Saturday of week 2 of Ordinary Time – First Reading


Commentary on Heb 9:2-3, 11-14

The author continues to tell his readers about the incomparable superiority of Jesus as High Priest over the Levitical priesthood. Today, there is a comparison between the tabernacle and sacrifices of the old dispensation and the new tabernacle and new and far more effective sacrifice of Jesus.

The reading begins by giving a brief description of the sanctuary where the once-a-year sacrifice of the old dispensation was made. During their years of wandering in the desert, the Israelites had a special tent serving as God’s sanctuary in their midst. After they settled in the Promised Land, it was David who first thought of putting up a permanent building. How could Yahweh still be housed in a tent when David himself, as king, was living in a palace? However, David was told that the house of his dynasty was more important for out of it would come the Saviour. So it would not be until Solomon’s reign that the first Temple was built.

The tent (and later the Temple in its most sacred inner area) had two sections: an outer area with the seven-branched lampstand which was kept burning through the night and the table with the loaves of presentation. The table was made of acacia wood overlaid with gold and on it were the twelve loaves, arranged in two rows of six, presumably representing the twelve tribes of Israel. This was the Holy Place.

Then, behind a second veil, was the innermost Holy of Holies, accessible only once a year by the High Priest on Yom Kippur, the Feast of Atonement. The veil guarding the Holy of Holies is called the “second” because there was another veil at the entrance to the Holy Place, or the “outer tabernacle” (Exod 26:36).

The Holy of Holies, the inmost sanctuary, contained the golden altar of incense and the Ark of the Covenant. In the Ark, which was overlaid with gold, were a golden urn holding manna (during the time the manna was falling), Aaron’s rod which had miraculously blossomed, and the Tables of the Law. The Ark was shielded by two cherubim. These were two winged figures made of pure gold, of one piece with the atonement cover, or mercy seat, and standing at either end of it. It was between them that the glory of God’s presence appeared. The mercy seat fit exactly over the top of the ark and was a slab of pure gold on which the blood of the sin offering was sprinkled by the high priest on the Day of Atonement.

The regulations for worship under the old covenant permitted all the priests to enter the Holy Place, but only the high priest to enter the Holy of Holies and then only once a year. The description of the sanctuary and its furnishings is taken essentially from Exod 25-26. This exclusion of the people from the Holy of Holies signified that they were not allowed to stand in God’s presence because their offerings and sacrifices, which were merely symbols of their need of spiritual renewal, could not obtain forgiveness of sin. (New American Bible)

 

When Jesus came, however, he entered a “more perfect”, uncreated tent and entered the “Holy Place”, the inner sanctuary of God himself. In his ascension, Christ “passed through” all the successive heavenly spheres that form the “Holy Place” of the celestial Tent, and finally came into the presence of God in the celestial “Holy of Holies”.

He brought with him not the sacrificial blood of animals (as the high priest would have done) but his own blood, which won for all of us an everlasting redemption. And we all, without exception, have access to this sanctuary.

There is no real comparison between the two. The blood of goats and bulls, the sprinkling of a heifer’s ashes, may sanctify the bodies of those who have become defiled by sin. Ashes from a red heifer which had been burned were mixed with water and used for the cleansing of those who had become ritually defiled by touching a corpse. The blood of sacrificial animals, sprinkled on the faithful, achieves at most the “holiness of their outward lives”.

But just think how the Blood of Christ, who offered himself in total sinlessness through the Spirit to his Father, will purity and liberate our inner being, our very selves. We are now freed from the slavery of “dead works” (external observance of laws and rituals) for the pure worship of the living God.

It is important for us, too, not to fall back on a ritualistic religion and realise that it is only in the Spirit that we approach the Throne of God. And that Spirit is the Spirit of Jesus, our Risen Lord, who showed us the greatest love possible by giving his life for his friends. If we have his Spirit, we will do the same.

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