Apr 9, 2022: Saturday of the Fifth Week of Lent

1st Reading – Ezekiel 37:21-28

Thus says the Lord GOD:
I will take the children of Israel from among the nations
to which they have come,
and gather them from all sides to bring them back to their land.
I will make them one nation upon the land,
in the mountains of Israel,
and there shall be one prince for them all.
Never again shall they be two nations,
and never again shall they be divided into two kingdoms.

No longer shall they defile themselves with their idols,
their abominations, and all their transgressions.
I will deliver them from all their sins of apostasy,
and cleanse them so that they may be my people
and I may be their God.
My servant David shall be prince over them,
and there shall be one shepherd for them all;
they shall live by my statutes and carefully observe my decrees.
They shall live on the land that I gave to my servant Jacob,
the land where their fathers lived;
they shall live on it forever,
they, and their children, and their children’s children,
with my servant David their prince forever.
I will make with them a covenant of peace;
it shall be an everlasting covenant with them,
and I will multiply them, and put my sanctuary among them forever.
My dwelling shall be with them;
I will be their God, and they shall be my people.
Thus the nations shall know that it is I, the LORD,
who make Israel holy,
when my sanctuary shall be set up among them forever.

Ezekiel was one of the Jewish exiles deported from the Holy Land by Nebuchadnezzar in 597 BC. He became a prophet in Babylon, the first prophet to receive his calling outside of Israel.

Today’s reading is from the latter half of the Book of Ezekiel, which enumerates the promises of the people’s restoration and deliverance for the glory of God.

Thus says the Lord GOD: I will take the children of Israel from among the nations to which they have come, and gather them from all sides to bring them back to their land.

God assures the people that he will re-gather the house of Israel, even in their fractured disbursement among their enemies, and bring them out of their captivity, returning them to their own land.

I will make them one nation upon the land, in the mountains of Israel, and there shall be one prince for them all. Never again shall they be two nations, and never again shall they be divided into two kingdoms.

In 1 Kings 12, the kingdom of Israel was divided into two. The southern kingdom was known as Judah, with Jerusalem as its capital and one of David’s descendants as their king. The northern kingdom, composed of ten tribes, was known as Israel (also called Ephraim). Samaria eventually became its capital and its dynasties frequently changed.

Even in their exile, these two factions were divided among themselves; too much of the old enmity between Judah and Ephraim remained.

God’s amazing restoration will not only return the exiles to their cherished homeland, it will also reunite them into one nation.

No longer shall they defile themselves with their idols, their abominations, and all their transgressions. I will deliver them from all their sins of apostasy, and cleanse them so that they may be my people and I may be their God.

The terrible experience of exile will purify the people of their inclination to idolatry.

God often uses terrible things to bring about an even greater good.

My servant David shall be prince over them, and there shall be one shepherd for them all; they shall live by my statutes and carefully observe my decrees. They shall live on the land that I gave to my servant Jacob, the land where their fathers lived; they shall live on it forever, they, and their children, and their children’s children, with my servant David their prince forever.

These verses are widely seen as messianic, from the reference to David and the emphasis on the fact that the nation will abide in the land forever.

I will make with them a covenant of peace; it shall be an everlasting covenant with them, and I will multiply them, and put my sanctuary among them forever.

Peace is the greatest of the messianic gifts (Isaiah 9:5); it implies safety from external enemies but, above all, peace with God and neighbor.

My dwelling shall be with them; I will be their God, and they shall be my people.

Having been purified, the people will once again be graced with God’s special presence.

Thus the nations shall know that it is I, the LORD, who make Israel holy, when my sanctuary shall be set up among them forever.

When Israel has been reformed and God has returned in mercy to them, the Gentiles (“the nations”) will see God’s wondrous deeds and know that God himself sanctifies Israel.

Responsorial Psalm – Jeremiah 31:10-13

R. The Lord will guard us, as a shepherd guards his flock.

Today’s responsorial comes from the Book of Jeremiah. Like Ezekiel in our first reading, Jeremiah predicts the restoration of Israel, which will relive the experience of enjoying the love and protection of God.

Hear the word of the LORD, O nations, proclaim it on distant isles, and say: He who scattered Israel, now gathers them together, he guards them as a shepherd his flock. The LORD shall ransom Jacob, he shall redeem him from the hand of his conqueror.

The dispersed exiles shall be brought together again. Those who were sold and alienated shall be redeemed and brought back, not with a price, but with power.

This shall be such an astounding moment that even the Gentile nations are exhorted to proclaim it across their lands, even “on distant isles.”

Shouting, they shall mount the heights of Zion,

When they shall have returned to their own land they will shout and sing to the praise and glory of God at the top of Mount Zion.

they shall come streaming to the LORD’s blessings: the grain, the wine, and the oil, the sheep and the oxen. Then the virgins shall make merry and dance, and young men and old as well.

God will shower blessings upon them, demonstrating his kindness and tender love toward his people. The people will go from being destitute to having an overwhelming abundance.

The people will flock toward these graces, streaming in large numbers.

I will turn their mourning into joy, I will console and gladden them after their sorrows.

The people will not only have material comforts, they will also be blessed with joy and consolation. This is truly reason to sing God’s praises!

Gospel – John 11:45-56

Many of the Jews who had come to Mary
and seen what Jesus had done began to believe in him.
But some of them went to the Pharisees
and told them what Jesus had done.
So the chief priests and the Pharisees
convened the Sanhedrin and said,
“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.”
But one of them, Caiaphas,
who was high priest that year, said to them,
“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.”
He did not say this on his own,
but since he was high priest for that year,
he prophesied that 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.
So from that day on they planned to kill him.

So Jesus no longer walked about in public among the Jews,
but he left for the region near the desert,
to a town called Ephraim,
and there he remained with his disciples.

Now the Passover of the Jews was near,
and many went up from the country to Jerusalem
before Passover to purify themselves.
They looked for Jesus and said to one another
as they were in the temple area, “What do you think?
That he will not come to the feast?”

We continue our journey in John’s gospel. At the conclusion of yesterday’s reading, Jesus left the hostility of Jerusalem and went to a remote corner of the country across the Jordan River, where John had baptized him and where he was well received.

Jesus remained there for a time, probably several weeks. The news that his friend Lazarus was gravely ill compelled him to return to Judea, where he raised Lazarus from the dead (John 11:1-44).

Many of the Jews who had come to Mary and seen what Jesus had done began to believe in him. But some of them went to the Pharisees and told them what Jesus had done.

Lazarus had two sisters, Martha and Mary. Many people had gone to visit Mary in her grief over the death of her brother, and witnessed Jesus’ raising him from the dead. In John’s gospel, this astounding event is the climax of all Jesus’ signs.

Presented with this miracle, some people believe in Jesus, and some denounce him to his enemies — confirming what Jesus taught in the parable of the rich man: “neither will they be convinced if someone should rise from the dead” (Luke 16:31).

So the chief priests and the Pharisees convened the Sanhedrin and said, “What are we going to do? This man is performing many signs.

Note that they don’t refute the signs Jesus has performed. The Sanhedrin seems to acknowledge the authenticity of Jesus’ miracles and yet continues to deny his identity as the Messiah.

If we leave him alone, all will believe in him, and the Romans will come and take away both our land and our nation.”

What is translated here as “our land” is literally “our place” in the Greek. This expression or similar expressions (“the place”, “this place”, “our holy place”) was used to designate the temple, the holy place par excellence, and by extension, all the Holy City of Jerusalem (2 Maccabees 5:19, Acts 6:14).

As typical of John’s gospel, there is irony here: Their concerns about the destruction of Jerusalem by the hands of the Romans is precisely what happened after Jesus’ death.

But one of them, Caiaphas, who was high priest that year, said to them, “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.”

Caiaphas held the high priesthood from 18-36 AD. He was the instrument God used to prophesy the redemptive death of the Savior, for it was one of the functions of the high priest to consult God on how to lead the people (Exodus 28:30; Numbers 27:21; 1 Samuel 23:9, 30:7-8).

He did not say this on his own, but since he was high priest for that year, he prophesied that Jesus was going to die for the nation,

Caiaphas’ words have a dual meaning: 1) the meaning Caiaphas intended, which is his desire to put Jesus to death on the pretext that will ensure the political peace and survival of Israel, and 2) the meaning intended by the Holy Spirit, which is the announcement of the foundation of the new Israel, the Church, through the death of Christ on the cross.

Caiaphas, of course, is unaware of this second meaning. And so it happens that the last high priest of the Old Alliance prophesies the investiture of the High Priest of the New Alliance, which will be sealed with his own blood.

and not only for the nation, but also to gather into one the dispersed children of God.

The prophets had already announced the future assembly of faithful Israelites to form the new people of Israel (Isaiah 43:5; Jeremiah 23:3-5; Ezekiel 34:23, 37:21-24 (our first reading)).

These prophesies are fulfilled by the death of Christ, who, on being raised up on the cross, draws and gathers together the true people of God, composed of all believers, whether Israelite or not.

So from that day on they planned to kill him.

The result of this debate is a resolve of the council to put Jesus to death. They are united in their intention and now actively set about determining how to carry it out.

This also demonstrates the unfairness of Jesus’ eventual trial and conviction: far from being an impartial proceeding, it was simply a means by which the Jewish leadership would accomplish their plan — and a flagrant abuse of their authority.

So Jesus no longer walked about in public among the Jews, but he left for the region near the desert, to a town called Ephraim, and there he remained with his disciples.

We are not told how Jesus knew of the Sanhedrin’s plans, perhaps by his divine power.

The time for Jesus to die has not yet arrived, therefore he acts prudently, taking the steps anyone would take not to precipitate events. Jesus withdraws from public life to an obscure town near the wilderness.

This withdrawal from Jerusalem may have also served as a mark of Jesus’ sadness and displeasure with the people there. It would also make his final return into Jerusalem, when his hour has come, the all the more remarkable and dramatic.

Now the Passover of the Jews was near, and many went up from the country to Jerusalem before Passover to purify themselves.

Since the Passover was the most solemn Jewish feast, the people used to arrive in Jerusalem some days in advance to prepare for it by washings, fasts, and offerings — practices established not by Mosaic Law but by popular piety. The rites of the Passover itself, with the sacrificing of the lamb, were a rite of purification and expiation for sins.

They looked for Jesus and said to one another as they were in the temple area, “What do you think? That he will not come to the feast?”

This inquiry about Jesus during his hiatus can be interpreted three ways: 1) the people asking after him are those who had come to Jerusalem “from the country,” who either wished him well or had heard of him and were hoping to hear his teaching and/or see his miracles themselves, or 2) it’s Jesus’ enemies who are asking for him, in their efforts to arrest or kill him, 3) both are true.

Regardless, God is in control.

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