Lectionary Year B
April 6, 2003
Hebrews 5:5-10

Step V: Distillation


As Lenten text for the Sunday before the beginning of Holy Week (Palm Sunday, 1997) it is instructive to consider a tradition that speaks of Jesus' suffering and anguish about "obedience" that goes beyond or at least speaks differently about this matter than the Gethsemane story or other expressions of Jesus' struggle(suffering) to be the son/redeemer.

The strangeness of this pericope resides in the fact that it seems only derivatively to have anything to do with us human beings. It has thereby some of the features of the Book of Revelation: the drama portrayed is cosmic and mortals would do better to observe what is being carried out on their behalf than to begin commentary too quickly. It is also thereby prudent not to move too quickly to "object lesson" hermeneutics and to make comparisons to our own dark journeys and piety rewarded. It is a solitary journey this One walks as the summoned high priest. What he learns about obedience while being the "son" becomes relevant and valuable to us through obedience to him (v. 9) as the source of eternal salvation.

For most people today it is not clear why a "high priest" - even a perfected one - should be of any relevance for them. This may stem from the fact that we have lost any sense of or interest in the "holiness" of God. Gaining a hearing with God through piety or fear (Gr. "Eulabeias") does not strike a chord. Yet, Hebrews holds out for an honest hearing and a reconsideration of our poverty in the area of piety and fear with respect to God. How can Hebrew's hold out position and the dearth of interest among moderns in the holiness of God be brought together?

The "order" (Gr. "taxis") of Melchizedek may be of some help in this matter. Chapter 7 elaborates upon the name and the "order" which is "first" or "prior" in terms of comparison to the levitical priesthood and that of Aaron; M. is also prior to Abraham who is the recipient of the covenant promises; and finally, the absence of a lineage - no mother or father known, no geneology - makes him (so reasons the author of Hebrews) a special "son" of God appointed with a destiny for the blessing of the nations through Abraham. M. and Jesus in his "order" help us to recover something we have lost...something prior to our present consciousness...something akin perhaps to the discovery people make when they start finding things out about their "relatives" and family members. We discover who we are and find a forgotten dream rekindled as we read about them and/or talk with them about their identity and causes. Sometimes the same discovery comes in learning about a familiar figure from the past in general or simply someone who made an indelible impression upon us and now we can never be the same.

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