Maundy Thursday: sacrificing others

Caiaphas, the High Priest to whom Judas betrayed Jesus: Caiaphas had determined that it would be better for one man to be put to death for the sake of appeasing the Romans, for the sake of keeping the peace; for the sake of his own skin. He, being a High Priest, was accustomed to making sacrifices that were not his own.

He was wrong. Jesus was not the only one to die out of that betrayal and arrest. Judas found that he could not live after all without Jesus.

Caiaphas’ strategy did not keep the peace, either. Pilate, renowned for his ruthlessness, was hardly going to turn soft at the offering of one Jewish rabble-rouser. In 70 AD, thirty-some years after the crucifixion, the city of Jerusalem was routed, and the Temple razed. The seat of the High Priest was gone forever.

Judas, Caiaphas, Pilate: they all chose the wrong path. The thought that by means of power, money, cunning or bribery, that they could save their own skins; that they had no need of the salvation that comes from God.

They were all wrong. Rome itself would fall soon enough.

What survived from that night was much more humble, more simple, more durable. What survived was the humility of Jesus, washing the feet of his disciples. What survived was his body and blood, endlessly recreated of the sacrament of bread and the wine. What survived was his word, his commandment.

“Love one another,” he said, “as I have loved you.” Not by your power, still less by your sacrifice of others; not by your cunning or your cleverness or your wealth or your might will they know you. “If you have love for one another, all will know that you are my disciples.”

The temptation to fix Jesus’ plan, to hurry it along or to improve it with an extra boost of power, or to discard the unlovable parts; to make sacrifices of others, or to sacrifice what is not our own; that temptation is with us all, whether we are on the side of Caiaphas or of Judas, Pilate or Peter.

But it does not have the final word. Only love endures.

 

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