Have you heard the phrase, “the greater good”? It refers to choices for the good of society, the good of a nation, outweighing individual rights. A high priest once spoke about the greater good for Israel.
Then one of them, named Caiaphas, who was high priest that year, spoke up. “You know nothing at all! You do not realize that it is better for you that one man die for the people than that the whole nation perish.” [John 11: 49-50] He was referring to Jesus.
There are two assumptions in Caiaphas’ statement. While it is true that the Romans were oppressing the people of Israel and there were outbursts of violence, the whole nation was not at risk of extinction. Or was he worried about the hierarchy? The priests and Sanhedrin?
Next, he was assuming that the death of Jesus would solve the political unrest. He assumed the death of one man would be a simple solution for a complex situation.
Yet, Jesus chose to suffer and sacrifice his life to complete God’s plan of salvation. Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross did not give the result that Caiaphas expected. It did not save the governing status quo. Jesus died and arose three days later to save individuals. Before his crucifixion he said, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live” [John 11:25]
Jesus was always concerned about the individual. He engaged with people that were despised: lepers, tax collectors, the Samaritan woman. He told the parable of the Lost Sheep as recorded in Matthew’s gospel. He spoke about the value of every child.
See that you do not despise one of these little ones. For I tell you that in heaven their angels always see the face of my Father who is heaven. What do you think? If a man has a hundred sheep, and one of them has gone astray, does he not leave the ninety-nine on the mountains and go in search of the one that went astray? And if he finds it, truly I say to you, he rejoices over it more than over the ninety-nine that never went astray. So it is not the will of my father who is in heaven that one of these little ones should perish. Matthew 18: 10-14
I am reminded of what happened in Germany leading up to WWII. The Nazi government decided that individual rights stood in the way of building a great society. Louise Fein wrote a well-researched novel, Daughter of the Reich. The story begins in 1933, at the start of the Third Reich. As the government became more and more authoritarian, the liberty of the people was increasingly limited. The Jewish people were separated from society and terrorized. It is a haunting tale.
The determination of “the greater good” can be based on a false premise. It can be a power grab. It can involve deception. We should learn from history.
Our leaders need wisdom from God. We need to pray for our country. God is greater than the “greater good”.
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The above illustration is The Good Shepherd painted by Ruth Owen Pook. Photograph by DTGrandfield83, CC BY-SA 4.0 via Wikimedia Commons