“One Man Should Die for the People”Fr. Barnabas Powell
Have you ever heard of the story of the donkey who saved a prophet’s life by talking to him? And you thought your dreams were strange! Seriously, this powerful story in the First Testament is worth your time! Read the whole story in Numbers 22.
To make a long story short, Balaam is something of a prophet and some enemies of the Jews in the area want to hire him to curse the Jews so these enemies may win a battle. Balaam heads out to go with these guys when the donkey that he is riding sees an angel in the road with a drawn sword! The donkey (wisely) turns away, but Balaam doesn’t see the angel so he pulls the donkey back on the road. This happens three times and Balaam eventually beats the donkey for refusing to go further toward certain death at the hands of the angel! Then the story gets interesting when the donkey looks at her master and begins to speak, telling Balaam there’s an angel on the road with a drawn sword, and “Why are you beating me when I’m trying to save both our lives!” Listen to the donkey, you stubborn man!
The truth is even those who don’t know they are doing God’s will find themselves doing it because God loves humanity and desires the salvation of all men!
Look at our Gospel Lesson today in John 11:47-54:
At that time, the chief priests and the Pharisees gathered the council, and said, “What are we to do? For this man performs many signs. If we let him go on thus, every one 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 expedient for you that one man should die for the people, and that the whole nation should not perish.” He did not say this of his own accord, but being high priest that year he prophesied that Jesus should die for the nation, and not for the nation only, but to gather into one the children of God who are scattered abroad. So from that day on they took counsel how to put him to death.
Jesus therefore no longer went about openly among the Jews, but went from there to the country near the wilderness, to a town called Ephraim; and there he stayed with the disciples.
These Jewish leaders are at a loss as to how to deal with the popularity of Jesus in the eyes of the people and how that popularity may be misunderstood by their Roman occupiers. The leaders were afraid that if the Romans perceived the Lord’s popularity as a political threat to their military rule, then the Romans would sweep in with their armies and destroy the nation and the temple! The truth is these leaders were right to be afraid. The Romans had earned a reputation for dealing swiftly with any hint of disruption in their ruling from rebellious provinces. But the Chief Priest of the day intervenes in the discussion with some wisdom not entirely from his own heart! He tells these leaders that one man should die to save the nation! Sound familiar?
So, the High Priest of the Jewish Temple finds himself thinking he is solving a political problem when in fact he is cooperating with the love of God to heal all of humanity through Christ’s sacrifice on the Cross! By his position of ordained service in God’s Temple, this man thought he was saving the people by killing Jesus! It turns out he was serving God’s Purpose without realizing just how profound his words were. In the great flow of history, there have been many who thought they were destroying the Faith when, in fact, they were strengthening it.
Does this give you an insight into God’s love for you? Can you now have a category that even those who “oppose” God and His Church are actually potential partners with God’s plan and His wisdom for your life? With this possibility informing your perspective, you can now rest even in the middle of difficult times, knowing the Lord Who loves you says “All things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose.” (Romans 8:28) And because this is always true in your life and my life, we are free to see all that comes to us today as a “gift” to strengthen our faith and further create the character of Christ within us. Nothing is wasted. No tear is useless. No trouble is not filled with potential treasure. This is what your life truly is IF you dare to trust that God knows what He is doing!
St. Autonomos was a bishop in Italy in the 3rd century. The persecution of the Christians was intense in his area of the Empire, so Autonomos fled to Bithynia, but he kept on preaching and converting the people to Christ as he traveled. As he was doing the Divine Liturgy one day, a group of those who worshipped stone and wood broke into the place and beat him sending him to his eternal rest. But notice, that even though he was forced to flee persecution, he kept on preaching. He kept on spreading the message. The persecution got him moving and sharing the Faith in areas he might have never gone had it not been for the persecution itself. So even the evils done to him served to spread the Christian Faith! This is the unconquerable victory of Christ!
Today, all who wander aren’t lost. All who oppose the faith aren’t abandoned. All who hate us aren’t enemies. The Story isn’t over for any of us. Knowing this reality today, you can “treat all that comes to” you today “with peace of soul and with the firm conviction that” God’s will governs all. Let us embrace the purposes of our Lord Who loves us and gave Himself for us, and let us rest in His Story for our lives. Don’t be so clueless that a donkey has to talk some sense into you! Let’s live this victorious Normal Orthodox Life!
P.S. O wise one, you were initiated solemnly in matters divine, O Martyr, blest Autonomos. You were made a pleasing sacrifice when you drank the cup of Christ; and while standing before Him now, you ceaselessly pray to Him for all of us.