Saturday of the Fifth Week of Lent | Readings: Ezekiel 37:21-28; John 11:45-56
Our two readings today give us a chance to illustrate a rather important spiritual point: There is a good way to create unity and there is a bad way. In the First Reading from Ezekiel, Yahweh tells the prophet to perform a ritual that would mimic what God wants to do. Yahweh has just told Ezekiel to take two sticks, and write on each of them: on one stick, “Judah and those loyal to him,” and on the other, “Ephraim and those loyal to him” (37:16). These were, of course, the two kingdoms of Israel, and Yahweh tells him to “hold the two pieces of wood in your hand where you can see it” (37:20). Hold the two small loyalty systems into one larger unity as it were. Today we might call it “positive imaging!”
Our Lectionary text today begins at this point, and Yahweh promises to “gather” the two kingdoms into one, “rescue” them, “cleanse” them, and make with them “a covenant of peace.” “My dwelling shall be with them. I will be their God, and they shall be my people” (37:26–27). A magnificent passage portraying how God unites, by the positive energy of loving, “shepherding,” and revealing the Divine Presence in one’s midst and between them. This is the good way, God’s way to create unity.
Then in the Gospel, since we are about to enter Holy Week tomorrow, we are exposed to the much more common way that cultures try to create unity, what René Girard calls “the negative unanimity around one.” You can either rally around love to unite, or you can rally around fear, gossip, paranoia, and negativity, usually symbolized by one issue or person. I am afraid the second rallying point is the much more common. It is more efficient and gathers groups much more quickly and tightly than love does. I wish it were not true.
In this case, the rallying cry is the killing of Jesus. He is the “one” around which they can become “one.” This is supported by the high priest, Caiaphas, in the name of what we would now call “the national security state” (see verses 48–50), and as always, it works. The drama is now set for Holy Week. The scapegoat to create unity has been chosen. Little do they know that another Deeper Unity will also be set into motion that continues to this day. There are still two ways of gathering, the way of fear and hate and the way of love. But do not yourself be afraid, because Jesus is still “gathering.” God’s continual job description, it seems, is mimed in the two bound sticks of Ezekiel. God is always and forever making one out of two.
“Can you not see that it is better for you to have one man die for the people, than to have the whole nation destroyed? He did not say this on his own. It was rather as high priest that he prophesied that Jesus would die for the nation—and not for this nation only, but to gather into one all the dispersed children of God.” –John 11:50–52
“Jesus, our Scapegoat, you forever show us on the cross both the human problem and the divine solution. Help me to be part of your solution and to stop creating and persecuting scapegoats. I now know that I might just be killing you.”