Many of the Jews therefore, who had come with Mary and had seen what Jesus did, believed in him. But some of them went to the Pharisees and told them what he had done. So the chief priests and the Pharisees called a meeting of the council, and said,
‘What are we to do? This man is performing many signs. If we let him go on like this, everyone will believe in him, and the Romans will come and destroy both our holy place and our nation.’
But one of them, Caiaphas, who was high priest that year, said to them,
‘You know nothing at all! You do not understand that it is better for you to have one man die for the people than to have the whole nation destroyed.’
He did not say this on his own, but being high priest that year he prophesied that Jesus was about to die for the nation, and not for the nation only, but to gather into one the dispersed children of God. So from that day on they planned to put him to death.
Jesus therefore no longer walked about openly among the Jews, but went from there to a town called Ephraim in the region near the wilderness; and he remained there with the disciples.
This short passage tells of a pivotal moment in the life of Jesus, as told by John. Occurring immediately after the Raising of Lazarus, the final miracle or ‘sign’ of Jesus, it marks the end of one phase of the gospel – the ‘book of signs’ and sets the scene for the next phase – the ‘book of glory’. Jesus’ hour had now come, and the Temple authorities began to make plans to put him to death.
Whilst it is clear that some people recognised these signs as from God and believed in Jesus as a result, others remained blind and were quick to report Jesus to the Pharisees. They in turn had only one concern – to protect their own interests in the face of the Romans.
It is perhaps too easy for us to condemn the Jewish leaders for their attitude and subsequent actions when we so often are prone to behave in similar ways. How many times do we fail to see God at work in our lives, or are blind to good things that are happening in the world because we fear for our established way of life, resisting change or personal upheaval? How often do we say we are acting to protect the interests of others when in reality it is our own interests that are at stake? We dress things up to make it look like we are helping others when our primary aim is to look after Number One. Caiaphas’ solution to the problem was quite simply put. Get rid of Jesus. Eliminate the trouble maker and everything can return to normal. The status-quo can be restored. And so, this is what they began plotting to do. Unwittingly though Caiaphas makes a very profound statement – prophetic even – that Jesus’ death would lead to the saving of the nation of Israel and those beyond it too.
The good news in this is that God’s work in the world cannot be snuffed out as easily as some might hope or believe. In the face of selfish ambition and the desire to remain in control, the power of God to overcome even death itself proves much stronger. Perhaps those who sought to get rid of Jesus in order that they might save themselves should have realised this. And perhaps we, who so often act in ways that have similar aims should realise this too. The irony however is that when we, sometimes unwittingly, attempt to protect our lives and our selfish interests from the disruption that true discipleship might bring, there we find Jesus with outstretched arms, saving us from our very selves.
Saving God, help us, today and all days To recognise the signs of your presence In our lives and in the lives of others.
Give us the courage to act on what we see. To rid ourselves of selfish ambition And to live our lives in the service of others.
And when we fail, Remind us that by your grace alone we are redeemed and restored.
Through the saving power of Jesus our Lord. Amen.
The Rev’d David Salsbury is minister of Dyserth and Holywell and Training and Development Officer in the National Synod of Wales.