Christ died for you – Br. David Vryhof

Br. David Vryhof

John 11:45-53

The gospel passage we have before us today wraps up the greatest miracle story in all of the gospels: Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead.  Other miracles pale in comparison to it, but still, as is so often the case in the gospel accounts, the reactions to this astounding miracle are mixed.  Many of the Jews who witness the miracle come to believe in Jesus.  But others report Jesus’ words and actions to the priests.

Their report prompts an interesting discussion:  Jesus’ increased popularity poses a threat to the chief priests and Pharisees because it risks drawing the attention of the Romans, who, they fear, will crush this populist movement, destroying both their religion and their nation.  There’s no reason to doubt the genuineness of their concern for their faith and for their country, but we must note, too, that the chief priests and Pharisees derive what power they have from Rome, so the threat to their livelihoods, their influence and their social status is real.

Caiaphas, the high priest, has a solution:  Let this one man, Jesus, die for the nation.  The death of Jesus will squelch the movement, he argues, and it is better to have this one man die than to have the whole nation come to destruction.  The evangelist John is quick to point out the irony of the high priest’s statement.  Caiaphas is speaking from a political point of view when he speaks of Jesus dying for the people, suggesting that Jesus die instead of the people.  John, however, understands Caiaphas’ words from a theological point of view.  For John, Jesus dying “for the people” anticipates the voluntary offering of his life that will further God’s plan to save both Jews and Gentiles through Jesus’ death and resurrection.  He will die on behalf of the people, rescuing them from the power of sin and death, and obtaining for them the precious gift of eternal life.

John sees the Spirit at work here, revealing God’s intention through the words of the high priest.  God’s purpose is to gather up all the dispersed people of God – Gentiles as well as Jews – through this great work of grace.  John explains it this way: “[Caiaphas], being the high priest that year… 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.” (Jn 11:51-52).

John’s explanation here recalls Jesus’ earlier statement that he has “other sheep that do not belong to this fold” (Jn 10:16).  Its implication is that the kingdom of God extends beyond the usual national and cultural boundaries of Judaism; God is prepared to welcome “outsiders.”  In the same way, it implies that we may not limit the work of Christ to a particular people or organization, such as the Church, but instead must ask ourselves, “Who are the scattered people for whom Christ died in order that they, too, might be reconciled with God?”  John does not limit the scope of God’s saving grace, and neither must we.

Jesus’ opponents fail to see the power of God manifest in Jesus’ miracle – a power that is stronger than death. They also fail to see what it reveals about God’s purposes and design.  Instead, this miracle is the sign that pushes them over the edge: “From that day on they planned to put him to death.” (Jn 11:53).

Save us from a similar blindness, Lord, and open our eyes to discern the height and breadth and depth of your saving grace in our world.

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