April 2, 2012

Caiaphas, presumably, was a well-respected man. To become the high priest, his integrity must have been valued by others.

Yet, when the crunch came, he enunciated the "principle" for which he will be forever remembered: "It is better for you to have one die for the people than to have the whole nation destroyed," Caiaphas told the chief priests and Pharisees (John 11.50).

The one man who was to die was, of course, Jesus. So we deplore Caiaphas and his backers for calling for Jesus' execution.

Many others have made similar decisions, which are not so universally deplored. The American government, for example, dropped atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, directly killing hundreds of thousands of innocent people in order to shorten the Second World War. Indeed, every time somebody does evil so that good will come of it, they are acting on the Caiaphas principle.

There are two paths to success – one is the path of Caiaphas; the other is the path of Jesus. Jesus' way is summed up in the eighth beatitude – "Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness' sake for theirs is the kingdom of heaven."

The person who is righteous will not damage or destroy one good in order to realize a different one. One will not, for example, tell a lie in order to protect one's reputation or in order to sell a product.

The Jewish high priest Caiaphas sacrificed Jesus so that the nation would be saved.


The Jewish high priest Caiaphas sacrificed Jesus so that the nation would be saved.

Many will say – or, at least, think – that this is foolishness. If we are going to make a better world, we at times need to compromise our principles so that we get the best result.

But how are you so sure what is the best result? Who made you God so that you can see all the consequences of your actions? If you cheat on a business deal in order to save some money, maybe you think you caused a good result. However, what effect will your example of dishonesty have on your children and even their children? What effect will your actions have on those you have cheated?


As mentioned earlier in this series, the Greek philosopher Socrates' maxim was, it is better to have evil done to you than it is to do evil to others. Why? Because you are harming your own soul by doing evil; when others hurt you, they can only hurt your body.

St. Paul was unequivocal about the fate of the righteous: "All who want to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted" (2 Timothy 3.12). When you refuse to do evil for the sake of some supposed good, people will scorn you. They will call you weak and fearful, maybe even a fanatic.

Fanaticism, however, is different. It makes one value, such as life or community or truth, absolute and damns all other values. Fanaticism masquerades as high moralism but is really a wrecking crew for everything that is good except the one thing that is valued absolutely.

The eighth beatitude, however, calls us to share personally and creatively in Christ's suffering. The virtue that accompanies this beatitude is self-oblation - offering oneself to God as a living sacrifice.


If this sounds bleak, moral theologian Germain Grisez reminds us, "No sooner does Jesus reveal the awful mystery of the cross than he reveals the wonderful mystery of the resurrection" (Christian Moral Principles, 652).

The Christian way of achieving success – refusing to do evil in order to achieve good – may appear to be a path to worldly failure.

However, we cannot see how God operates. We cannot observe how he uses our sufferings and our refusal to do evil in order to fashion his kingdom. All that we have is his promise that if we accept persecution for the sake of righteousness, the kingdom of heaven will be ours.

In examining one's conscience in the light of the eighth beatitude, one might ask oneself:

  • When have I rationalized doing an immoral action in order to achieve a supposed "greater good"?
  • Have I been willing to suffer so that others might follow Christ?
  • Am I willing to risk worldly failure in order to let God bring success in the way he chooses?
  • Do I always strive to set a good moral example for others?