A Reflection for the Saturday of the Fifth Week of Lent
Is sacrificing one life for the good and prosperity of others the right thing to do? Let us consider The Lottery by Shirley Jackson, a fictional short story which depicts a small village of three hundred people who conduct a yearly summer lottery (based on a forgotten tradition) that selects a person who will be stoned to death in hopes that his/her sacrifice of life will produce a successful autumn harvest. Is this practice reasonable and logical? We may condemn this ritual as archaic, absurd and superstitious, a senseless act of violence that in no way would actually impact the success of the harvest. Now I pose the same question of sacrificing one’s life for the betterment of others but ask you to consider today’s gospel reading from John. Caiaphas the high priest had similar thoughts as the villagers from The Lottery, noting that “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). Like the villagers, Caiaphas worried about physical, earthly outcomes. His plot to kill Jesus was born to save his reputation and social status as well as to avoid the negative consequences of Romans stealing their land and their nation, which is ironic because the Romans did exactly that after Jesus’s death. Although Caiaphas correctly prophesied that Jesus would die for the masses, his motives and mindset were on the corporeal, earthly plane.
However, central to Jesus’s role as the Messiah and his mission for humanity, is sacrifice. The purpose of the crucifixion—the ultimate sacrifice of life—was to show God’s infinite love for creation by saving us from sin. To fulfill the prophesies, it was necessary for Jesus to die and to be resurrected for the good of others. Jesus’s sacrifice was absolutely essential for us to turn away from sin and for our souls to become closer to God the Father. His death and resurrection transcended our earthly needs and benefitted our spiritual wellbeing; therefore, it was the right thing to do. Although we are not asked to sacrifice our lives for our friends—because Jesus has already made the ultimate sacrifice for us—we can prioritize making small and large sacrifices in the form of service to others during Lent and outside of Lent. We can perform corporal and spiritual Works of Mercy such as donating our time and funds to assist local food banks, writing to and Zoom calling those that are sick, elderly, or imprisoned, or conducting socially-distanced prayer groups to pray for the living and the dead. As we move into Holy Week, let us reflect more deeply on Jesus’s sacrifice as the ransom for the many and on our own ways to sacrifice for the welfare of others.