Read John 11:45-57
The story of Lazarus being brought back to life spread like wildfire. Many believed in Jesus while others somehow saw a completely different message. There’s a lot going on here for us to wrestle with, much of which I can only pretend to understand because I don’t have any firsthand experience with the Sanhedrin, with Sadducees or Pharisees. The best we can do is rely on those who have researched this in great detail to gain perspective. I hope that is sufficient.
For example, Caiaphas is a Sadducee and is the chief priest, as the house majority leader in our political system. Historians tell us that he’s been working with Pilate to keep peace in the region for a decade. While the alliance is slippery and challenging, he sees himself as the hero of the story, not the villain. I would suggest that both Pilate and Caiaphas think of themselves in that light as they struggle with day-to-day whining of those under their authority.
If that background is accurate, and I really think it is, we can now dive into John’s brief description of what’s going on in this scene. The miracle of restoring life to Lazarus is huge! Those that knew him personally are most likely among those who believed in Jesus as a result. Others were not so sure, but this is one of those stories that would command the attention of everyone, whether it is true or not. From the religious leaders’ perspective, this had to be dealt with quickly and effectively or the relative peace they were enjoying would be destroyed.
The Sanhedrin was assembled for action.
Then one of them, named Caiaphas, who was high priest that year, spoke up, “You know nothing at all! You do not realize that it is better for you that one man die for the people than that the whole nation perish.” John 11:49-50
When we read this, we should be careful not to apply our understanding of Jesus’ sacrifice as one for all, as in He paid the price for all our sins. Caiaphas is not suggesting that is the solution. His perspective is to get rid of this one person who is causing problems for the whole nation. It’s better to kill one person than to let rumors like this spread and ruin the peace and prosperity they are enjoying. Along with the private office, dedicated admin assistants, and reserved parking space.
John is quick to explain the irony of Caiaphas’ inadvertent prophecy:
He did not say this on his own, but as high priest that year he prophesied that Jesus would die for the Jewish nation, and not only for that nation but also for the scattered children of God, to bring them together and make them one. John 11:51-52
Rest assured, Caiaphas did not mean to say Jesus was the Messiah. He wasn’t listening to that rhetoric at all. As a Sadducee, he didn’t believe in the resurrection anyway, so the point was moot. All he knew was that Jesus needed to be eliminated quickly, then they could get back to business as usual. So he thought.
Chapters 11 & 12 of John’s gospel are the pivot point for the entire story. In this dramatic event, Jesus demonstrates His authority of death by raising Lazarus. John takes his time in describing the events that cover a mere handful of days. The hour is coming soon.
As the tension builds we can see two completely separate movements. The religious leaders are secretly devising plans on one hand and the devoted followers of Jesus are hanging onto His every word trying to get their minds wrapped around this miracle and the possibility that He is really the Messiah.
Neither camp knows what the other is doing, but both are convinced they are right. We know how the story plays out because we can read ahead but in the middle of the debate they are each justified in their own minds. The blind religious leaders have no clue.
I wonder about our vision at times. Are we blind too? Have we become so wrapped up in our own processes, procedures, rules, rules about rules, that we too have lost sight for what Jesus commanded? Do we love our neighbors as Jesus commanded (not suggested)? Do we know our neighbors well enough to actually love them? How about “those” people on the other side of town? You know, the ones who don’t have jobs, the ones who show up at shelters begging for a bed when the temperatures drop below freezing. Our neighbors. The ones we hope and pray don’t knock on our doors and invade our warm spaces.
John 11 doesn’t really have anything to do with loving our neighbor, right? Perhaps it’s just part of the bigger story, but I would suggest that the lack of love demonstrated here does, in fact, challenge me to think about how I love my neighbors. Or not. Here’s the real problem: I know better. I can no longer claim ignorance. I’ve seen the eyes of one man asking for a few extra meals to feed his family. What else could I do? What more can I do?
I guess my main point is that we aren’t focused on the main point. We easily get distracted by our own personal agendas without recognizing what is happening right in front of our eyes.
Holy Spirit wake us up! Shake us up so we can see what is happening in this story and be amazed and appalled at the same time. Show us how to move the needle back in your direction.