by Joseph Nangle, OFM
Pax Christi USA Ambassador of Peace
As we approach Holy Week, our High Holy Days, a constant theme is present in the daily Liturgies of the Word. We hear gospel readings day after day that underscore the reasons for the capture, torture and crucifixion of Jesus ordered by the religious leaders of his country. His “new commandment” of inclusive love had become a serious threat to their understanding of who God is and to many of their religious practices. In addition, with multitudes coming to believe in Jesus and follow him, the chief priests, scribes and Pharisees felt their positions of power were being undermined.
This was true from the beginning of Jesus’ public ministry. His healing “work” on the Sabbath was a scandal to the watchdogs of religious correctness. And Jesus continually confronted that misplaced religiosity. Conflict was the hallmark of Jesus’ experience throughout his public life.
Gospel readings these days before Holy Week give us continual reminders of the increasingly vicious reactions to Jesus’ person and teachings. It is as if we are being shown again and again that in human terms his death was a “historical consequence of his life” as Jesuit theologian, Jon Sobrino, has written.
- Monday, April 4th – “You [Pharisees] know neither me nor the Father.”
- Tuesday April 5th – “I am going away and you will look for me, but you will die in your sin.”
- Wednesday April 6th – “… you are trying to kill me because my word has no room among you.”
- Thursday April 7th – “If I should say that I do not know the Father, I would be like you a liar.”
- Friday April 8th – “They picked up rocks to stone Jesus.”
These readings culminate on Saturday, April 9th, the day before Palm Sunday. Cycle A that day offers the most telling moment in this ongoing and increasingly intense hatred for Jesus. It is the follow up to the raising from the dead of Jesus’ friend Lazarus and worth quoting in full.
Many of the Jews who had come to Mary and seen what Jesus had done began to believe in Him. But some of them went to the Pharisees and told them what Jesus had done. So the chief priests and the Pharisees convened the Sanhedrin and said: ‘What are we going to do? This man is performing many signs. If we leave him alone all will believe in him and the Romans will come and take away both our land and our nation.’
But one of them, Caiaphas, who was high priest that year, said to them, ‘You know nothing, nor do you consider that it is better for you that one man should die instead of the people, so that the whole nation may not perish.’ So from that day on they planned to kill him.
John’s gospel goes on to point out that this “political decision” was part of the mystery of human redemption. It says that since Caiaphas was high priest for that year, he was prophesizing that Jesus was going to ‘die for the nation – and not only for that nation but also to gather into one the dispersed children of God.’ We believe that our redemption was accomplished by the death and resurrection of the Son of God. Why this is so remains a mystery. But consider this: to say that Jesus died “for our sins” as we so often hear is a half-truth. If it means that a vengeful God demanded this sort of reparation for the sins we commit, it is inaccurate. If it means that Jesus’ death resulted from his continued condemnation of institutionalized evil, then yes, he died for humanity’s sins. While the redemption remains a mystery, it surely has roots in the public life of Jesus and the desperate hatred and fear of his opposition to the sinful reality of the socio-religious institution of his time and place.
Joe Nangle OFM is a Pax Christi USA Ambassador of Peace. As a member of the Assisi Community in Washington, D.C., he is dedicated to simple living and social change. Joe also serves as the Pastoral Associate for the Latino community at Our Lady Queen of Peace, Arlington, Virginia.