February 18, 2005

Cost and payment

If there can be, as Archbishop Williams has said, no "cost-free" outcome to the present impasse, it might be well to review the ethics of cost and sacrifice. It is always appropriate, indeed Jesus tells us that it is the highest virtue, to sacrifice oneself for the sake of others. But the gospel also shows us the ultimate evil of the opposite choice: the decision to sacrifice another for one's own, or one's people's own, sake. This was the choice that it was "expedient that one should die for the sake of the many."

The miracle is that Jesus transformed even this ultimate wrong into a saving act, by choosing not to deliver himself (as he assures us he was fully capable of doing) from the wrong judgment brought against him.

Jesus did not undo the choice that Caiaphas made, but transformed it. Caiaphas acted out of fear and expediency, Christ out of charity. The same kinds of choices face us now; and since Christ has redeemed us all, and paid the cost "once for all," is it truly impossible to find a way forward without anyone laying a burden on anyone else's shoulders? We are all called, after all, each of us to take up our own crosses, and rather clearly forbidden from laying them on others.

It is time indeed to count the cost of discipleship. Woe to those who exact it.

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