Friday, October 15, 2021

Pentecost 21B

Hebrews 5:1-10

1Every high priest is taken from the people and put in charge of things that relate to God for their sake, in order to offer gifts and sacrifices for sins. 2The high priest is able to deal gently with the ignorant and those who are misled since he himself is prone to weakness. 3Because of his weakness, he must offer sacrifices for his own sins as well as for the people. 4No one takes this honor for themselves but takes it only when they are called by God, just like Aaron.

5In the same way Christ also didn't promote himself to become high priest. Instead, it was the one who said to him,

"You are my Son.
Today I have become your Father,"

6as he also says in another place,

"You are a priest forever,
according to the order of Melchizedek."
[Genesis 14:18; Hebrews 5:6; Psalm 110:4]

7During his days on earth, Christ offered prayers and requests with loud cries and tears as his sacrifices to the one who was able to save him from death. He was heard because of his godly devotion. 8Although he was a Son, he learned obedience from what he suffered. 9After he had been made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for everyone who obeys him. 10He was appointed by God to be a high priest according to the order of Melchizedek.

Common English Bible (CEB) Copyright 2011 by Common English Bible


As I mentioned two weeks ago, scholars believe this book addressed to Jewish Christians either nearby or in widely scattered diaspora originally was a sermon intended to be proclaimed aloud, and not a round-robin letter in the traditions of the apostle Paul and others who wrote the New Testament epistles. Hebrews clearly knows Jesus Christ as fully human and fully divine; Hebrews describes Jesus as continuation and fulfillment of God's self-revealing presence and action throughout all ages.

The Hebrew bible is full of "types" or "precursors" of Christ, meaning persons, objects, or events that anticipate being fully developed in Jesus. As today's second lection describes Jesus' as priest or mediator between earth and heaven, it refers to Melchizedek, someone we first hear about in Genesis:

14:18Now Melchizedek the king of Salem and the priest of God Most High had brought bread and wine, 19and he blessed Abram,

"Bless Abram by God Most High, creator [or possessor] of heaven and earth;
20bless God Most High, who gave you the victory over your enemies."

Abram gave Melchizedek one-tenth of everything.

Common English Bible (CEB)

also in Psalm 110:4
The Lord has sworn a solemn pledge and won't change his mind:
"You are a priest forever in line with Melchizedek."

Today's Reading

The book of Hebrews contains many references to Old Testament practices and ritualized observances. Chapter 7 goes into (a whole lot of) detail about Melchizedek, about Jesus as a type of successor to Melchizedek, and about high priests in general. Although it's dense reading, it's also clear, even in the King James Version.

Hebrews 5:1 tells us a high priest comes from the people, and so he is one of us, yet verse 4 explains the call comes from God, and isn't self-appointed. Ancient near eastern priests offered sacrifices to bridge the distance between humanity and divinity and theoretically to appease the gods humans imagined must be angry. Like everyone else, traditional high priests were less than perfect, so their ceremonial offerings included themselves along with the everyone else. High priests represented the people to God and they represented God to the people; you may have read some of the extensive instructions in Leviticus.

Hebrews' unknown author then mentions Moses' brother Aaron, a high priest from the tribe of Levi. Levites were an entire tribe of priests and had no inheritance of land when Joshua portioned out plots of the Land of Promise—"But Moses gave no legacy to the tribe of Levi. The Lord God of Israel is their legacy, exactly as he promised them." [Joshua 13:33] We know Jesus as sovereign/king, prophet, and priest, yet Jesus was from the tribe of Judah. Hebrews 7:3 says Melchizedek is without genealogy; like Jesus, he wasn't from the hereditary priestly Levites. In addition, Melchizedek had no other apparent inheritance. More than one scripture commentary I read cited Melchizedek as an example of God choosing persons without standard credentials, of God acting outside of ordinary institutional structures: on the margins rather than in the center.

Melech means King—King Melchizedek is doubly king! Zedek / zedekah or tzedek / tzedekah is "righteous." Salem can be both a place-name location and refer to shalom, the peace that's completion, integrity, reconciliation of all creation. You probably noticed Melchizedek brought "bread and wine," gifts of creation?! Unlike conventional sacrificial offerings of newly harvested raw grain or grape, these had been prepared the same way as our sacramental bread and wine, symbolizing meaningful work and nourishment for the community:
Behind the bread is the flour;
behind the flour is the mill;
behind the mill is the rain and the sun and the Maker's will.
Behind the bread and the rain and the sun is the Maker's will.
The vintner, the potter…

And Abram, our ancestor in redemptive faith (who later on becomes "Abraham") gave Melchizedek a tithe of everything he had!

Through unexpected people and circumstances, Melchizedek brought righteousness and shalom. Throughout generations of unexpected people (check out especially Matthew's genealogy) and circumstances, Jesus brought righteousness and shalom.

Melchizedek and Jesus

Verse 6 names Jesus as high priest forever. Unlike all those conventional priests, though jesus died, he reigns forever because of his resurrection. The text says, "forever after the manner of Melchizedek," who shared many characteristics with his perfect successor, Jesus.

Traditional priests make animal, grain, and harvest sacrifices to their gods; verse 7 says "Christ offered prayers and requests with loud cries and tears as his sacrifices to the one who was able to save him from death." It's striking that verse 8 says Jesus learned obedience in the same way we need to pray about, work through, and take risks related to what's next in our journeys.

We sometimes hear "Jesus' sacrifice on the cross," misinterpreted as an event and action God required. The God of love, mercy, and righteousness never would require or condone violence or destruction. Jesus' trial, conviction, and crucifixion happened because of human violence and injustice, not because of God's demands. Jesus' death on the cross, his resurrection, and ascension became the source of creation's redemption because of God's love, mercy, and justice.

Because God in Christ finished all the work of salvation, praise and thanksgiving are the only sacrifices we need to offer God. Christians and most humans work to improve society and planet earth in general, but we do our best to love others, to offer mercy and compassion, and to use our gifts in service to God and creation in thankful response to God's grace and salvation, not in order to earn salvation.

Hebrews 5:11, the next verse after today's reading says, "We have a lot to say about this topic, and it's difficult to explain, because you have been lazy and you haven't been listening." Did I mention Hebrews originated as a sermon series?

No comments: