Monday January 20, 2003 Homily by Fr. Robert Altier Second Week in Ordinary Time
Reading (Hebrews 5:1-10) Gospel (St. Mark 2:18-22)
In the first reading, Saint Paul begins his argument regarding the priesthood of Jesus. It begins in the fifth chapter of his Letter to the Hebrews and it will really comprise Chapters 5, 6, and 7 of that same letter. What Saint Paul is trying to make very clear to us is that Jesus is a priest. He is a priest, however, in a way that is different from the way the Jewish priests were because the Jewish priests, recall, were priests according to the order of Aaron, not according to the order of Melchizedek. Melchizedek is a man whose name is mentioned only twice in the entire Old Testament, once in Chapter 14 of the Book of Genesis and again in Psalm 110. Melchizedek was the King of Salem, which means “the King of Peace”. Salem is the place that is today called Yeru-salem, that is, Jerusalem. And his name Melchizedek means “the King of Righteousness”. Saint Paul will pick up on these things as he goes along talking about how Jesus is the real Prince of Peace and He is the true Righteous One, the King of Righteousness, showing how the two correlate. Melchizedek (we recall also from Genesis 14), when he came out and blessed Abraham, offered to God bread and wine. Jesus, of course, does the same. So there are all these different correlations.
The important thing to understand is that for the Jewish priests, they could only come from the tribe of Levi; they had to be the descendents of Aaron. Jesus was not. Jesus was from the tribe of Judah, and so it is something entirely new and entirely different. It is not something which can be understood in light of the Old Testament priesthood. In fact, Saint Paul’s Letter to the Hebrews is written to priests, that is, to Jewish priests who had converted. And so Saint Paul is talking to them about, first of all, Who it is that they serve – as we saw at the beginning that Jesus is the Son of God – and now he is going to talk to them about the priesthood that they have.
When we look at the priesthood in the New Testament, the thing also to keep in mind as we go through these next few days is that in the New Testament there is only one Priest. In the Old Testament there are many, many priests. Each priest in the Old Testament is his own priest, and each priest has his own priesthood in the Old Testament. In the New Testament times, and to date, that is not the case; there is only one Priest and there is only one priesthood. That Priest is Jesus Christ, and He is a priest forever. His priesthood does not pass away with death, but in fact continues on. Now, every single priest shares in the priesthood of Jesus Christ. No priest today has his own priesthood, that is, no Catholic priest; it is the priesthood of Jesus Christ and every priest has a share in the priesthood of Jesus Christ. The priest stands in the very Person of Jesus Christ. So there is but one Priest and there is but one priesthood.
That is why the sacrifice of Jesus continues to be offered. It is not a separate sacrifice. It is not a sacrifice which is different because it is a different priesthood. It is the exact same sacrifice that was offered 2,000 years ago on the Cross. The only difference is the manner in which the sacrifice is offered. Because it is the same priest, it is the same Victim and it is the same sacrifice. So as we go along, just keep those things in mind.
When Jesus talks about being the Bridegroom, part of what He is talking about is His priesthood. It is the self-offering. That is what a bride and a bridegroom do: They give themselves to one another as a gift, as a sacrifice of themselves; they offer themselves to one another and receive the gift of the other. Jesus too, the Bridegroom of our souls, Jesus is the One Who offers Himself for His bride – ultimately, the Church. Each one of us is a member of the Church and He offered Himself for us. He sacrificed Himself for us in that act of priesthood.
For each one of us also, we share in the baptismal priesthood, which is an entirely different kind of priesthood than the sacramental or ordained priesthood, but nonetheless, each one of us, sharing in the baptismal priesthood of Christ, is called to sacrifice ourselves as a bride to the Bridegroom. We look at the Crucifix, we look at the Eucharist, and we see the sacrifice of the Groom. Then we need to ask ourselves, “What is the response of the bride?” In a marriage, both must sacrifice themselves to one another. Jesus has already done that for us in His act of priesthood. Now we in turn exercise our priesthood and we are asked to sacrifice ourselves for Him and give ourselves entirely to Him. As we receive His gift to ourselves, we then in turn offer the gift of ourselves to Him and sacrifice ourselves in an exercise of our priesthood so that the priesthood is one, the gift is one, the sacrifice is one – and, in Jesus Christ, all are one.
* This text was transcribed from the audio recording of a homily by Father Robert Altier with minimal editing.