29th Sunday of Ordinary Time (Is 53:10-11; Hb 4:14-16) “Our Great High Priest” PDF Version
Homily for 29th Sunday of OT, Year B (2018): Is 53:10-11; Hb 4:14-16
Peter, Paul, John, James and Jude. These are the names of the Apostles who also authored the Letters of the New Testament and Book of Revelation according to St John. But there is one letter in the New Testament that has no author attributed to it: The Letter to the Hebrews. Some have speculated it was written by St. Paul, while others have proposed St. Barnabas, while still others have said it was an anonymous 1st Century AD Christian, who was a convert from Judaism and very possibly a priest who worked in the Jerusalem Temple.
Whoever the author of this letter is remains somewhat of a mystery but one theme that makes this letter unique and of great importance in the writings of the New Testament is how it reveals Jesus to be the Great High Priest, who has passed through the heavens, able to sympathize with our weakness and was tested as we are yet without yielding to sin.
If we were only to read the Gospels and never the content revealed in the Letter to the Hebrews, we might never consider Jesus of Nazareth to be the Great High Priest. The reason being Jesus is does not appear to act like a priest in the Gospel Accounts. He did not dress like a temple priest, we never read of Him offering animal sacrifices in the temple as the priests did day after day, and very often He got into major disputes with the priests of His day, leading one to speculate that He rejected the institutional priesthood and had no desire to be in way associated with it or its liturgical workings.
True, Jesus did not appear to look or act as a priest would in His day and age, but the Letter to the Hebrews shows us the He truly was a priest. In fact, He is the Great and Eternal High Priest, the priest from whom all priests of yesterday, today and tomorrow receive their priesthood and during His 33 years on earth He acted and lived as a priest in the truest sense of the word!
While He may never have stood before the altar of sacrifice in the Jerusalem Temple to offer a burnt offerings of bulls or goats to His Heavenly Father, He stood before a much great altar, the altar of Golgotha, and when He mounted the Wood of the Cross for the salvation of the world, He did so as a priest, becoming both priest and victim as He stretched out His hands to be fixed to His altar, in a gesture of prayer, sacrifice and love, opening His arms to the entire world and uniting all creation to Him as He sacrificed Himself to save a fallen universe, “the righteous one who shall make many righteous, and bore our iniquities.”
It was there that we witness Jesus of Nazareth as our Great High Priest, passing from this world to the heaven of His Father, opening wide its gates to all who would be baptized into His priestly people and share in the one sacrifice of His Sacred Body and Precious Blood.
But Jesus acted as a priest in ways other than His priestly sacrifice on the Cross. His entire life was an oblation that He offered to His Heavenly Father, meaning all His works, words and deeds were priestly offerings, showing us that He did everything well because they were small but meaningful sacrificial gifts of Himself for love of God and neighbour.
Consider for example how Our Lord spent the majority of his teen years and young adulthood as a carpenter. It was in the small workshop in Nazareth that Jesus acted as a priest, not in offering animal sacrifices but in offering His work to His Father in heaven, and helping to provide for the material needs of His family and to better the lives of those He served. This was His first sanctuary, this was His first altar of sacrifice, this was where Jesus, perfect God and perfect man, lived a quiet and holy priesthood until the day He was revealed to Israel in the desert and journeyed as the Great High Priest to His dread altar outside the walls of Jerusalem to offer Himself for us and pass into the glories of heaven.
On the day of our baptism, we were each given a share in the priesthood of Jesus Christ. True, in our Church only a small number of men are called to the Ordained Priesthood to serve at the Holy Altar and be servants for God’s People. But each of us is called to live the common priesthood that was infused into our souls on the day of our baptism.
And this priesthood is one that is not lived primarily within a church building, though each of us is called at every Mass to bring our own offerings to God: of all the prayers and intentions we bring and spiritually place on His Holy Altar.
Rather, The priesthood of every baptized Catholic is lived in the world, in the day to day activities we undertake. This means each of us needs to consider where my holy altar resides:
Is it primarily within my home, where I see all the day to day duties to care for my home, keep it in good order and better the life of my family as my priesthood?
Is it my desk and classroom, where as a teacher I welcome my students with love and push myself to teach and serve them to the best of my abilities?
Is it within a hotel, restaurant, secretary desk, post office, construction site or some other place of work where I am called to serve others and begin to see it as more than my place of employment but also the place where I serve God as a priestly person for love of Him and others?
Each of us has a state of life, place of work, and familial relationship where we will discover our God given mission to act as priestly people who share in the priesthood of the Great High Priest.
We can simply see it as our lot in life, our place of work, and the role within our family as inevitable consequences I have been given. But how different and more meaningful life will be if I see all the circumstances of my life as the altar upon which God calls me to serve as one of His priestly people, offering up my work as prayer and pouring out my life as Jesus did for love of God and others.
A great advocate in heaven who can help us live this priesthood well is our spiritual father and lord, St. Joseph, of whom I am daily amazed how much he has done and will continue to do for our parish in the building our new shrine church!
St. Joseph never served in the Jerusalem Temple but he did serve everyday at the altar of his carpenter shop and as the father of his household. It was there he served God, it was there he served and provided for his family, it was there He taught the Son of God how to be a priestly man, first upon the wood of a carpenter table and in preparation to serve upon the wood of newly cut cross.
St. Joseph, teach us how to be a priestly people and show us how doing so will make us more closely resemble the heart of your son, Jesus Christ, our Great and Eternal High Priest.