It’s one of the most gripping game-changer scenes in the Bible: After Lazarus is raised from the dead, local Jewish leaders gather to discuss what to do with this problematic rabbi named Jesus. They’re in awe of the miracles but afraid that if people put allegiance in Jesus, Rome will “take away both our place and our nation” (NIV, John 11:49). The high priest Caiaphas – a leader of leaders – gives his unequivocal recommendation: “You do not realize that it is better for you that one man die for the people than that the whole nation perish” (NIV, John 11:50). And as a result, the Jewish leaders begin to plot Jesus’s death.
Before you read further, think about this for a moment: Was Caiaphas wrong?
In a way, Caiaphas was half right, as John notes in verses 51-52. Jesus would die for the Jewish nation as a result of their plot, but that wasn’t the end of the story. His death would unify all of the children of God.
Reading this made me realize how easy it is to live a life based on wrong-headed, unexamined half-truths, following pronouncements of respected thought leaders. Caiaphas’s name translates as “rock,” just like Peter’s name “Cephas.” In a situation where fear of Roman retribution meant loss of status, at the very least, or even danger to yourself or your family at worst, his words must have seemed rock-solid to those looking for guidance.
And I realized how simple it is to live an entire life clinging to half-truths that allow you to maintain your “place” and position of power. We hear about Caiaphas after Christ’s death and resurrection, in Acts 4, where he is named as part of the Sanhedrin, cautioning Peter and John against spreading the name of Jesus. Evidently he held to the same “keep the peace” strategy. We don’t know for sure, but he may well have lived the rest of his life unaware of how badly he erred. What a loss.
Who saves the day?
On the heels of studying this passage, this video popped into my Facebook feed:
Even if you scroll through the video timeline without watching it, you can see the images that Hollywood assigns to African men: Violent soldier, uncontrolled, poor father figure, unfeeling, unsmiling.
It’s a half-truth I accept too easily from a huge cultural influencer, because at the end of a long workday, when I’m streaming a movie depicting someone from another culture, or someone from a culture I don’t mix with in daily life, all too often my brain shuts off. I deserve not to think, I tell myself. I slaved to secure my spot in the hard-working Land of the Free and Home of the Brave. I don’t want to be confronted by anything that suggests I’m not the top dog. Deep down, I like it when my culture’s white media heroes save the day (having just watched Sahara again last weekend). In the most rudimentary parts of my brain, when I look like I’m from the same tribe as the action hero, my culture comes out on top.
It’s so easy
This is despite the fact I’ve been to East Africa various times, going back to the early 1990s, mostly visiting with Food for the Hungry (FH) staff. In Kenya, Ethiopia, Uganda, Rwanda and Democratic Republic of the Congo, aside from military personnel who are supposed to carry guns, I’ve never met the type of man depicted in the normal Hollywood film.
Instead I’ve seen people like my colleague Mesele, who traveled with me in parts of Ethiopia where even he had never been before. I didn’t realize until after the trip how hard he had worked in this unfamiliar environment, to find safe places for me to stay, with palatable food. I’ve met fathers struggling to keep their kids in school so they can have a better life. I have laughed so hard with African men (and women) while breaking bread together that tears were running down my face.
Even with my personal experience, my sinful nature still watches Sahara without thinking about the implications.
Enjoying an action flick set in Africa seems to be a far cry from sentencing a man to death, as Caiphas and his fellow leaders did. But a journey starts off with a single easy step – and I mean that in the best way. Looking for any small way to embrace the whole truth, to see others the way God created them, to open yourself to the whole story God wants to tell, will put you on the better path.
What are ways in your daily life that you fail to hear the whole story? Add your voice to the conversation.