Thus says the Lord: Shout with joy for Jacob, exult at the head of the nations; proclaim your praise and say: The Lord has delivered his people, the remnant of Israel. Behold, I will bring them back from the land of the north; I will gather them from the ends of the world, with the blind and the lame in their midst, the mothers and those with child; they shall return as an immense throng. They departed in tears, but I will console them and guide them; I will lead them to brooks of water, on a level road, so that none shall stumble. For I am a father to Israel, Ephraim is my first-born.(P) The word of the Lord.
When the Lord brought back the captives of Zion, we were like men dreaming. Then our mouth was filled with laughter, and our tongue with rejoicing. (R)
Then they said among the nations, "The Lord has done great things for them." The Lord has done great things for us; we are glad indeed. (R)
Restore our fortunes, O Lord, like the torrents in the southern desert. Those that sow in tears shall reap rejoicing. (R)
Although they go forth weeping, carrying the seed to be sown, they shall come back rejoicing, carrying their sheaves. (R)
Brothers and sisters: Every high priest is taken from among men and made their representative before God, to offer gifts and sacrifices for sins. He is able to deal patiently with the ignorant and erring, for he himself is beset by weakness and so, for this reason, must make sin offerings for himself as well as for the people. No one takes this honor upon himself but only when called by God, just as Aaron was. In the same way, it was not Christ who glorified himself in becoming high priest, but rather the one who said to him: You are my son: this day I have begotten you; just as he says in another place: You are a priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek.(P) The word of the Lord.
As Jesus was leaving Jerecho with his disciples and a sizable crowd, Bartimaeus, a blind man, the son of Timaeus, sat by the roadside begging. On hearing that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to cry out and say, "Jesus, son of David, have pity on me." And many rebuked him, telling him to be silent. But he kept calling out all the more, "Son of David, have pity on me." Jesus stopped and said, "Call him." So they called the blind man, saying to him, "Take courage; get up, Jesus is calling you." He threw aside his cloak, sprang up, and came to Jesus. Jesus said to him in reply, "What do you want me to do for you?" The blind man replied to him, "Master, I want to see." Jesus told him, "Go your way; your faith has saved you." Immediately he received his sight and followed him on the way.(P) The Gospel of the Lord.
This is the fourth week we read a passage from the letter to the Hebrews. Let us take a moment to recall what we have learned so far. We are not sure who wrote the letter and, to whom it was written. However, the contents of the letter indicate that it was probably written by a Jew, who knew the Old Testament scriptures very well, to encourage the early Christians who were suffering persecution.
First the writer described the greatness of our Lord Jesus. He said that Jesus was always God but became "for a little while lower than the angels", to experience our human conditions, so that he could share our sufferings and help us in times of temptations, and bring us all to God's glory. Then he explained the power of the Word of God. He said that the Word of God is living, effective and sharp as a two edged sword. It has the power to penetrate deep within us and expose our thoughts, motives, intentions, doubts, fears, anxieties and everything in our life. In other words, the Word of God, which is God Himself, is so powerful that nothing in our lives can be hidden from It or Him.
Then the writer recounted the mercy and goodness of Jesus Christ. Jesus was fully human like us and suffered along with us, and was tempted just like us. But he was taken up into heaven for he was sinless and, willingly went through much suffering for our sins. He was far superior to the angels or any other human being - prophet, king or earthly priest. He is our great high priest sitting at the right hand of God, and interceding to God on our behalf for he knows our weaknesses. Hence, the writer encourages all Christians, in times of trial and temptation, to approach the throne of God confidently so as to receive mercy and grace.
In today's passage the writer illustrates even further the dignity and excellence of Jesus, the Great High Priest so that all Christians may truly believe that their strength is in Him. It was perhaps also to answer the challenges skeptics raise on Jesus' qualifications to become a High Priest. According to ancient Jewish tradition, the priests descended from the line of Aaron, the first high priest from the tribe of Levi, were the ones designated to intercede before God on behalf of people and offer up sacrifices for their sins. But Jesus did not come from the priestly tribe of Levi. So the question is, how could Jesus, who was not from the line of Aaron or the line of Levi, become a great high priest? And when was He ever called to be a priest? The writer points out first some requirements for becoming a high priest and then describes the circumstances in which Jesus, who did not belong to the tribe of Levi became a high priest.
He says, "Every high priest is taken from among men and made their representative before God, to offer gifts and sacrifices for sins." So the first requirement of a high priest is that he must be chosen by God from human kind just as the first high priest Aaron. And then he says, "He (every high priest) is able to deal patiently with the ignorant and erring, for he himself is beset by weakness and so, for this reason, must make sin offerings for himself as well as for the people. No one takes this honor upon himself but only when called by God, just as Aaron was."
So the second requirement of a high priest is that he must be patient, tender, gentle, merciful and kind toward people who are ignorant and prone to sin, and he must make sin offerings for himself as well as for the people. In the same way, the writer introduces Jesus Christ to Christians, saying that Jesus, who is God and human at the same time, was chosen among human beings to be our high priest. He then affirms God's involvement in the choice of Jesus as the priest by referring to two events. One is to what the Spirit of God said at the river Jordan when Jesus came up out of the water after baptism: "This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased", Matthew (3:17) and Luke (3:22). The other is an allusion to Jesus as the eternal high priest in Psalms (110:4) which says, "Yahweh has made an oath he will never retract, you are a priest forever of the order of Melchizedek."
Who was Melchizedek? The name Melchizedek means "king of righteousness". According to the Old Testament, Genesis (14:18-20), Melchizedek was king of Salem, which is now called the city of Jerusalem, and a priest of God Most High who brought out bread and wine and blessed Abraham. Abraham recognized his priestly status by giving him a tenth of everything. Since David captured Jerusalem and became a king in the line of Melchizedek, Jesus, the descendant of David, became both a king and a priest. Thus, the author of Hebrews demonstrates clearly that Jesus is the high priest chosen and offered by God as the sacrifice to pay for the guilt of our sin. Moreover, in calling Jesus a great high priest, the writer is showing Jesus to be superior to any other high priest, even to Aaron or the Levi priests because he is in the order of Melchizedek and, as high priest, Jesus Christ does for us before the Heavenly Father what we cannot do for ourselves, namely making intercession with God because he is sinless.
As we struggle through life, we are constantly being tempted to abandon our loyalty to Christ. Many of us are lost because of our lack of faith in the power of the holy sacrifice of Jesus Christ, our high priest. The writer of the letter to the Hebrews invites all of us, the strong, the weak, the rich, the poor, the young, the old, the clever and the ignorant, to come freely and confidently to the very altar of the holy sacrifice of the body and blood of Jesus Christ which we commemorate as a community of believers and pour out our hearts to God. We can come as we are, say what and how we feel and ask what we need. Let us come regularly and not just as often as necessary but as often as possible into the presence of a God who welcomes us and a Christ who understands us.
Perhaps the words of Blessed Mother Teresa are appropriate here: "When you look at the crucifix, you understand how much Jesus loved you then. When you look at the Sacred Host, you understand how much Jesus loves you now.(P) Amen.
God Bless You!