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Jesus Our High Priest

by Jan 19, 2023Friar Reflection

Today’s first reading presents Jesus as our heavenly high priest: “The main point of what has been said is this: we have such a high priest, who has taken his seat at the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in heaven.”  The Jewish high priest in the time of Jesus would enter the holy of holies of Jerusalem Temple once a year on the Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur).  He would sprinkle the blood of the sacrifice to purify the holy of holies from the “contagion” of sin.  Since blood was viewed as life it could function as a “ritual detergent” to expiate or remove the harmful effects of sin.  The high priest purified the holy of holies once a year with the blood of the sacrificial goat.  After he had purified the Temple, the high priest would come out and bless the people gathered in the Temple courtyard.

With this as background the author of Hebrews describes how Jesus ministers not in the earthly Temple but in the true, heavenly Temple, “a minister of the sanctuary and of the true tabernacle that the Lord, not man, set up.”  With this Jewish priestly understanding of the purifying power of blood the author explains how Jesus’ blood expiates or removes the harmful effects of sin.  Jesus’ blood purifies and brings about the forgiveness or expiation of sin.  While this sacrificial “mechanism” may sound strange to us the basic truth behind this imagery is that Jesus’ passion, death, and resurrection has brought about forgiveness of sin, his blood wipes away our sins.  Jesus priestly ministry is one of healing and reconciliation.  Jesus is a sympathetic and compassionate high priest:

“Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast to our confession.  For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who has similarly been tested in every way, yet without sin. So let us confidently approach the throne of grace to receive mercy and to find grace for timely help.” (Hebrews 4:14-16)

Would that all priests would follow the example of Jesus and be sympathetic and compassionate ministers.  Compassion comes from recognizing our own weaknesses and looking at our own faults and failings and not being so quick to judge and condemn others: “Why do you see the speck in your neighbor’s eye, but do not notice the log in your own eye?” (Matthew 7:3).

Image: “High Priest Jewish” by swizzlesticktheatre is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.