Today’s Gospel reading gives us a spiritual x-ray of Jesus’ opponents. Through these words, we see what causes their souls to become brittle and broken. To take one verse as an example, some of those who saw Jesus raise Lazarus from the dead say “If we leave him alone, all will believe in him, and the Romans will come and take away both our land and our nation." Sin fractures and divides, even the mind against itself.
Jesus’ opponents somehow pass directly over the raising of a dead man to life after four days, and immediately turn the focus on themselves and their selfish ambitions. They are concerned about losing ‘their’ land, as if it were not God to whom it ultimately belonged. They refer to Israel in the posessisve sense as ‘their’ nation, when it was God’s people from the very beginning, a posession, at it were, of God. They would rather squabble for scraps off the Roman table then to receive with gladness the Lord acting among them in more powerful ways than ever before. They want to rule in the penurious city of man instead of dwelling in the City of God.
One of the chief defects of the sin contangion is that man sees himself in competition with God. Either I do something or God does it. If God is acting, then I am not. If God is in control, then I have no control. Sin causes us to see God as a threat to our autonomy. He becomes a threat to our motivations and devices. These are all false dichotomies, brought about by an errant collapsing of the Creator/creature distinction.
The Incarnate Son of God demonstrates in His very Person that God and man, God and creation itself, are not in competition with one another. But this idea is precisely what exacerbates the anxiety of Jesus’ adversaries. They see God progressively encroaching on their territory, now too close for comfort. The entire order by which they have directed their lives is demonstrably undermined and instead of yielding and cooperating with grace, they decide take up arms against it. They fail to see that, at bottom, grace and nature are never in real competition with one another. Conflicts are only superficial, and will eventually melt away in the light of the divine Son.