Tomorrow we begin mass with a reading of Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem to the sound of “Hosanna!” Today the readings tell us how Jesus handled stress as the plots against him thickened in the days just before Hosannas and what we call Holy Week.
Let’s look first at how the plot thickens in today’s Gospel. We learn that people are questioning Mary and Martha of Bethany because the word has gotten around that their brother Lazarus has been raised from the dead. Those who talked to them then went to the chief priests in Jerusalem and to their Pharisee friends. Alarmed, they convened the Sanhedrin. The Sanhedrin was a court of 23 to 71 judges which made the major legal decisions for the Jewish people in Jesus’ time.
It is not hard to see why the Sanhedrin was disturbed by Jesus. People were saying he was the Messiah, but by this time, it was clear that he was neither aiming for nor likely to succeed at a military victory over the Romans. The Sanhedrin’s fear, as spoken in today’s reading, was that Jesus would cause the Romans to take away Jewish freedom. One of the members spoke up: “What are we going to do? This man is performing many signs. If we leave him alone, all will believe in him, and the Romans will come and take away both our land and our nation.” Caiaphas, the high priest, answered, “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.”
How interesting, Caiaphas’ point of view! He didn’t express a decision based on Jewish law, the issue of whether Jesus might be the Messiah, or what God might ask of them! His reasoning made a practical decision: “Jesus is dangerous. Let’s let the Romans take him, so they will leave the rest of us alone.” The decision was made: “From that day on they planned to kill him.”
Meanwhile, Jesus took some time off. “He no longer walked about in public among the Jews.” He laid low, staying with his disciples in Ephraim, on the edge of the desert about 12 miles northeast of Jerusalem. In Monday’s reading we will hear about a party Mary, Martha, and Lazarus had for him. (John 12: 1-11)
I work as a family therapist, and often I encounter people who are not sure when they should take care of themselves and when they should focus on work or the needs of others. I wonder the same thing sometimes. If I take a break, am I being selfish or practicing healthy self-care? It is in this vein that today’s Gospel is interesting to me. Once he entered Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, Jesus was centered on what he needed to say and do in those last few days of his life. But the week before, he left the city to spend time in the desert (where he often went to pray) and to be with his friends. He knew he was going to die. He had been predicting it since the Transfiguration. To get ready, he took time to pray, to rest, and to enjoy life. He didn’t continue to rest once he entered Jerusalem. He worked hard all of Holy Week. But first he took time to gather his strength. While the plot thickened, he relaxed.
What do we do when the plot thickens in our lives? Do we let the stress of what will or might happen possess us before its time? More than one person who has been told he has a limited time to live has said, “I never lived until I knew I was going to die.” In the next to last week of his life, Jesus modeled taking time to relax and be with people he cared about as a way to prepare for the tough times ahead–and perhaps to simply treasure the people he called disciples and friends.
As the first reading from Ezekiel and the psalm show, the Father had been planning the events of Holy Week for centuries. The time of salvation had come. Raising of Lazarus was the final sign that the time was now. The Sanhedrin didn’t see it. But Jesus saw it, accepted what Holy Week would mean, and relaxed.
So often we try to say, hoping our words are true, “It will all be all right. I can trust God.” What we mean is that God will keep terrible, awful things from happening, so, trusting God, we have faith. Jesus shows us something different today. “It will be all right. I can trust God, even though terrible, awful things happen will happen next week. Because with God is goodness. I know Easter Sunday comes after Good Friday. So today I will enjoy my friends in a way that I can never quite enjoy them in the future–as fellow man. I will enjoy what these days bring.”
Thank you Lord for today! Thank you for the people I will be with, the things I will do.
Lord, help me to relax today and live in today’s moments. Let me enjoy friends and family. Let me spend time with You, Lord. Let me trust You enough to let myself relax in the moments of today. Let me pray for such trust if I can’t quite do it now. Help me take Jesus as my model and relish good moments, even if there are also difficult hours today or difficult days to come. Help me find the sunshine.