Tuesday January 21, 2003 Homily by Fr. Robert Altier Second Week in Ordinary Time
Reading (Hebrews 6:10-20) Gospel (St. Mark 2:23-28)
Saint Paul, as he continues his argument in his Letter to the Hebrews to demonstrate that Jesus is indeed the priest promised by God from old that He is the one who is in the order of Melchizedek tells us that God swore an oath. This is something which is rather an astounding thought when you really stop to consider it. Why would God be swearing an oath? Yet that is what He has done. Saint Paul tells us that it is by two things which are immutable so that we can have absolute proof and demonstration. One is that it is formed by God Himself, and God is immutable. Since there was no one greater than God, He had no one greater by which to swear; and so when He swore an oath, He swore it by Himself. And since He cannot change neither can what He has promised changed. Then, as Saint Paul makes clear, an oath puts an end to all argument. If you want to be able to demonstrate something clearly, all you need to do is make an oath. These days one would wonder about such a thing, but when it is God Who is swearing an oath, it is very clear that it is an unchangeable oath, that it is truth. And so, based on an oath which is unchangeable and based on God Who is unchangeable, we have a promise.
Saint Paul uses the promise that was made to Abraham to be able to demonstrate how this works: that Abraham was made a promise by God and in that promise Abraham, as we all know, had to wait a very long time for it to be fulfilled. It was fulfilled in a manner which he would never ever have imagined, and it was fulfilled in a way which was greater than he could ever have imagined. Now God has promised that there would be a high priest who would come in the order of Melchizedek. That too has been fulfilled in a way which is way beyond anything that anybody could have imagined: that God would send His own Son so that He would be a faithful high priest, unlike others. The other high priests, as he said yesterday in the reading we heard, they have to offer sacrifice first for their own sins and then for those of the people. While it is true that they can be compassionate with erring sinners because they themselves are beset by weakness, in this case we have a high priest Who cannot sin, Who has never sinned, and we do not have to worry about Him doing something that is self-centered or something that is not in our best interest or anything that is going to violate what the Lord would want at all because He is the Lord. The guarantees we have are immense and it is a guarantee on the Person of God Himself.
So it is, as Saint Paul tells us, an anchor of the soul, sure and firm, which reaches into the interior behind the veil, that is, into Heaven itself, because that is the promise we have now through this high priest: to enter into the sanctuary not made by human hands but eternal. It is the one in Heaven and that is where we are called to be. That is where our high priest is; that is where He offers sacrifice on our behalf. It is this that is also the reason why Jesus can say something that would otherwise sound absolutely arrogant that is, He is Lord even of the Sabbath and the Sabbath was made for man because He is God and He is the high priest. It is the task of the high priest to sanctify the Sabbath, and that is what He is called to do.
And so we see the fulfillment of what Our Lord has told us and Saint Paul making it very clear what this means, that there is a new priest in the order of Melchizedek sworn by God by an oath. It is unheard of that God would swear an oath, but it is to stand as a guarantee to us that not only is this true but that God will fulfill it and that He will fulfill it perfectly. And He has. It is fulfilled in His Son: He has entered into the Holy of Holies and He stands there making sacrifice and mediating for us. So it is indeed a sure and firm anchor in our soul that we have the promise of God and that we have a hope for which we have to wait for its fulfillment like Abraham did, but we know it is a guarantee for those who are faithful, that as Jesus, our high priest, has entered into the Holy of Holies of Heaven, so too this hope of ours has already entered into eternity and it simply awaits its fulfillment that after death we too will enter into the Holy of Holies not made by human hands but eternal the Holy of Holies in Heaven where Jesus stands as our high priest forever.
* This text was transcribed from the audio recording of a homily by Father Robert Altier with minimal editing.