Sunday Sermon for October 21, 2018, the Twenty-ninth Sunday in Ordinary time, Year B
Readings: Is 53:10-11; Heb 4:14-16; Mk 10:35-45
In the second reading St. Paul says we are to hold fast to our confession because we have a great High Priest Who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God. In this statement St. Paul summarizes our reason for being Christian. The Jewish people had believed in one God for centuries before our Lord came into the world; they also believed firmly that God would send a Messiah to set Israel free. What is fascinating about this statement by St. Paul is the insight he has regarding why we believe that what God had revealed in the Old Testament was fulfilled in Jesus in a manner way beyond what the Jewish people were expecting.
The people of Israel knew God would send a Savior, but because they did not have a concept of the Trinity, there is no way they could have expected God to send His only begotten Son as the Messiah. Jesus revealed the plan of God, which is contained in the Old Testament, but only in way we can understand by looking back at what God had revealed. To have a priest Who was not from the line of Aaron was astounding enough, but that He was the Son of God is, needless to say, beyond comprehension.
It is one thing to make a claim to be the Messiah, but it is entirely another to give clear proof of such a claim. Jesus fulfilled everything He told His Apostles, but also everything spoken about the Messiah in the Old Testament. In Psalm 110 David prophesied that the Messiah would be a priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek. This is a priesthood God gave to the world before the Flood; Melchizedek, whom the Fathers of the Church tell us is Shem, the first born son of Noah, possessed this priesthood before he entered the Ark.
Because this was the original priesthood, it was higher and more perfect than the priesthood of Aaron. The basic notion of priesthood is twofold: mediation and sacrifice. The Hebrew priests offered sacrifices to God that were imitations of what Moses saw happening in Heaven. He saw a Lamb that had been sacrificed, so it was prescribed that the Jewish priests would offer lambs as their primary sacrifice. Of course, we can now understand the Lamb Moses saw was Jesus.
The priesthood Melchizedek possessed was received from God. This priesthood is identified with the Person of Jesus Who came, as we read in the Gospel, to serve and to give His life as a ransom for many. While the Jewish people sacrificed those things which were precious and valuable to them, Jesus sacrificed Himself. The sacrifices of the Hebrew priests could not take away sin; the blood of the animals could only cover it up. God had told us through Isaiah that the Messiah would bear the guilt of many and, through His sufferings, He would justify them.
Our sacrifice, when we are at Mass, is the sacrifice of Jesus. Unlike the Jewish people, however, we are not sacrificing something precious that belongs to us; in fact, we are not even sacrificing something external to us. No! As members of Jesus Christ, we are sacrificing ourselves. This is the reason our Lord told us in the Gospel that we would all have to be baptized with the baptism with which He was baptized and that we would have to drink of the cup from which He drank. This will earn us a seat on His throne, but where in the hierarchy of Heaven we might be is dependent on how much we love Him throughout our baptism and the consuming of the contents of the chalice.
Due to our baptism into Jesus each of us participates in His priesthood. That means each of us is to offer sacrifice and mediation. In the Gospel today our Lord made clear that whoever wishes to be great must serve the rest and be the slave of all. What is wonderful about this is the one who makes himself the slave of all is not going to be looking at things pridefully and thinking himself to be the greatest. It is only the Lord who will declare the greatness of the one who chooses to be lowly.
So, if we humble ourselves before the Lord, exercise our priesthood, and strive to love God and neighbor by lives of service, we can have confidence when we approach the throne of grace to receive mercy and find grace for timely help as St. Paul tells us. But this is all dependent upon our confession of faith: we are Christian people because we believe in Jesus Christ Who is the Son of God and our High Priest Who sacrificed Himself and intercedes for us now in Heaven.
Fr. Altier’s column appears regularly in The Wanderer, a national Catholic weekly published in St. Paul, Minn. For information about subscribing to The Wanderer, please visit www.thewandererpress.com.