"What are we going to do? This man is performing many signs."

"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.'"
(John 11:47-48)
In today's readings, we begin our journey into Holy Week as we read about the Sanhedrin plotting to put Jesus to death. This is a lead-in to tomorrow's celebration of Palm Sunday and sets up the eventual conflict that will culminate in the Paschal Triduum, our commemoration of the passion death and resurrection of the Lord.

There is, I think, a critical lesson be learned here about how Divine Providence and human freedom interact in a world where selfishness and evil are an ever-present reality.

Power and Pragmatism

We want our civic and political leaders to be practical people. In the Gospel, however, we see how the pragmatism of the political leadership in Jesus' time can became immoral and self-serving. They are willing to put an innocent man to death 'for the good of the nation.'

But also, for their own personal good. They are, after all, the leaders who would lose their precious posts (and possibly their heads) if there was a general rebellion. They were afraid...and they weren't wrong: a little less than 40 years later, a rebellion would lead to the Roman emperor Trajan destroying Jerusalem and its Temple.

In their fear, these leaders were able to rationalize their selfish choice. They adopted the attitude that the ends justified any means necessary to accomplish their goals...even turning their backs on the law of God himself to make it happen.

The end result was the greatest crime in history: Deicide, the literal murder of God himself.

Reacting to Fear

In a conference-call prayer and reflection group I was in this morning, one of my fellow deacons pointed out the general failure of leadership in the United States at all levels in the face of our current pandemic. He pointed out that we are certainly justified in having a righteous anger about the fate of those who will suffer and die unnecessarily as a result.

That anger is starting to bubble already. Politicians at all levels and of all stripes are afraid.

They have already started the spin and recriminations: Republican versus Democrat, state versus federal, executive versus legislative, etc.

I am afraid that, like the Sanhedrin, many of them will turn their fear of political reprisal into an excuse to justify 'practical' but immoral decisions--placing themselves and their interests above what they know (or should know)  is right.

Hopefully I am wrong about that. Maybe everyone will end up coming together in one united front to make decisions that really minimize the suffering and death of innocent people.

But I haven't seen it yet, and I think in the small instances where it does happen that it will be the exception that proves the rule.

Regardless of where we personally believe the blame lies, it is our duty as Christians not to abandon our principles in the face of trials. We are to keep the commandments, especially the great commandment to love our neighbor, instead of buckling under the temptation to save our own skins.

Even the seemingly righteous people are not immune--remember, the Sanhedrin were some of the most religious people of their time and place.

Bringing Good out of Evil

All this talk may sound pessimistic or cynical...maybe it is. But the scripture itself, in both the Old and New Testaments, takes a pretty cynical view of human nature. That isn't a philosophical choice, but rather one that is based on thousands of years of experience watching humans make selfish choices.

Does that mean that there is only darkness to come?

Not at all. We know how the story ends in the Gospel. Caiaphas is not wrong in his predictions. God is able to use the evil actions of the Sanhedrin to bring about the greatest possible good: the redemption of mankind. As St. Paul says in the letter to the Romans:
"[W]here sin increased, grace overflowed all the more" (Rom 5:20)
 Yet he is quick to remind them (and us!) that it that is no excuse for more sin:
What then shall we say? Shall we persist in sin that grace may abound? Of course not! How can we who died to sin yet live in it? (Rom 6:1-2)
This applies to self-serving leaders past and present. Just because we have faith as Christians that God will bring goodness out of their unscrupulous choices doesn't mean we should approve them or, worse yet, encourage them. Evil is evil regardless of the outcome. And the consequences are real: real suffering, real death.

We, as Christians, are called to something greater.

I will leave you with a quote, not from the scripture, but from J.R.R Tolkien (himself a devout Catholic). It is from the second volume of the Lord of the Rings and I think sums it up nicely:
“Eomer said, 'How is a man to judge what to do in such times?'
'As he has ever judged,' said Aragorn. 'Good and evil have not changed since yesteryear, nor are they one thing among Elves and another among Men. It is a man's part to discern them, as much in the Golden Wood as in his own house.”

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