Grace to you!
In the paradox of life, God reveals His presence. In little things and, sometimes, seemingly unrelated events, God’s will is manifested. Occasionally, we suppose God isn’t in charge of history. Years after, we realize even the smallest of “the plots” show His ultimate purpose.
Take for instance the life and ministry of Saint Cabrini. She had a plan, a vision, for religious life in Italy or to head to India so as to found a religious order. Then came series of health issues. She didn’t know God was using her delicate and precarious health to direct her to His ultimate plan in North America. Pope Leo XIII’s prophetic words to her, “Not to the East, but to the West” came at the right time. Cabrini’s story is one of the women who were pacesetters in the early 20th century. God’s ways aren’t ours.
Reading the story in John 11:45-56, one would see at least three paradoxes of divine plan. First, Jesus the Lord had performed many signs, the most recent being raising Lazarus form the dead. It was one of the Old Testament proofs that the messiah must perform miracles (see Is 35:5–6; 61:1; 40:9; 52:7).
Many came to believe in him; except many in religious authority, who, though they acknowledged he had performed many signs, still refused to believe in him. Scripture noted: “So the chief priests and the Pharisees gathered the council, and said, ‘What are we to do? For this man performs many signs. If we let him go on thus, everyone will believe in him, and the Romans will come and destroy both our holy place and our nation’” (Jn 11:47-48).
This suggests that no matter the evidence of divine presence, there are many who will see the signs of God and yet refuse to believe. Sometimes their unbelief could be because of social or political concerns. The protestant theologian, Paul Tillich, was spot-on when he argued that concerns for the state or politics could be a cover for a pseudo-god, the god of nationalism or politics. For so-called nationalism, the chief priest and the Pharisees in the story refused to accept the witness of Jesus. They refused to believe. It’s a paradox that the most religious of the time (chief priests and Pharisees) refused to believe in the signs of the religious. Just like it is a paradox that many times, the most sceptical of religious experiences are “professional” theologians.
It’s also a paradox that Caiaphas, the high priest, made a prophecy, encouraging the killing of an innocent person: “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 expedient for you that one man should die for the people, and that the whole nation should not perish” (Jn 11:49-50). This is just as ironical as the so-called defenders of human rights make laws to extinguish the right to life of the most vulnerable in our society—senior citizens and unborn children.
As Scripture noted, Caiaphas was prophesying about the necessity of salvation for the whole nation by the death of the Christ, without knowing he was actually declaring God’s will. Salvation for the nations came through the crucifixion and resurrection of the Christ. This is the second paradox. “All things work for good for those who believe” (Rm 8:28).
Since God is in charge of history, nothing is capable of preventing Him from achieving His ultimate purpose in Christ. The irony of life is the sweetness of God’s vision, because in all the complexities, God’s will is revealed.
The thirst paradox in the story is Jesus showing us the power of prudential judgment. Because the Lord’s time had not yet come, he withdrew from the public view. His withdrawal didn’t stop people from looking for him. He withdrew; and many who came to Jerusalem were looking for him, asking if he would come for the feast.
Lesson: There are times we need to withdraw from public view. The withdrawal comes with deeper longing. It’s a blessing too.
As we withdraw in the silence of Holy Week beginning tomorrow, may we ask for the grace to rediscover the value of silence, as well as journey with Christ through the holiest time of the year. Amen.
God love you. God bless you.
Fr. Maurice Emelu
[Saturday, Lent Week 5: Ez 37:21-28: Jn 11:45-56]
Father Maurice provides a daily blog of reflections based on the bible readings of the day from the Catholic liturgical calendar. You will find these reflections helpful for your spiritual growth, inspiration and developing your own thoughts. It may also be helpful for ministers in preparing their sermons for liturgical celebrations.