Homily for April 16, Saturday of the V week of Lent
Throughout the Old Testament, the People of God are forced over and over again to migrate, and to go into exile, and eventually they are allowed to return. Understandably, parts of the nation become dispersed. Conflicts among themselves and with surrounding nations and empires, as well as mixing with other populations, caused further cultural, religious, and geographical divisions. It is not surprising that part of the mission of the Messiah, as foretold in the first reading and the psalm today, is to bring the people of Israel back together to live in their homeland, united in peace and in fidelity to the Lord.
As is the case with other Old Testament messianic prophecies, the life, death and resurrection of Christ brings this promise to fulfillment and gives it an even higher meaning, taking it to another level. In the Gospel reading today, we heard how the chief priests and Pharisees are concerned that the people will proclaim Jesus to be the Messiah and the King of Israel, which could bring the wrath of Rome down upon them. The high priest Caiaphas says that “it is better for you that one man should die instead of the people, so that the whole nation may not perish.” He was thinking about killing Jesus for political reasons, but John the Evangelist explains that this was a prophecy; “Jesus was going to die for the nation, and not only for the nation, but also to gather into one the dispersed children of God.” Not just the children of Israel; all the children of God.
The unity of which St John is speaking here is not the same as was originally imagined by the Israelites. They pictured religious unity, but also geographical and political unity. The unity that Jesus wants for us and wins for us transcends geopolitical categories. His death expiates the sins of all humanity. Through baptism, our sins are washed away through His sacrifice, and we rise with Him as new creations, united in the one Body of Christ which knows no earthly boundaries. There is a greater and more permanent union between a baptized person of native heritage from Mexico and a baptized person from Russia, than there is between two Americans from the same neighborhood if only one of them is a Christian.
The unity that Christ brings us is primarily spiritual and invisible, but we also have to work every day to make it visible and practical through a true spirit of solidarity and forgiveness. May we not arrive at Easter without being sure that we have taken steps to mend any divisions we feel in our own families or our community. Let us reach out to those in need, and let God use us to “turn their mourning into joy,” and “console and gladden them after their sorrows.”