Saturday of the 5th Week of Lent

Ezekiel 37:21-28; Jeremiah 31:10, 11-12abcd, 13; John 11:45-56

When I was 7, I ran away from home. I figured I had to; Mom was forcing me to do all this horrible stuff: school, chores, Confession every other Saturday. So one day, after she said I was being particularly annoying, I decided now was the time: I’d go to St. Louis and live with my uncle. What a great idea; he lived close to where the Cardinals played baseball, was a lot of fun, and he’d love me hanging out with him every day. Best of all, no chores! So, I went upstairs and got some stuff. I packed light. We lived in Denver, Colorado, and on the map it looked like an easy trip; just walk across Kansas and you’re in St. Louis. So I left, pretty pleased with myself. My plan was perfect.

Or so I thought. When I got to the highway a police car pulled up. They asked me who I was and where I was going, so I told them. I couldn’t believe it; rather than compliment me on a great plan, they made me get in the squad car. Next thing I knew, we pulled up at home. Mom and Dad were standing there and, judging by their faces, it didn’t look like they were going to be calling my plan perfect, either.

All this is why I think I understand how Caiaphas felt when he prophesied, It is better for you that one man should die instead of the people, so that the whole nation may not perish (John 11:50). He was probably pretty pleased with himself, too. By the death of this one man, Jesus, he could broker peace among the people, placate Rome, keep a firm grasp on his power, and maybe go down in Jewish history as the high priest who saved Israel from destruction. His plan was perfect.

Or so he thought. Jesus did die as Caiaphas planned, but everything else went exactly opposite of the way he expected: Jesus rose from the dead, the social unrest grew, the people rebelled against Rome, and in response the Roman army burned Jerusalem and the Temple to the ground. It was not a perfect plan at all.

The truth is that there is only one perfect plan. We call it providence, or God’s loving plan to guide his creation toward perfection (Catechism of the Catholic Church, §302). We heard some of its key elements in the first reading and the psalm: Israel, gathered together in unity under one shepherd; her people cleansed from their sins, given a new heart and a new spirit; God dwelling with them in his sanctuary forever.

Although the office of high priest did have the gift of prophesy, Caiaphas could not see beyond his own ambition. From the depths of his own desires, he prophesied the death of Christ as an end in itself, not for what it was: the prelude to the resurrection, through which Christ would fulfill the words of Ezekiel – a new Israel, the Church; a divine Shepherd who washed her clean by the blood of his cross and gave her authority to absolve sins in his Name; who with the Father gave her a new heart by sending the Holy Spirit; and who dwells among his people forever in Word and Sacrament. This was, is, and always will be the perfection of God’s plan.

Given this, it is especially moving to hear those near the Temple asking, What do you think? That he will not come to the feast (John 11:56)? Of course he will. That is the plan; Jesus is the feast!

So, as we stand on the threshold of Holy Week, let us take a moment now to thank God for his wonderful providence, most truly shown in the gift of his only Son, our Lord, Jesus Christ. He is our hope, our joy, and our confidence. May his steadfast love for us and his Father, so perfectly on display throughout his passion, remind us that God’s plan is the only plan that matters, and that we are the reason for it. And let us pray that the plans we make for our own lives, however imperfect, are always in union with, and built upon, God’s perfect plan. As God himself has told us so beautifully, For I know well the plans I have in mind for you… plans for your welfare and not for woe, so as to give you a future of hope. When you call me, and come and pray to me, I will listen to you (Jeremiah 29:11-12).

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