God's Grace in a surprising new way - the Priesthood of Jesus

Homily for Wednesday Week 2 of Year 1

by Fr. Tommy Lane

Surprise! Our Scripture readings today (Heb 7:1-3, 15-17; Mark 3:1-6) have something to say about the surprises God has planned for us. We think we have it all figured out but then God wants to give us a new grace. The new grace will not fit into the old wineskin of our life so God wants to create a new wineskin in our life to accept his grace. Accepting grace from God is great. We all want that. But doing so in a new wineskin is an entirely different matter.

The selection from the Letter to the Hebrews today affirms what would have been apparently surprising to its readers that Jesus is a priest even though he is not of the tribe of Levi. There was a law about the “physical descent” (Heb 7:15) required for the priesthood; priests had to be from the tribe of Levi. We read in Ezra that when some priests returned to Israel after the exile they could not find their names in the lists of priests and genealogies so they were excluded from the priesthood. (Ezra 2:61-62) They could not prove their pedigree in the tribe of Levi. Jesus was not from the tribe of Levi, he was from the tribe of Judah. But Jesus was raised up as priest as the Letter to the Hebrews affirms. This surprise has a precedent in the Old Testament in the mysterious priest Melchizedek. Abraham gave Melchizedek a tithe and was blessed by Melchizedek thus showing Melchizedek’s superiority over Abraham and the tribe of Levi would later be descended from Abraham thus Melchizedek is superior to the tribe of Levi (Heb 7:4-10). Thus already in the Old Testament there is a priestly figure superior to the tribe of Levi, the mysterious priestly figure of Melchizedek. Some in the community for which this Letter to the Hebrews was destined were apparently returning to Judaism as a way to cope with spiritual problems but the author asserts that God is now offering grace in a new surprising way, through the priesthood of Jesus.

The Pharisees in the Gospel (Mark 3:1-6) also needed to be surprised by the grace of God. Their interpretation of the Law left them closed to the love and mercy of God. Jesus showed the true interpretation of the Law by healing on the Sabbath. God was offering them grace but their minds and hearts were closed.

The readers of the Letter to the Hebrews and the Pharisees in the Gospel were offered grace but in a surprisingly new way. The readers of the Letter to the Hebrews would only be able to accept the priesthood of Jesus if they also accepted that the priesthood of the Levites had come to an end. The Pharisees could only accept the grace offered them through Jesus if they also accepted that their interpretation of the Law was inadequate. God offers us his grace continually but sometimes his grace comes to us in a new way if we are open to receiving it.

Copyright © Fr. Tommy Lane 2013

This homily was delivered in Mount St. Mary’s Seminary, Emmitsburg, Maryland.