Daily Reflection
January 20th, 2001
by
John O'Keefe
Theology Department
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Hebrews 9:2-3, 11-14
Psalms 47:2-3, 6-9
Mark 3:20-21

In recent days we have been gifted with a series of readings from the Letter to the Hebrews.  Although for many today this is an obscure and difficult text, in the ancient church it was a favorite because it speaks so eloquently of the priestly ministry of Jesus and of his role in our redemption.  The imagery in the first reading builds upon the ancient Jewish understanding of sacrifice and atonement.  Once a year, the high priest entered the holy of holies, the inner sanctuary of the temple, and, by this act, symbolically mediated Godís forgiveness to penitent Israel.  The author of the Letter to the Hebrews claims boldly that Jesus is the true high priest who truly mediates between us and God, and, as Mark says late in his gospel, who tears away the curtain separating us from Godís holiness.  Jesus replaces the symbolic mediation of the high priest with the true mediating power of his own person.

These ideas are notoriously difficult for modern Christians to understand because we do not live in a religious world where cultic sacrifice is practiced.  For us even the idea of religious mediation seems foreign.  However, the concept is not as difficult as it may at first seem.  Imagine that you want access to some powerful person.  If the person is say, the President of the United States, you will have to go though a series of mediators to have contact with him and unless your mediators are powerful, you will never have access. The author of the Letter to the Hebrews has made the startling claim that Jesus was powerful enough to enter heaven itself and, by his sacrifice, give all of us access to the mercy of God.

But where Hebrews is bold, Mark reminds us how strange and difficult it is to accept such claims about Jesus.  His family reacts to his ministry with embarrassment, ďhe is out of him mind,Ē and in a few days we will read how the scribes accuse him of being an agent of Satan.  Just as it did in the time of Mark, it will always take faith to recognize the mediating power of Jesus described by the author of Hebrews.

 

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