Sunday Sermon for November 4, 2018, the Thirty-first Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B
Readings: Dt 2:2-6; Heb 7:23-28; Mk 12:28b-34
In the Gospel reading today our Lord is asked which commandment in the Law is first, meaning the greatest or the most important. Our Lord answers in the way any good Jewish person would by reciting the Shema Israel that we hear in the first reading: “Hear, O Israel, the Lord is our God the Lord alone! Therefore, you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength.
I say any good Jewish person would answer this question the same way because God specifically instructed the people of Israel to fasten this prayer on the gates and doorposts of their homes. They were also to fasten these words to their foreheads and wrists, which is why they wore phylacteries, as a reminder there is only one God and they were privileged to worship Him as His people.
The scribe who asked Jesus this question responded that loving God with our whole heart and loving our neighbor as our own self is worth more than all burnt offerings and sacrifices. Our Lord acknowledged the insight of this man and told him he was not far from the kingdom of God.
This point is necessary for understanding the importance of what St. Paul tells us in the second reading about Jesus. Jesus is our High Priest Who offered His sacrifice once for all. But how do we understand this in light of our Lord’s response to the scribe in the Gospel? When Jesus offered His sacrifice, He offered Himself, a point St. Paul makes in this same reading. Jesus offers Himself as an act of perfect love for God and for us.
In other words, in His High Priestly action Jesus loved God with His whole heart, and soul, and strength. He also loved His neighbor as Himself. Because He is God, the love in His offering was absolute and perfect. To offer Himself for us is to love us as God loves us, which is to love us as He loves Himself.
St. Paul says that our Lord offered Himself once for all; therefore He does not have to offer sacrifice day after day in reparation for sin. In the sacrifices of the Old Testament, each sacrifice could be offered only once because if it was burned as a holocaust, nothing would be nothing left of the animal. Therefore, to offer a sacrifice the next day, a different animal would need to be used.
This is why the Jewish priests had to offer sacrifice day after day. Our Lord’s sacrifice, however, is different. Not only is His sacrifice a perfect act of love, as we have seen, but it is the eternal sacrifice of Heaven. Recall that the Jewish sacrifices were modeled on the sacrifice that Moses saw in his vision of Heaven. The earthly sacrifices imitated of the Heavenly sacrifice, and were limited by time, space, and the temporal life of the animal. However, the Heavenly sacrifice knows no bounds; It is eternal.
Because the sacrifice of Jesus is eternal, His offering embraces all time. While this point is not specifically addressed in today’s reading, St. makes does make it more clear later in the same letter (9:12) that “once for all” is about all time, not something done once at a specific moment in time which is then finished.
Regarding our Lord’s Priesthood, several weeks ago we saw that His Priesthood predated the Law. God established our Lord’s Priesthood for all people from the Garden; it is the priesthood practiced by Melchizedek (Shem) after the Flood. Now St. Paul tells us the Priesthood of Jesus was established by an oath that came after the Law. So, which is it? Both, because both are one and the same Priesthood.
The priesthood of Jesus existed before the Flood, but it was taken away from the Jewish people because of their disobedience in the desert and replaced by the priesthood of Aaron around the time the Law was given. In Psalm 110, however, God promised that the Messiah would be a priest in the Order of Melchizedek. This Psalm was written hundreds of years after the Law was given to Moses.
So the sacrifice of Jesus, offered according to the Law, freed us from the Law. It also freed us from the sacrifices the Jewish people had to offer because at Mass the sacrifice is the same sacrifice Jesus offered 2000 years ago. Jesus is not being offered again and again; He is being offered still. The only difference is the manner in which the sacrifice is offered. In this sacrifice, Jesus continues to love His Father and us with His whole being. The privilege, then, is ours, to love Him now and for eternity with our whole heart, and soul, and strength.
Fr. Altier’s column appears regularly in The Wanderer, a national Catholic weekly published in St. Paul, Minn. For information about subscribing to The Wanderer, please visit www.thewandererpress.com.