EZ 37: 21-28
JER 31: 10, 11-12ABCD, 13
JN 11: 45-56
“It is better for you that one man should die instead of the people, so that the whole nation may not perish.” (JN 11:50)
A cultural theorist named René Girard has made much of this very pattern of sacrificing one for the good of the many, a pattern which he sees working, usually invisibly, across literature and religion and mythology: the creation of unity among disparate groups as a result of the unanimous expulsion or death of an outsider, a scapegoat. If you have read the Oedipus trilogy or Freud’s Totem and Taboo, if you have read the graphic novel Watchmen or seen the Avengers movie, you have encountered the idea of shared opposition to a common foe bringing disparate peoples together. It doesn't work for very long, but it does work, as long as you are ok with constantly having (and destroying) an "other" over against whom you define yourself.
John’s Gospel uses this image ironically, as Caiaphas imagines the death of Jesus as a means of placating Rome so they do not “take away both our land and our nation.” (11:48) Of course, Rome DID attack Jerusalem several times, none of which were because of Jesus: the destruction of the Temple in 70AD, the sack of the city in 135, The irony is that Caiaphas does not realize that Jesus’ death is indeed for the life of the nation, not by stifling a troublemaker, but by Jesus being “lifted up” (JN 3:14, 12:32) so as to “draw everyone to myself,” echoing the image from Ezekiel of bringing together those members of the children of Israel who had been scattered by the Exile (586-538 B.C.) to the ends of the known world.
I can't help but think that the unity that Caiaphas tried to create was linked to expelling people who did not fit his vision - that is, uniformity and intolerance of dissent were the content of his version of unity. We are called to unity as well, but not by excising whoever does not look like us, think like us, act like us. On Friday, Campus Ministry celebrated a Way of the Cross with stations based on Catholic Social Teaching and situations of injustice that people face around the world today, situations that continue the crucifixion of the Body of Christ. Do we create negative peace through imposing silence, through stifling cries of pain and critique, through creating spaces of fear? Or do we create positive peace that is messy and complex through its openness to the other, its ability to move and change in response to needs, and its vulnerability to being unsettled by those who are different? As the end of Lent draws close and Holy Week begins, be mindful of how easily we choose the path of peace-through-silencing-outsiders instead of the chaotic peace in which differences are respected and valued.