Most of you know that the first reading and the Gospel usually are put together each Sunday intentionally. The lectionary purposefully links the reading from the Old Testament with the Gospel to highlight that Jesus fulfills all that was said in the Old Testament. This week that is even more obvious as both the first reading and Gospel encourage us to Love the Lord your God with all of your heart, with all of your strength and with all of your soul. So, a lot of times the second reading is overlooked. With that in mind, I’m preaching on the second reading this weekend.
One of the main focusses of the letter to the Hebrews is that Jesus is the eternal high priest. There is not a need for another priest. You may be thinking, “wait a minute Father, aren’t you a priest?!?” Yes, I am.. but I’m only a priest in the sense that I share in the one priesthood of Christ. I participate in Christ’s priesthood; not a different one. This is why we say, priests act in persona Christi, in the person of Christ.
To understand the second reading we need to understand who a priest is, especially in the beginning. In the Old Testament priests had two major functions, 1) they were mediators between God and his people, and 2) priests offered sacrifice on behalf of the people to God. Priests in the Old Testament offered animal sacrifices as atonement, or for the forgiveness of sins of the people (including himself). This is why Jesus is the one high priest. There is never a need for any other sacrifice but the one sacrifice of Christ; his death on the cross. When we come together for the holy sacrifice of the Mass we remember Jesus’ one sacrifice. He is not re-sacrificed on this altar, rather its as if we are with Christ in that very moment on Calvary where Jesus offered himself in atonement for our sins and those of the whole world. Jesus is also the perfect mediator. He is the God-man, the one who is 100% God and 100% human. He shares in our humanity to lift us up into the Divine Life of God. Jesus is the perfect priest; the high priest.
Listen to these words from our second reading again…It was fitting that we should have such a high priest: holy, innocent, undefiled, separated from sinners, higher than the heavens. He has no need, as did the high priests, to offer sacrifice day after day, first for his own sins and then for those of the people; he did that once for all when he offered himself. Jesus is like no other priest before. He offers the sacrifice, yet he himself is free of the guilt of sin. But he offered his life as a sacrifice out of love for us.
So, here’s the question some of you may be asking…. Why did Jesus have to die such a brutal death? Why did Jesus have to shed his blood? Couldn’t there have been another way to save us? Why did our salvation have to come at such a violent death for Jesus on the cross? Here’s the simplest answer: the more someone sacrifices for the sake of another person, the more obvious is his love for the other.
A powerful example of this today comes from the movie A Quiet Place. In brief, the plot is about a married couple and their three children trying to survive after aliens invade our planet. The story begins after much of the earth’s human population has been eliminated. In the beginning, the daughter fails to protect her five-year-old brother and so they lose him. So, the whole movie is about the guilt the daughter feels and her relationship with her dad. Whenever she sees her dad, she can only see his grief, and his grief is seen as condemnation. Carrying this guilt and shame, she believes that her dad doesn’t love her anymore. Spoiler alert: it’s the end of the movie, and the daughter is being attacked by the aliens. The father is desperate to save her. So, the movie shows us that the two, though far apart, are looking at each other. The Dad signs: I Love You! Then he screams and sacrifices himself for his daughter. Obviously, no father should have to die in order to prove their love for their children. But for this girl, she will never again doubt how much her father truly loved her.
The same is true for us. Jesus did the same for us. In order to convince us of his love, of God’s love for all of us, [Jesus] offered himself… once for all when he sacrificed himself in love on the cross. The question is, now that we know how much he loves us, are we willing to love the Lord our God with all our heart, with all our soul, with all our mind, and with all our strength?
In Christ’s love and friendship,