of God. So, he sent a top Cardinal to the former French President Valery Giscard d’Estaing, who was President of the Convention on the Future of Europe, to present him with a letter signed by the Pope begging Giscard d’Estaing to mention in the Constitution the Judaeo-Christian background to the whole European reality. Mr. Giscard d’Estaing apparently said to the Cardinal to keep the letter in his pocket. In other words, he was saying that he didn’t want Christianity coming and spoiling their secular project, their new vision for Europe where no religion would be given any special treatment. Not to mention God, in John Paul’s view, was tantamount to cutting Europe off from its roots, its origins. Now, there can be many discussions about that but, in general terms, it seems fair to say that there has been a deliberate strategy in recent decades to take God out of Western civilization as a major player or inspiration in its affairs.
If it’s true of the Jewish Authorities at the time of Jesus, if it’s true of the Church, it it’s true of society, it’s also true of you and me.
Many of us can resist Christ because we are scared that he is going to come and take away from us what we have, what we have built up, who we have made ourselves to be. Whether it be position or pleasure or prestige or possessions … The ideaof Christ is lovely. He died to save me and forgive me: we love that bit. But we don’t want to hear the commandments of Christ. We don’t want to hear the demands he makes on the way we live. And so, we keep Him out or let Him in only insofar as it suits us. What we’re doing there is effectively to cut the feet from under Christ. We are actually not allowing Him to be our God.
What does that tell us, then? It tells us the same thing as it told the Jewish nation. Because they didn’t let Christ in, eventually they collapsed. And we will be the same. If we don’t let the Lord into our lives, truly into our lives, into every dimension of our lives, then we are building our own life on sand and eventually it will collapse. But here’s the good thing! If we do let Christ into our whole lives, He will only take away from us the things that harm us and will give us instead things that are much greater, that will give us happiness and fulfilment. As Pope Benedict XVI said about friendship with Christ: He doesn’t come to take away anything good, He comes only to give us the fullness of all that’s good. And, therefore, opening up to Him and letting Him in is the guarantee and way ahead for us, for the fulfilment in our humanity, of our Christianity leading ultimately to the fullness of life that we long for in his Kingdom.
So, for you and for me today, my prayer is that we will have the courage to let down the barriers, to be vulnerable to Christ, to let Him come in, to let Him purify us and take away what is not worthy of us or worthy of Him, and then to fill us with the fullness of His gifts so that we may fully understand that He has come to save us and redeem us, not to undermine us and certainly not to destroy us.