Slippery slope

When the great crowd of the Jews learned that he was there, they came not only because of Jesus but also to see Lazarus, whom he had raised from the dead. So the chief priests planned to put Lazarus to death as well, since it was on account of him that many of the Jews were deserting and were believing in Jesus.
— John 12:9-11, NRSV

Thousands of Jews had made the pilgrimage to Jerusalem for the yearly Passover celebration. The buzz among them was whether Jesus would dare show his face in the city; everyone knew he was a marked man.

And then the gossip reached the city: Jesus is here in Bethany. People had heard tales of the wonder-worker, and of the beneficiary of his latest miracle: Lazarus of Bethany, dead and buried four days, raised back to life. They didn’t need to be told twice. For the price of a short journey to Bethany, curiosity seekers could get a two-for-one deal: see Jesus, and get Lazarus as part of the bargain.

They went. And many believed (John 12:9-11).

Earlier, the Pharisees and chief priests had argued among themselves: what should be done about Jesus? What were they accomplishing? Jews were going to Jesus in droves. And for the chief priests who were Sadducees, who didn’t believe in the resurrection of the dead, Lazarus was a particular embarrassment.

In that debate, Caiaphas the chief priest had spoken with arrogant derision: “You boys just don’t get it, do you? For the good of the nation, this one man has to die” (John 11:49-50). But Caiaphas had miscalculated. One man had now become two. If Lazarus was the reason so many Jews were believing in Jesus, then he had to go too.

Such is the slippery slope. We have a problem, a big one. And we have a solution that involves a moral compromise. But what’s one small compromise when weighed against the enormity of the problem itself? Let’s just solve the problem and make everything right. Then we can work at never making that mistake again.

But that’s not the end of it. There’s another, related problem that we hadn’t anticipated. And it requires another compromise, another evil.

I can’t imagine that the Caiaphas and the Sanhedrin were oblivious to the fact that they were proposing to murder Jesus, in direct violation of the commandments. Perhaps they were able to salve their consciences by considering Jesus an enemy of the people.

But Lazarus? What had he done? This was murder, plain and simple.

There’s no record that the chief priests ever carried out their plan against Lazarus. But that kind of moral reasoning — and its consequences — will probably always be with us.