Saturday, March 31, 2012

"It is better for you that one man should die..."

I spent a quiet evening at home last night, savoring the opportunity to catch up on some reading and record some new videos for YouTube. Such an evening gave me, too, a chance to pray in a wholly un-rushed and relaxed manner (I tend to pray very early in the morning and, regardless of my best intentions, the concerns of the day often break in upon me).

Today's reading records the great line of Caiaphas, the high priest of the Sanhedrin. Confronted with the threat that, if Jesus were allowed to continue his ministry, it would incur the wrath of the Romans, Caiaphas pronounces:
"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." 
In a sense, we can sympathize with Caiaphas: he knows that the Romans do not suffer civil disturbances gladly and that their wrath could be unleashed swiftly and brutally. He acts, in his mind, prudently and as a utilitarian. Is it not the case that one might be offered up as a sacrifice on the altar of oppression and threatened violence than to risk the immolation of an entire people?

Some commentators regard this as the Prophecy of Caiaphas, that he unwittingly and ironically predicts the death of Jesus. Personally, I reject this interpretation. I do so because I think it misses the whole function and vocation of a prophet. To misconstrue the role of the prophet, to my mind, is to misunderstand totally what - in line with so many prophets before him - animated Jesus and his mission. Caiaphas, on my understanding, is nothing less that most of the religious leaders of our own day: anti-prophets more interested in preserving the structure than living radically its call to prophetic action.

My sophomores, almost to a man, can give you the Duns Definition of the Prophet:
The prophet's job is to (1) critique the current order and (2) re-imagine it. 
What does this mean?

"Christ Before Caiaphas" by Mattias Storm
 ~1630's
(1) "To critique the current order" means that the prophet surveys the current situation and detects a flaw, a wrinkle, a stain. Animated by a sense of how things could be, the prophet's allows reality to be fully present and engages with it in a critical manner. Far from a youthful activism that is easily and faddishly stimulated, the prophet is deeply and prudently aware of the social situation and realizes that it does not achieve or live up to what it ought.

What makes a prophet's words a 'critique' rather than mere bitching? It is (2): the prophet must  re-imagine the situation, articulating a vision for how things ought to be.

If you read the Gospels, it's hard not to notice that Jesus is veritably drunk on one thing: the Kingdom of God. His words and deeds proclaim the revolutionary Kingdom that he is inaugurating in this world. His words sing forth the culture of this Kingdom, the Culture of God, where the "first shall be last" and where it is the son who strayed furthest from the Father is the one closest to his heart. Jesus' deeds, likewise, show the social re-configuration of the celestial culture, a culture where the deaf hear, the lame walk, those with demons are welcomed home, and the dead are given new life.

Why is Caiaphas an anti-prophet? Because he is more concerned with preserving the status quo than he is in living out radically and authentically the culture of God's Kingdom. Jesus' re-imagining of what the culture might look like destabilized society, threatening the current order, and the powers and principalities at hand would rather quell this rather than allow it to bear fruit. Caiaphas would rather have silenced the critique and stifled the imagination than allow it threaten the current order.

One need not look far to see how easy it is for any leader - religious or secular - to cave to the pressure to preserve the present order. In my own Catholic tradition, I continue to feel deep shame at how our leadership put the preservation of the institution above the needs of its flock for courageous truth and transparency. How many leaders could have offered a critique of (1) a culture that allowed for the quiet transfer of abusers and (2) re-imagined a way of dealing with this in a healthy and honest manner. To have enacted (1) and (2) would have threatened the status quo, would have made people uneasy, so it was left undone.

Through the waters of baptism we are each called to participate in Jesus Christ's role as priest, prophet, and king. As we prepare ourselves of Jesus' entry into Jerusalem tomorrow, may we find the courage to embrace our role as prophets, as fearless forth-tellers of God's in-breaking Kingdom, and live out radically the Culture of God's Kingdom as it challenges and transforms our own hearts and the world in which we live.
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