Thursday of Week 2 of Ordinary Time – First Reading

Commentary on Hebrews 7:25-8:6

The reading shows again the contrast between the high priests of the law and Christ our High Priest. The Hebrew Christians (to whom the Letter is addressed) are being reminded once again, that the Jesus Christ they are threatening to abandon in favour of the old Temple-based worship is on a far superior level.

In the two verses immediately preceding today’s reading, the author reminds his readers that the former priests were many in number because they died off and had to be replaced. Christ, however, holds his priesthood permanently because he endures forever. Hence (and here our reading begins) he is able for all time to be a source of salvation for us because his intercession on our behalf is never-ending.

And it is totally appropriate that we should have such a High Priest, “holy, blameless, undefiled, separated from sinners [in their sinfulness] and exalted above the heavens”. In this, Christ is totally different from the Levitical priests. Perhaps it also indicates Jesus’ superiority over Melchizedek. Christ does not need to offer sacrifices every day for the sins of the people and for his own sins. Parenthetically, daily sacrifice is nowhere mentioned in the Mosaic Law. The high priest was only expected to offer sacrifice on the Day of Atonement “for his own sins and for those of the people” (Lev 16:11-19).

Jesus made one sacrifice for the whole world and for all time, a sacrifice that does not need to be repeated. The Levitical priests offered animals in sacrifice, but our High Priest makes the unique offering of his totally sin-less self, a single offering that was once for all time.

The Jewish law appointed as high priests men, who like everyone else, were subject to human frailty. But “the word of the oath”, which came later than and replaced the old law, appoints as High Priest “a Son who had been made perfect forever”. The fulfilment of God’s oath regarding the priesthood of Melchizedek (“You are a priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek”, Ps 110:4) makes the Son of God the perfect priest forever.

As we enter chapter 8, the superiority of Christ as High Priest is further emphasised. According to the New Jerusalem Bible,

“The argument so far has been to prove that what Christ is, i.e., an eternal and perfect priest, is superior to what the Levitical priests are, since they are mortals and sinners. Now the argument goes on to show that what Christ does is equally superior to what the Levitical priests do: Christ’s sanctuary is better because it is in heaven, while the one on earth is only a copy of it, and the covenant brought by the mediation of Christ is a better covenant.”

Our High Priest is not in a temple made by human hands. Rather, he sits “at the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in the heavens”. He serves “in the sanctuary and the true tent” that God and not any mortal human has set up or could set up. Before the building of the Temple by Solomon, the Ark of the Covenant, representing the presence of Yahweh among his people, was housed in a special tent or tabernacle. God dwells in an altogether superior “Holy of Holies”, and it is there that Christ has access to his Father on an equal and permanent level.

“True” here means “real” in contradistinction to a mere “copy and shadow”, as the earthly sanctuary is described below. The idea that the earthly sanctuary is a shadowy reflection of a heavenly model may be derived from the Platonic concept of a real world of which our observable world is merely a shadow (Plato’s famous cave).

Further, the role of every priest is to offer gifts and sacrifices, and our Priest also has something to offer. But if he were on earth, he would not be a priest in the ordinary human sense, because the priests only made offerings in accordance with the Law, that is, for the sins of the people and their own sins. Christ’s offering, on the other hand, is made purely on our behalf. He does not need to make sacrifice for himself. On the contrary, he is the Perfect Offering, pleasing to the Father.

In addition, the priests make their offering in a sanctuary that is only a pale shadow of the heavenly sanctuary where God dwells. When Moses was about to erect the tent or tabernacle (in which the Ark of the Covenant was placed), he was told by Yahweh to make it exactly according to the instructions he was given on Mount Sinai. As such, it had all the limitations of human workmanship. The use of the present tense here leads some to believe that the Temple was still standing and functioning, and that these words must have been written prior to 70 AD when Jerusalem was sacked and destroyed by the emperor Titus (an event commemorated in the Arch of Titus still to be seen in the Roman Forum).

But Christ as Priest has been given a much higher form of ministry and is the mediator between God and us of a new and better covenant, which is being carried out according to better promises.

All in all, then, how can the Hebrew Christians be thinking of going back to the old dispensation when the new one with Jesus Christ is on a totally different level and can do so much more for them?

It is for us to remember that we, too, are sharers in this new dispensation. Let us thank Christ for the gift of the Church, for his Living Word and for the many ways in which our lives are nourished by our adherence to our High Priest.

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