One and the many, one vs many… all such discussion do happen in theory and practice. It is a main theme in philosophy and science. It is a main point of discussion even in our ordinary lives. I will start with a philosophy problem before getting into the main point of discussion.
A runaway trolley is heading down the tracks toward five workers who will all be killed if the trolley proceeds on its present course. Adam is standing next to a large switch that can divert the trolley onto a different track. The only way to save the lives of the five workers is to divert the trolley onto another track that only has one worker on it. If Adam diverts the trolley onto the other track, this one worker will die, but the other five workers will be saved. What should he do?
Now this is an imaginary situation, but a complicated problem, and our answers can be extremely different. The things can become a little more complicated when one or more persons is close to us.
In the gospel of Saturday (the day before entering into the Holy Week), we have an interesting saying by the high priest of that time. He says,
You do not seem to have grasped the situation at all; you fail to see that it is to your advantage that one man should die for the people, rather than that the whole nation should perish.
As Christians or people of good-will, we might continue to abuse that high priest. I don’t know how many of us would have reacted if we were in the place of high priest, when this Jesus was a danger to many things he held on to. One of the Christian interpretations is that this statement of the high priest was an indirect prophecy of the salvific action going to happen through Jesus. Definitely you will have a lot of time during the holy week to look into that interpretation. But I stay with the original statement here.
I bring one parable of Jesus which is comparable to this statement. It is the parable of the good shepherd who goes in search of the one lost sheep leaving probably the 99 in the safety of guard dogs or other people.
There is a clash of two styles of thinking. One says (with a lot of justness) that we can sacrifice one/a few for the sake of the many (a huge number). A simple logic of quantity. Or it is okay to sacrifice the lives of a huge number of poor for the sake of a few rich. The point is that, we consider it okay to sacrifice “the unimportant” for the sake of “important”. Definitely terms like important and unimportant are defined by us. Here Jesus brings a counter-thinking… going in search of “the unimportant” to bring it back to proper life.
This radical 180 degree turn, invited by Jesus, is not so easy. Even the church, which is founded by Jesus, don’t come anywhere close to this. There are some rare individuals who really become the followers of that counter-thinking. Probably Holy Week is a time to move a little closer to that radical thinking of Jesus, which never forgets the “unimportant”. Or the craftsman of the Kingdom of God says that those pieces are “extremely significant.”