January 27, 2021
by Tom Quinn
Creighton University's School of Medicine - retired
click here for photo and information about the writer

Wednesday of the Third Week in Ordinary Time
Lectionary: 319

Hebrews 10:11-18
Psalm 110:1, 2, 3, 4
Mark 4:1-20

Praying Ordinary Time

Parenting Our Adult Children

The author of the letter to the Hebrews, i.e., the Jewish Christians living in Jerusalem, who, most likely, had directly experienced the rituals of the beautiful second temple. When we read the phrase "every priest stands at his ministry offering frequently those same sacrifices that can never take away sins," we may picture the highest-ranking priests, surrounded by clouds of smoke from burning animal sacrifices and incense. Animals bleated, bellowed, or cooed while lower-ranking priests attended to functions such as singing, removing ashes of the sacrifices, and caring for the menorahs. Their collective hope, and that of the people standing in the outer portions of the temple, was to please God, and to attain forgiveness for sins. No matter how long the fires burned, and the fragrance of the incense rose, the author tells us, "those same sacrifices can never take away sins." Jesus, by offering himself, "has made perfect forever those who are consecrated." The Holy Spirit assures us and pledges a covenant: ''Their sins and their evil doing I will remember no more. Where there is forgiveness of these, there is no longer [a need for] offering for sin." Jesus, the Son of God, the Perfect Offering, has gained for us, through his painful sacrifice of himself on the cross, what all of the previous sacrifices could not. .. our redemption, once and for all. 

When we read the Responsorial Psalm, we repeat the name Melchizadek several times. We may subliminally associate him with the Canon of the Mass, or with one of his appellations: King of Peace, High Priest of God Most High, or King of Salem (Jerusalem). We may associate him with High Priests of the People of Israel. He lived, however, in the time before the establishment of the levitic Priesthood or the Temple. He did believe that the God of Abraham was the true God. Melchizadek, as the Priest-King, blessed Abraham after a battle. The bread and wine that he used in the ceremony may have foreshadowed the eucharistic form used in the Mass. He was, in some ways, a prototype of the Messiah. When we read the words, "you are a priest forever in the line of Melchizadek," in Psalm 110, we are reminded that we Christians are a priestly-kingly people. Jesus, as Messiah, High Priest, and King, is above all, the Son of God. The model, in the millennia before Christ, may have been based on the order of Melchizadeck, but Jesus Christ, the eternal and perfect High Priest, is the fulfillment of our identity as the body of Christ; a priestly and royal people of God. 

Today, the gospel reading is, no doubt, one of the most familiar to most of us. Jesus assumed that most of us know enough about seeds and their needs to understand the parable. Jesus tells us, "if you have ears to hear, use them." He also used a difficult negative phrase that seems to be meant to make us stop and think: "they may ... hear and listen, but not understand, in order that they may not be converted and be forgiven." Jesus explains the parable fully to the twelve in order to underline the fact that "the mystery of the Kingdom of God has been granted to you." He emphasizes the fact that the apostles had, indeed, fallen on rich soil. They were the ones who heard the word, internalized it, and accepted it. They needed only to prove that they would "bear fruit." It may not be obvious to us in which type of soil we are developing our faith. We are in rapidly changing circumstances. Most of us generally feel that we have developed in rich soil, but it is clear that the vines and thorns are never far away. We can read and hear the word of God more easily than ever before, but "worldly anxiety, the lure of riches, and the craving for other things," may choke our efforts to spiritually flourish. We need always to strive to be a positive force; struggle to bear fruit. 

If we are prayerful, we are more likely to thrive. The alternative readings for today are for the Memorial of St. Angela Merici, the founder of the Ursuline Order. The beautiful passage from Peter 4:7b-11, is a prayer in itself, and helped me to pray today: "Be serious and sober-minded so that you will be able to pray. Above all, let your love for one another be intense, because love covers a multitude of sins ... Whoever serves, let it be with the strength that God supplies, so that in all things, God may be glorified through Jesus Christ, to whom belongs glory and dominion forever and ever". Let us all say, "Amen." 

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