Week 31, Sunday. Words of THE WORD

“Forsake me not, O Lord, my God; be not far from me! Make haste and come to my help, O Lord, my strong salvation!" (Psalm 38:27-28)

Almighty and merciful God,
by whose gift your faithful offer You
right and praiseworthy service,
grant, we pray,
that we may hasten without stumbling
to receive the things you have promised.
Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,
who lives and reigns with you
in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God,
for ever and ever.

RESPONSORIAL PSALM (click for full Psalm)
I love you, Lord, my strength. (Psalm 18:2).

SCRIPTURE EXCERPT (click for all readings)
“Brothers and sisters:
The levitical priests were many
because they were prevented by death from remaining in office,
but Jesus, because he remains forever,
has a priesthood that does not pass away.
Therefore, he is always able to save (σῴζειν, sozein) those who approach (προσερχομένους, proserchomenous) God through him,
since he lives forever to make intercession (ἐντυγχάνειν, entugchanein) for them.
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.
For the law appoints men subject to weakness to be high priests,
but the word of the oath, which was taken after the law,
appoints a son,
who has been made perfect forever”
(Letter to the Hebrews 7:23-28).

This Sunday’s proclamation from the Letter to the Hebrews places Jesus, Son and appointed High Priest, front and center in the Sacred Text as well as in the center of the disciple’s life as Jesus is the locus of and point of contact with salvation. He is salvation. Contrasted with the Levitical priests of Old, Jesus the Son and High Priest differs not solely in terms of function but in His very being. Because of Who Jesus is, He consequently acts in a manner different from those whose priesthood is subjected to the finitude of present existence. The fact that Jesus “remains” recalls the rich imagery from the Gospel according to Saint John that speaks of His abiding presence and His dwelling among us. One recalls “Emmanuel” from the Gospel according to Saint Matthew that not only promises “God-with-us” in the beginning but also the promise “I am with you until the end of the ages.” Thus the declaration that “He [Jesus] remains” underscores not only a temporal existence but a ‘being-with,’ an indwelling animating the life of the disciple. Furthermore, Jesus’ Priesthood is unique in that it is “a priesthood that does not pass away (ἀπαράβατον, aparabaton).” In Greek, ἀπαράβατος is used rarely in the New Testament and scholars debate various shades of meaning as the word can mean “without a successor,” “immutable” and “non-transferable.” While certainly respecting linguistic and historical studies, theologically is makes good sense to keep all these translations as each sheds a particular light on the Person Jesus and His Priesthood. True, the translations may not do anything for Him, but for us as His disciples, each word is crucial in how each believer approaches the High Priest, Jesus the Son.
The Letter to the Hebrews is clear that Jesus’ Priesthood is ordered to others and others is defined here particularly those who need to be healed; in other words everyone who is a sinner – all of us! What is interesting though in this part of the text is the implication of what everyone ought to be doing: approaching God [the Father]! That movement can not be done on one’s own and requires an intervention of Someone ‘saving us.’ σῴζειν (sozein), the Greek verb “to save,” conveys two motions that must be taken together: “to remove from a dangerous situation” AND “to bring to safety.” σῴζειν, as understood in antiquity, is not a singular activity. As good as removal from a dangerous situation truly is, whatever one is removed from must be delivered to an experience of safety. A good part of this meaning of σῴζειν is rooted in Greek medicine that viewed the removal of illness or disease as only 1 part of medicine’s art. The elimination of disease, a good in itself, must be completed by an environment and actions that not only sustain but promote health and enable a person to thrive. This is the unique work of Jesus’ Priesthood seen previously in the Letter to the Hebrews referencing His atoning and sacrificial death. In this section of the Letter to the Hebrews, Jesus’ saving Priesthood is also expressed by His life that ‘lives forever to intercede for us.’

“To make intercession (ἐντυγχάνειν, entugchanein)” is rooted in the language of voicing a complaint or making an appeal. What is most noteworthy is that in antiquity, the complaint or the appeal was secondary to the fact that either HAD TO BE DONE IN PERSON! (Recall times dealing with ‘customer service’ and being put on hold … would things be different if we could talk with someone in customer service eyeball-to-eyeball, mano-a-mano?) The image here is once again one of being an Advocate, a Paraclete. In his Theological Oration IV: On the Son, Saint Gregory of Nazianzus writes, “Petition does not imply here, as it does in popular parlance, a desire for legal satisfaction; there is something humiliating in the idea. No, it means interceding for us in his role of mediator, in the way that the Spirit too is spoken of as “making petition” on our behalf. “For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus.” Even at this moment he is, as human, interceding for my salvation, until he makes me divine by the power of his incarnate humanity. “As human,” I say, because he still has with him the body he assumed, though he is no longer “regarded as human,” meaning the bodily experiences, which, sin aside, are ours and his. This is the “advocate” we have in Jesus—not a slave who falls prostrate before the Father on our behalf. Get rid of what is really a slavish suspicion, unworthy of the Spirit. It is not in God to make the demand, nor in the Son to submit to it; the thought is unjust to God. No, it is by what he suffered as man that he persuades us, as Word and encourager, to endure. That, for me, is the meaning of his “advocacy.””
Once again, the Word of God in speaking of the unique Priesthood of Jesus the Son of God, we are dealing with a Divine Person Who, like the Other Divine Persons, desires our heart, mind, body, soul and strength. Jesus the Son of our Father desires to be-in-communion-with-us and for that encounter to spark an ongoing relationship with Him as Person. Putting it another way, ““At the heart of catechesis we find, in essence, a Person, the Person of Jesus of Nazareth, the only Son from the Father. . .who suffered and died for us and who now, after rising, is living with us forever.” To catechize is “to reveal in the Person of Christ the whole of God‘s eternal design reaching fulfilment in that Person. It is to seek to understand the meaning of Christ‘s actions and words and of the signs worked by him.” Catechesis aims at putting “people . . . in communion . . . with Jesus Christ: only he can lead us to the love of the Father in the Spirit and make us share in the life of the Holy Trinity. (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 426).””