Immersed in Christ: January 18, 2021
Monday of the Second Week in Ordinary Time
Hebrews 5:1-10; Psalm 110; Mark 2:18-22.
“You are a priest forever....”
The goal of Hebrews is to present Jesus as the unique High Priest — not just the best of all priests, but a priest of a different order —just as God is not the “best” in a series of beings, but Being Itself and the Good that includes all goods.”1
Likewise, Jesus’ Sacrifice is unique: not the “best” in a series of sacrifices, but different from all others in its nature and being. To understand this, we first ask why we need any priest or “mediator” between ourselves and God. And what were sacrifices for in the first place?
We Christians grew up knowing God as our all-loving Father, to whom we have instant access. But primitive “pagans” didn’t. Even the Jews were afraid of face-to-face encounter with the Most High. When God called Moses to give him the Commandments, they said, “You talk to him; we are not going up there!” Without a revealed invitation, what creature would presume to approach God? And if we have sinned, what assures us of a welcome?2
In many religions, even Judaism, people offered prayers and sacrifices to placate God, or “make satisfaction” for sins. The presumption was that sins produce anger in God that we can remove by “paying” for them. When God forgives, the change takes place in him, not in us. And because we weren’t sure of God’s attitude, we used mediators or priests to intercede for us: special people who do not “presume to take this honor, but take it only when called by God,” as the Jewish priests were. Priests have an official “in” with God.
But these sacrifices didn’t take away our guilt feelings, because deep down we know that our sins change us, not God. They are part of our history, inscribed in our being. Forgiveness doesn’t change the fact that we did what we did and are what we are because of it. So, Hebrews tells us, these priests keep “offering again and again the same sacrifices that can never take away sins.” And that is the key.
In every Mass we proclaim Jesus as the “Lamb of God,” the unique Priest and Victim, whose sacrifice “takes away the sins of the world.” This is the key to Hebrews. Unique Priest who is “priest forever.” Unique Sacrifice offered “once and for all, not to “placate” God but to take away the sin of the world.
There is only one Priest and one Victim: Jesus, who offered himself one time. We who were “baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death.” We, with all of our sins, were incorporated into the body of Jesus on the cross. When he died, we died in him, and our sins were not just “paid for,” but taken away in the annihilation of death. When Jesus rose, we rose in him a “new creation,” who, by his “single offering” were “made perfect for all time.” This is a new kind of priesthood!
The Church says God’s word, read at Mass, “draws us more deeply into the mystery celebrated and into the entire mystery of the Lord as a reality to be lived.” This reading tells us Jesus is our unique priest and “mediator” with God. And the Mass is our unique act of worship. Nothing, in any religion, can compare with it.
Meditation: 1. What is taking place at Mass? 2. How am I included in it?
1 Only the “analogy of being” allows us to use the same word truthfully of created beings and Infinite Being: they are the same and yet different. This is also true of “priest” and “sacrifice” used of Jesus and any others. 2 See Exodus 20:19-21. See also 19:9-13, 24:1-2. 3 Hebrews 10:1-14; Romans 6:1-11.