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Saturday, Fifth Week of Lent

March 31, 2007

Blessed Saturday!

Readings:
Ezekiel 37:21-28 (God will unite His people in holiness)
Jeremiah 31:10-13 (The Lord will guard us,
like a shepherd guarding his flock)
+John 11:45-57 (it is better for one man to die for the people)

Rebellion divides us.  It separates us, not only from God, but also from
each other, and from the peace and happiness we so desperately seek.
But God’s grace, His plan and His power are stronger than our rebellion.
He will let us experience the consequences of our sin, mostly because He
can use that suffering to bring us (and others) back to Himself, to
bring us back to the obedience that leads to communion.

Solomon’s rebellion against God (I Kings 11), and the subsequent sin of
his son, Rehoboam, split Israel (I Kings 12: 1-25).  Ten of the twelve
tribes rebelled against Rehoboam’s tyranny, adding their own sin to his,
especially when they set up idols to keep people from worshiping God in
Jerusalem (I Kings 12:26-32).  These ten tribes became the northern
Kingdom of Israel, which later became the Kingdom of Samaria when
foreign armies conquered Israel & left behind their own pagan citizens
to intermarry with the few Israelites who hadn’t been deported.  The
other two tribes, Judah and Benjamin, centered around Jerusalem and the
temple, remained loyal to the crown and to God.  The Levites, who didn’t
have land of their own, came to Judah, as did those individual families
who firmly desired to seek the Lord (2 Chronicles 11:13-17).

This is the division God promises to heal in our reading from Ezekiel.
No longer will sin lead to sin, rebellion to rebellion, division to
division.  There will be one shepherd, the Messiah, son of David,
leading them all in holiness and peace, in the Truth that unites.
God’s sacred order will be restored once and for all.

It won’t happen automatically, though.  Sin still has consequences.
There’s still a price to be paid.  God Himself will bear the brunt of
it, but we each have our own choices to make as well.

The religious leaders in Jerusalem are in the midst of their own
choices.  As if Jesus hadn’t stirred them up enough already, now He’s
restored life to a man who’d been dead and buried for four days–and
just outside Jerusalem!  More and more people are believing in Him,
following Him, hanging on His every word.  One misstep and the whole lot
of them will erupt in a wild revolt against the Romans.  It’d happened
within recent memory (see Mark 15:7, Acts 5:36-37), and the religious
leaders worried that if things got too far out of hand, Rome would go to
extreme measures to crush the uprising, wiping out the entire
nation…at least, that’s what they told themselves (John 11:47).  Jesus
had already demonstrated that His Kingdom was not a political one.  He
had fled when the crowd, full of miraculous bread, tried to make Him
king (John 6:15), and at His trial He would tell Pilate directly, “My
Kingdom does not belong to this world” (John 18:36).

That wasn’t enough to make the Pharisees give up this convenient excuse.
It was easier to defend national interests (and of course, that meant
defending the worship of God, since the two went together) than to admit
that they were jealous.  Besides, there was a ready answer to solve both
problems, and the high priest was kind enough to propose it.  Kill
Jesus.  “Can you not see that it is better for you to have one man die
[for the people] than to have the whole nation destroyed?” (John 11:50).

They said they meant it for good; to save the nation.  At least on some
level, they meant it for evil; to get rid of Jesus, their rival.  Yet it
led to the very evil the religious leaders said they were trying to
avoid, namely, the destruction of Israel.  When Jesus wept over
Jerusalem, He cried, “If only you had known the path to peace this day;
but you have completely lost it from view!  Days will come upon you when
your enemies…will wipe you out…because you failed to recognize the
day of your visitation” (Luke 19:42-44).  This prophesy was fulfilled in
70 A.D., when the Roman armies leveled Jerusalem and destroyed the
temple, leaving not one stone on another.

God, however, ultimately did mean Jesus’ death for good, even as He had
ultimately meant Joseph’s slavery in Egypt for good (see Genesis
50:19-20).  Even though Caiaphas, the high priest, was not worthy of his
office, God still turned his words to prophesy.  “(He did not say this
on his own.  It was rather as high priest for that year that he
prophesied that Jesus would die for the nation–and not for this nation
only, but to gather into one all the dispersed children of God).” (John 11:51-52).

“To gather into one all the dispersed children of God…”  That’s what
God promised to do through Ezekiel, except this is expanded in scope.
The Israelites aren’t the only children of God.  Jesus has already
pointed out that when it comes to the spiritual life, we choose our
parentage.  The Pharisees who rejected Jesus had made themselves
children of the devil by that very choice (John 8:44).  We become
children of God when we receive His Holy Spirit in Baptism (see Acts
2:38 & Galatians 4:6-7).  God will gather us into one as we daily
cooperate with the grace of our Baptism, as we live up to our status as
His adopted children under His authority.  He won’t force us.  In fact,
others will try to force us to leave Him.  In Matthew 10:17, Jesus
assures us, “They will hale you into court, they will flog you in their
synagogues.”  And in verse 34: “My mission is not to spread peace, but
division.  I have come to set a man at odds with his father, a daughter
with her mother…in short, to make a man’s enemies those of his own
household.”

There will be peace and unity among the children of God, but there will
be division between those who live as God’s children, who obey His
voice, and those who don’t.  Only in heaven will that division be
finalized, the separation eternal, and the peace complete.  In the
meantime, God allows His children to suffer from this division for the
salvation of their own souls and for the souls of those who oppose them,
that at least some might be saved (see Romans 9:2-3, II Corinthians
11:23-30, II Peter 3:9, etc.).  We tread the royal road to Heaven, in
the footsteps of our Master, under the weight of the cross.

May the joy that has been set before us spur us on to the unity of holiness.

May God bless your quest for unity in submission to Him.

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