Persecution for the Gospel
April 9, 2022 (readings)
- Saturday of the Fifth Week of Lent
- Marybeth Harper
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.” He did not say this on his own, but since he was high priest for that year, he prophesied that Jesus was going to die for the nation, and not only for the nation, but also to gather into one the dispersed children of God. So from that day on they planned to kill him. So Jesus no longer walked about in public among the Jews, but he left for the region near the desert, to a town called Ephraim, and there he remained with his disciples. Now the Passover of the Jews was near, and many went up from the country to Jerusalem before Passover to purify themselves. They looked for Jesus and said to one another as they were in the temple area, “What do you think? That he will not come to the feast?”
Opening Prayer: Jesus, be with me today as I read and meditate on your words in Scripture. I dedicate this time to the members of my family who do not believe in you and ask you for graces for their conversion.
Jesus Divides: The presence of Jesus among the Jews divided them. Many of them who had come to Mary and witnessed Lazarus rising from the dead began to believe. Others didn’t. They sought out the Pharisees, hoping most likely to put a halt to Jesus’ miracles and preaching. This same kind of division occurs today, in our society and in our families. When believers in Jesus share their enthusiasm with adult children, for example, the result is sometimes fractious contention. Why? We can ask ourselves if our approach was overzealous or insensitive (too much too soon), if we felt threatened by their disbelief (How could they abandon what we’ve worked so hard to teach them?), or if there was any arrogance or self-righteousness on our part. Any of these elements in our manner are likely to cause division instead of faith-sharing. The best way to share the faith is to live the Gospel truths and use words when necessary.
The Sanhedrin: Jesus’ ministry had grown from grassroots, person-to-person, into a political problem for the Jews governed by Rome. He had become so popular that the Pharisees and Sadducees convened the Sanhedrin, which had civil, religious, and criminal jurisdiction. Ironically, Caiaphas, the high priest, prophesied that Jesus would die for the sake of the nation. And they planned to kill him. Did any of these political leaders question this seemingly rash decision to kill Jesus? Only Nicodemus—and he slipped out at night to interview Jesus privately. As disciples of Christ, we are called to be courageous in standing for the truth—in the public square, at our jobs, and in our families. “God's love calls us to move beyond fear. We ask God for the courage to abandon ourselves unreservedly so that we might be molded by God's grace, even as we cannot see where that path may lead us” (St. Ignatius Loyola).
Will He Not Come?: Political and religious tensions peaked just as the Passover was beginning in Jerusalem. Many Jews went early to perform the required cleansing rituals, and we can imagine them speculating, even gossiping about whether the controversy would keep Jesus away. The Pharisees had given orders to turn Jesus over to the authorities, but the people were fascinated by Christ. Word about Lazarus had spread. Into this cauldron of sentiment, Jesus not only came to the feast but rode in on a donkey and was received as a king. The crowds sang, “Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.” In his omniscience, Jesus knew exactly what was at risk and entered Jerusalem to begin his Passion anyway. Love for each one of us was his sole motivation.
Conversing with Christ: It sometimes feels like I am surrounded by unbelievers like the Pharisees who object to my “religion.” Jesus, you show me how to respond as I consider the tensions and objections raised against your preaching and miracles. I am to be humble and loving, calm and truthful. I know I can count on the Holy Spirit in those moments for inspiration. Thank you for the personal relationship we share. May I be an effective witness to your love.
Resolution: Lord, today by your grace I will pray “Come Holy Spirit” whenever I feel tension or sadness.
For Further Reflection: Matthew 5:10-12: Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness' sake, for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven. Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in Heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.
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