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Lent 5B 2nd Reading

Theology of this Text

If ever there was a beautiful portrayal of the connection between the depth of the history of Israel’s faith and how that is fulfilled in Christ, Hebrews is possibly the best such depiction. Throughout the text, we see the language of priest, altar, sacrifice, atoning blood, and cleansing rituals, and how Christ fulfills all of these in his life, death, and resurrection. Hebrews takes the oft quoted Psalm 110 a step further than the rest of the New Testament and looks closely at verse 4 where we see that Christ is the priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek. This truly is a rich Christological passage that shows just how and why Christ is the final high priest.

Context of this Text

Hebrews is one of the toughest letters or books to date in Scripture. It is often noted that perhaps the author was intentional about making it so difficult in an effort to allow the letter to characterize who it was intended for by itself, and then see if we the reader can locate just who those people are. As we do this, we see that Hebrews was intended for readers who are Christian. They are second generation believers who have received the faith from first-hand eyewitnesses of Jesus. These are people who have been baptized, fully instructed, and they’ve even had the chance to become teachers in the faith community themselves.

There’s an issue though, and that is their growth as a body has been stunted. They’ve had the privilege of hearing of Jesus, but are getting this whole, live-out-your-faith thing wrong. The Hebrews haven’t been attending church gatherings regularly, and their commitment to Christ and his mission is beginning to fall by the wayside. The reasons for this decline in all honesty are strong reasons: Christ hasn’t returned as soon as they were thinking he would. In addition to this, being a Christian isn’t easy in their world during the second half of the 1st century AD. Persecution occurred on several fronts. in the face of these two huge factors, their Christology was too weak to stand against the pressure, and thus they were showing signs of weakness as a body.

The Church today is struggling with some pretty severe growth-stunters as well. Most of us surely aren’t dealing with the severe persecution piece, though maybe some of our contexts are. We do however most definitely live 2,000 years after Christ left in his physical form, and so perhaps some are struggling with his physical absence, and don’t quite understand why he hasn’t returned as soon as we thought he would.

To put things more bluntly, just like the original audience of Hebrews, perhaps we have a weak Christology as well, where in the face of outside (or inside for the matter) factors, people’s faith and growth in Christ begins to wane. It’s to this context that we receive Hebrews again, and perhaps as we do, we can come again with fresh eyes, ears, and hearts to a rich text that will bind us closer to our high priest Savior once more.

In the first four verses of this chapter, the author of Hebrews shows us the qualities that make up a quality candidate for a high priest. The qualities that the author refers to come from the Aaronic priesthood tradition. Some of those qualities are that the priest offers gifts and sacrifices for sins, they represent the people they come from, they deal gently with the people, and most importantly, they are chosen by God. God is who ultimately gives those in the priesthood the ability to live out their calling with authority!