Today’s Gospel reading follows the raising of Lazarus at the house of Mary and Martha. That’s especially important to note because of the unspeakable evil that is about to transpire in the wake of that great miracle.
We learn that many who saw this miracle "believed." But others, it seems perhaps out of fear, went immediately to inform the Jewish authorities-the Pharisees and the Sadducees. My 12 years of Catholic education failed me a bit, so I had to remind myself the difference between these two groups. The Pharisees and Sadducees were actually theological and political opponents. (Imagine for a moment what might unite the Democrats and the Republicans of today. The most recent answer that comes to mind is 9/11. So basically Jesus’ rise in popular esteem is akin to a national tragedy). The fact that they were united in their desire to stop Jesus speaks volumes about the threat that they perceived in this new prophet and his ever growing popularity. Together, they ask a simple question: "What are we going to do?"
And this is the line that leaves me cold every time I read it, "If we leave him alone, all will believe him . . ." It seems that the amazing miracle of breathing life back into Lazarus was, ironically, the act that sealed Jesus’ own fate. So there was no regard for the truth of Christ’s message, the greatness of his works, the power of his teachings, the magnitude of his character. They weren’t going to allow his ministry to grow any more than it already had. Their hearts were set against him even in the face of the increasing evidence of his divinity. So, the question becomes, why?
The answer is, "the Romans will come and take away both our land and our nation." These Jewish authorities enjoyed great power and privilege among their people. Simply put, Jesus was a threat to their interest and position. They decide it is better that "one man should die . . . so that the whole nation may not perish. . . . So from that day on they planned to kill him." So in some ways, I suppose, this council chose Rome over God. They would appease Rome and keep peace politically but sacrifice the Son of God.
And what loyalty or protection or security did they get from Rome in return? It was just a few generations later that all they sought to evade by handing over Jesus would in fact come to pass. The Roman army came and destroyed Jerusalem and left the Temple in ruins.
So I will leave you with some final food for thought. There is a popular poem that has been re-written in countless forms since it’s origination in the 40s. When first written by Martin Niemöller in response to the unspeakable crimes of the Holocaust, it went something like this:
First they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out because I was not a Jew. Then they came for the Communists, and I did not speak out because I was not a Communist Then they came for the Catholics, and I did not speak out because I was not a Catholic. Then they came for me, and there was no one left to speak out.
Marlo Serritella is on staff at the Holy Cross Province Development Office in Chicago.