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Week 33, Sunday. Words of THE WORD

ANTIPHON
“The Lord said: I think thoughts of peace and not of affliction. You will call upon me, and I will answer you, and I will lead back your captives from every place.” (Jeremiah 29:11,12,14)

COLLECT
Grant us, we pray, O Lord our God,
the constant gladness of being devoted to You,
for it is full and lasting happiness
to serve with constancy
the Author of all that is good.
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)
You are my inheritance, O Lord! (Psalm 16:1).

SCRIPTURE EXCERPT (click for all readings)
“Brothers and sisters:
Every priest stands daily at his ministry,
offering frequently those same sacrifices
that can never take away sins.
But this one offered one sacrifice for sins,
and took his seat forever at the right hand of God;
now he waits until his enemies are made his footstool.
For by one offering (προσφορᾷ, prosphora)
he has made perfect (τετελείωκεν, teteleioken) forever those who are being consecrated (ἁγιαζομένους, hagiazomenous).
Where there is forgiveness (ἄφεσις, aphesis) of these,
there is no longer offering for sin.
(Hebrews 10:11-14, 18).”


REFLECTION
In the current cycle of Scripture for Sunday Mass, today concludes the sequential proclamation from the Letter to the Hebrews. Fittingly, this Sunday’s Sacred Text focuses on Jesus’ sacrificial work that has profound implications for us in terms of our relationship with His Father.
προσφορά (prosphora) is the Greek word typically translated into English as “sacrifice” or “oblation.” Lost somewhere in the contemporary usage of “sacrifice” is Antiquity’s and the Letter to the Hebrews’ clear insistence that the act of sacrifice is voluntary by nature and definition. No outside force, coercion, law or custom shadows the act of sacrifice. ‘That which is given’ in sacrifice is done so freely and unconditionally. As a noun, προσφορά (prosphora) is rooted in the Greek verb προσφέρω (prosphero) which, in the literal sense, is translated into English as “to carry to,” “to lead to” or “to present to.” Within the Letter to the Hebrews this underscores a vital aspect of Jesus’ freely offered sacrifice of Himself. He intends His sacrifice to carry, to lead – ultimately to present all people to His Father. Why? His sacrifice perfects.


The logical question that surfaces here is ‘what does it mean to be perfect?’ The question certainly rose in Jesus’ Public Ministry within the context of His solemn teaching on Kingdom living in the “Sermon on the Mount” (Matthew) and the “Sermon on the Plain” (Luke). Left to ourselves, we ‘invent’ all sorts of meanings and images to describe ‘perfection.’ Some of the Fathers of the Church, Saint Gregory of Nyssa to name one, even wrote a work On Christian Perfection. The key here (as it always is in terms of Christian living) is to grasp the biblical meaning of perfection and more precisely a Gospel meaning of perfection. Fundamentally, perfection has little to do with accomplishing goals I set for myself. How often do any of us think, ‘well – if I can stop doing x,y and/or z, I’ll have it made, I will be perfect.’ Most of us dare not voice that thought as friends and confidants would correct us instantly. While there may be a good or many goods that come with attaining or accomplishing good goals that I set, the difficulty is the fact that “I” (along with “me” and “myself”) am the one who set the goal or goals. Perfection, as a biblical work, is a condition that Jesus’ sacrifice has effected for each and for all.
In pre-Christian Antiquity, the Greeks recognized that τελειόω (teleioo) involved a certain wholeness or completeness. For the reason, the verb was often used in the passive voice indicating that someone or something else was instrumental ‘in bringing one to a state of wholeness or completeness.’ Minimally, one could not ‘accomplish’ perfection on one’s own. Yet in terms of Jesus and especially how this is expressed in the Letter to the Hebrews, this ‘perfecting’ has a very specific orientation that is expressed in terms of relational living. The perfection that is the fruit of Jesus’ one-and-for-all-atoning-sacrifice enables “those who are being consecrated” to “stand before and with the Father.” The act of Christian perfection is a work done by Jesus whereby He carries and presents us to His Father that we may stand before and with the Father.’
It seems so passive; almost as if the believer does nothing and Jesus does ‘all the work.’ Yes in the sense of no, no in the sense of yes. There can be no standing before and with God the Father without the one-and-for-all-atoning-sacrifice-freely-given by Jesus. It is impossible. And (not but, not yet) this work of Jesus requires each believer to seek forgiveness of sins. Like perfection, forgiveness has all sorts of meanings in popular usage. Typically, the Greek noun ἄφεσις (aphesis) is translated into English by the word forgiveness. ἄφεσις (aphesis) is part of a family of Greek words, particularly verbs that convey a sense of moving, sending, letting go and releasing. “To forgive” expresses clearly that one has been unable to move, one has been stuck, one’s life has not grown. In this light, ἄφεσις is an intervention from without or an intervention by another whereby power is brought to a given reality that cuts the restraints that, up to the particular moment, have made any movement impossible. While it is crucial ‘to get’ that ἄφεσις involves another from the outside (in this case, the necessary work of Jesus), the believer must permit the release to occur and to avoid anyone or anything that will restrain or halt movement that is ultimately directed towards union with God our Father.
As many will observe a day of Thanksgiving this Thursday, Jesus and what He has done for us must consciously be on the list of persons for whom we are thankful. Whether one marks this Thursday as a particular day to give thanks, each time Jesus summons us to His Table, He does so to provide us with an opportunity to give thanks, the literal sense of the word Eucharist. There is no better way to demonstrate our gratitude than to seek His life in such a way that He may present each and all of us to His Father.