High Priest and Sacrifice
We have probably become so familiar with Jesus that we do not fully appreciate how radical the claims were that the early Church was making about Jesus. While we might easily be able to see and understand Jesus as the fulfillment of the Old Testament promises, it was not quite as easy to understand that in the time of the Letter to the Hebrews, today’s first reading.
To emphasize, in the Old Testament, there was a High Priest that was chosen each year to offer sacrifices in the Temple. Those who were eligible to be High Priest were eligible based upon their lineage. Namely, they had to come from the tribe of Levi. The sacrifices they offered were animals, according to the Jewish Law.
The claim being made about Jesus is very dramatic. Not only is he the High Priest, he was not appointed, and he was not from the tribe of Levi, as he was a descendant of King David, who was not from the tribe of Levi. Also, his sacrificial offering was not one of the animals mentioned in the Old Testament. Rather, Jesus was the sacrifice. He is the total fulfillment of all the Old Testament sacrifices.
The claim of the Letter of the Hebrews would have come as a shock at first to those Jews who heard it, especially if they remembered or knew Jesus when He was on this earth. If they had not yet come to believe in the resurrection, the claim that Jesus was God would have been unbelievably difficult to accept.
But, the implications of Jesus being the eternal High Priest, of his offering the sacrifice of himself make all the difference for us today. Because of this, we keep holy the Lord’s day, a Sunday, by going to Mass. Because of this, we can receive the sacrifice of Jesus in His body and blood. We are not people of the book, but people of the Word, who is identified in the gospel of John as the Word that existed from all eternity.
All this means we can have great confidence in Jesus, who is not merely human, but is also fully divine. He can accompany us in easy and difficult times. He can forgive our sins. He can offer the gift of Himself over and over to us in the Eucharist. Most of all, in being attentive to the Lord Jesus in our lives, it is the case that we can see his offer of salvation and live with Him forever.
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