The New Priesthood
Readings: Hebrew 7:1-3, 15-17; Psalm 110:1, 2, 3, 4; Mark 3:1-6
Following upon our meditations of the past two days, our readings continue to help us deepen our understanding of who Jesus is and what he does for us. If Jesus is the only sure anchor of salvation for us, it is because he is the supreme high priest of the order of Melchizedek, and for ever. What does this mean for us today?
A priest is primarily one who mediates between God and humanity. Traditionally this was done by a specific tribe of men set apart by the Law to offer prayers and sacrifices to God on behalf of the people. However, as we have seen earlier, the letter to the Hebrews invites us to stretch our understanding of priesthood beyond that of a law about physical descent, beyond even that of sacrifices offered in the Temple. What then does the priestly mediation of Christ look like?
It looks like what we see in the gospel today. The way in which Christ reconciles God and humanity is not primarily the way of the Law, as important as the Law is. For, like anything else, the Law can be made into an idol, a false God. Like the Pharisees, we can choose to continue clinging obstinately to the Law even when it causes and condones great suffering. Making the Law an idol leads to oppression rather than freedom, continued division rather than reconciliation. We see, for example, the continued division not only between the Pharisees and the man with the withered hand, but also within the hearts of the Pharisees themselves, such that they are prevented from experiencing compassion for a brother who is suffering. The obstinacy of the Pharisees becomes a formidable obstacle barring their way to God.
In contrast, Jesus’ priestly ministry demonstrates, by contrast, the proper place of the Law. The Law is not an end in itself. It is useful only to the extent that it facilitates true human flourishing. The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath…. Is it against the law on the Sabbath day to do good or to do evil; to save life, or to kill? Indeed, Jesus shows that the way to reconciliation with God passes through everything that is authentically human, especially the qualities of mercy and compassion that he himself experiences in the gospel today.
Of course, we no longer observe the same Law that the Pharisees did. But do we not also experience the temptation to put other things, other laws, before human flourishing? Whether it is the laws of warfare or finance, the laws of social order or even those of the church, our idols are many and various. We know them by their fruit – hardness of heart instead of compassion, alienation instead of reconciliation...
Faced with these idols we Christians are called to the same priestly ministry that Christ continued to exercise even when people began to plot against him, discussing how to destroy him. And, as we know from the experience of Christ, the power of this ministry is irresistible. Its power is so great that even the very destruction of Christ on the cross becomes the effective means by which the reconciliation of God and humanity is achieved.
How are we being called to be priests today?