Have you ever walked into a room and felt the tension held within that space? I get the same feeling every time we get to this Gospel. We do not hear from Jesus directly, but we do hear the conversation going on in secret. Since he had raised Lazarus from the dead, more people came to believe. This was causing great concern to the chief priests and the Pharisees and they convened the Sanhedrin. Sanhedrin, translated means, sitting together or an assembly comprised of either twenty-three or seventy-one rabbis appointed to sit as tribunal in every city in ancient Israel. Jesus was on trial for his life as a result of his final sign which paradoxically brought Lazarus back to life. He could not walk about openly (v. 54). The irony here in this text is the set up of the high priest, Caiaphas, and his manipulation of the situation to suggest that “one man should die instead of the people” (v.50). There was a legitimate fear of the Romans when large crowds gather in Jerusalem, the Roman Rule or Pax Romana (peace at all cost), had been historically painful for the Jews. Interestingly, no one disputes Jesus signs, they fear them.
We can be guilty of over-simplifying the societal climate in this situation having the benefit of being 2,000 years removed. Yes, we can see that power corrupts and that Jesus was the sacrificial lamb. That he ultimately did die for the many. In the verses before this text, we read that, “he was greatly disturbed” (v.33). The emptiness starts within my heart when I think of what Jesus faced in these moments. I find it hard to read this text without defaulting to anger at the religious leaders—so much for “Love my enemies-do good to those who hurt me!” I like to focus on Jesus during this time of hiding. What was going through his mind? Did he fear the authorities? He was fully human.
Later in this Gospel, Jesus tells Pilate that he would have no power unless it were given to from above. (19:11) St. Paul of the Cross taught that everyone involved in Jesus’ crucifixion were simply characters. God, the Father, was in charge and Jesus put his faith and trust in Him. This echoes the words of today’s Psalm, “The Lord will guard us, as a shepherd guards his flock.” How many of us wish we were there when they crucified our Lord? Actually, we are there/here because Jesus is still the crucified who walks among us.
While we absolutely have the right to ponder and pray with the historical passion. Our faith teaches that somewhere hidden he still waits in fear for the future. We breathe life into the text every time we understand that there are people in our everyday lives just like Jesus. It’s not out of sight somewhere else or 2,000 years ago. Does anyone come to mind for you?
May the Passion of Jesus Christ be Always in Our Hearts, amen.
Jean Bowler is a retreatant at Mater Dolorosa Passionist Retreat Center in Sierra Madre, California, and a member of the Office of Mission Effectiveness Board of Holy Cross Province.