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Jesus is high priest that year

Saturday, March 31, 2007
Saturday 5 of Lent

Readings: Ezekiel 37:21-28; Psalm: Jeremiah 31:10-13; John 11:45-57

Why does John tell us three times that Caiaphas was 'high priest that year' (John 11:49, 51; 18:13)? He was high priest for nineteen years (18-37 AD), so to be told he was high priest in the year of Jesus' arrest is no help in knowing exactly when it was. That, of course, is not the point. John's interest is theological in the first place. Not that the history is unimportant, especially when we recall how Caiaphas' fear about the destruction of the holy place and of the nation came to pass. It made no difference, on that level of secular history, that one man had died for the people. But on other, deeper levels it makes every difference in the world, every difference to the world's history, that in that year this one man died for the nation, and not just for the Jewish nation but to gather into one the children of God who are scattered abroad.

For John, the year in question is not just another year in the high priesthood of Caiaphas. The year in question - and this is why he refers to it three times - is the year in which the High Priest of the new creation entered onto his office. It is the new day, the eighth day, on which the new creation begins. It is the hour in which Jesus passes from this world to the Father. This is more than a paradigm shift, to use a current cliché. In time and beyond time, that year is the moment when Jesus, our great high priest, enters the sanctuary, not one made by human hands, but the true sanctuary that is in heaven, carrying not the blood of bulls and goats, but his own blood, to seal the new and everlasting covenant (Hebrews 9:11-15). That year is the year of Christ's high priesthood and it is a year that never ends, just as the hour of Jesus' intercession with the Father lasts forever.

So Jesus turns his back on the temple made by human hands and goes down to the country, near the wilderness, to a town called Ephraim. It is not known where this town was but its name means 'fruitful'. Jesus goes down to the wilderness that is fruitful. It is fruitful because he is there. The people, on the other hand, go up from the country to Jerusalem and stand in the temple looking for Jesus. The place in which we do not expect to find life is now fruitful whereas the place to which we look for life has become sterile. Jesus is ready for the climax of his work. He had announced it at the beginning of his public ministry: 'destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it up' (John 2:19). 'But he spoke of the temple of his body' (John 2:21) from which the Spirit, the water and the blood will flow, the three witnesses that confirm the sacrifice of love offered by our High Priest so that we might have life (John 19:30, 34-37; 1 John 5:6-12). It is to him that we must now journey, to him that we must go up, this year and always.


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