O Lord, open our lips
and our mouth shall proclaim your praise.
you gave up your Son
out of love for the world:
lead us to ponder the mysteries of his passion,
that we may know eternal peace
through the shedding of our Saviour’s blood,
Jesus Christ our Lord.
I lift up my eyes to the hills;
from where is my help to come?
My help comes from the Lord,
the maker of heaven and earth.
He will not suffer your foot to stumble;
he who watches over you will not sleep.
Behold, he who keeps watch over Israel
shall neither slumber nor sleep.
The Lord himself watches over you;
the Lord is your shade at your right hand,
So that the sun shall not strike you by day,
neither the moon by night.
The Lord shall keep you from all evil;
it is he who shall keep your soul.
The Lord shall keep watch over your going out
and your coming in,
from this time forth for evermore.
Glory to the Father and to the Son
and to the Holy Spirit;
as it was in the beginning, is now
and shall be for ever. Amen.
Many of the Jews who had come with Mary and had seen what Jesus did, believed in him. But some of them went to the Pharisees and told them what he had done. So the chief priests and the Pharisees called a meeting of the council, and said, ‘What are we to do? This man is performing many signs. If we let him go on like this, everyone will believe in him, and the Romans will come and destroy both our holy place and our nation.’ 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 better for you to have one man die for the people than to have the whole nation destroyed.’ He did not say this on his own, but being high priest that year he prophesied that Jesus was about to die for the nation, and not for the nation only, but to gather into one the dispersed children of God. So from that day on they planned to put him to death.
Jesus therefore no longer walked about openly among the Jews, but went from there to a town called Ephraim in the region near the wilderness; and he remained there with the disciples.
Now the Passover of the Jews was near, and many went up from the country to Jerusalem before the Passover to purify themselves. They were looking for Jesus and were asking one another as they stood in the temple, ‘What do you think? Surely he will not come to the festival, will he?’ Now the chief priests and the Pharisees had given orders that anyone who knew where Jesus was should let them know, so that they might arrest him.
… it is better for you to have one man die for the people …
On a superficial level the words of Caiaphas, the Jewish High Priest, make sense. The sacrifice of just one person can be presented as justifiable when the alternative could bring about the destruction of a whole nation. But, there is another, more sinister, way of looking at this argument.
In the late eighteenth century, the English philosopher, Jeremy Bentham, proposed the ethical philosophy of utilitarianism. The notion upon which this philosophy was founded centred on the justification of any action that could be shown as maximizing the ‘happiness’ and ‘well-being’ of all affected individuals. As we take a first glance at Bentham’s hypothesis, most of us will see a major problem: the definition of ‘happiness’ and ‘well-being’. This is so subjective an issue that it can easily give rise to the subjugation of the less articulate by those who can spread their message faster and to greater effect. However, despite this and other flaws in the utilitarian approach to decision making, this ethical system did not go away.
In the 1860s, the philosopher, economist and politician, John Stuart Mill, tweaked Bentham’s definition of utilitarianism. Rather than speaking of ‘happiness’ and ‘well-being’, Mill spoke of the ‘good’ of the majority. In this simple linguistic shuffle of the deck, Mill was aligning himself with the reasoning of Caiaphas in today’s reading. Mill was proposing an ethical philosophy that could, if taken to its logical extreme, justify the killing of another human being. Mill’s manipulation of Bentham’s philosophical theory brought him round to Caiaphas’ way of thinking.
The essential problem with Caiaphas’ argument is that it leaves no room for the truth. Jesus is the Messiah, the Anointed One of God. Jesus does preach a new message which challenges much that has been constructed for the glorification of the few. Jesus does call us all into an equal ministry of love and service. These are all truths that can challenge our notions of hierarchy and self-importance. These are truths that will lead some into preaching a different, un-Christian doctrine of ‘happiness’, ‘well-being’ and ‘good’.
Let us pray for the strength to remain true to the teachings of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, who brings salvation to all who remain faithful in following him.
Prayers of Intercession
Let us pray to the Father whose Son died and rose on the third day for our salvation.
Gather the Church under the wings of divine love and keep her in holiness. Bless her witness, and make her a sure refuge for all who seek salvation.
Have mercy on the world where so many follow their selfish ways and seek false goals. Enlighten them and bring them to knowledge of the truth.
Grant us perfect trust in your promises for our families and all whom we love. Free us from anxiety for the future. In all our relationships grant us the fellowship that is in Christ.
Have mercy on victims of violence and all who suffer for their faith. Visit and heal the sick in mind and all who are in the grip of evil power.
Receive the souls of the departed, changing their mortal bodies into the glorious bodies of resurrection. May they rest in peace and rise in glory.
Rejoicing that we are gathered safely in the love of Christ, we make our prayers through him.
Prayer for the week
Almighty and everlasting God,
whose Son our Saviour Jesus Christ
triumphed in death on the cross
that he might win life for the world;
help us in the power of his victory
to triumph over evil
and to glory in his cross alone;
who is alive and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God for ever and ever.
The Lord’s Prayer
Let us pray with confidence as our Saviour has taught us
Our Father, who art in heaven,
hallowed be thy name;
thy kingdom come;
thy will be done;
on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread.
And forgive us our trespasses,
as we forgive those who trespass against us.
And lead us not into temptation;
but deliver us from evil.
For thine is the kingdom,
the power and the glory,
for ever and ever. Amen.
The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ,
and the love of God,
and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit,
be with us all evermore. Amen.
Teach me, my God and King,
in all things thee to see;
and what I do in anything
to do it as for thee.
A servant with this clause
makes drudgery divine;
who sweeps a room, as for thy laws,
makes that and the action fine.
George Herbert (1593–1633)