Our Common Priesthood

18 January 2007: Thursday in the 2nd Week in Ordinary Time
Hebrews 7, 25- 8,6: The Priesthood according to the Melchizedek

We continue our reflection about our common priesthood from the first reading to the Hebrews from yesterday.

In the first reading, the writer of the Hebrews described what the priesthood according to Melchizedek means: it is a priesthood that is forever --- without beginning or end; a priesthood founded on personal greatness, not on any legal appointment or genealogy (as opposed to the Levites who traced their priesthood to Aaron). You see, the priesthood of the Jews is based on genealogy: you have to trace your lineage to Aaron.

But the writer of the letter to the Hebrews asserts that the priesthood of Jesus is from the line of Melchizedek. Melchizedek as the reading yesterday (Hebrews 7, 1-3) says has no “father, mother or ancestry.” Thus his priesthood is not according to genealogy. And that he has “no beginning nor end”; thus forever. So Jesus is legitimately high priest, like Melchizedek, but not according to the Levitical priesthood. And Jesus’ high priesthood is forever.

The writer of the letter to the Hebrews is largely unknown (once it was attributed to Paul), sees religion as access to God; thus the supreme priest opens the way to God; he builds a bridge so that people can go to God’s presence. Alfred Tennyson of the famous, Charge of the Light Brigade (1855) said that God fulfills Himself in many ways; and George William Russell (aka AE) said that there are as numerous ways to the stars as people who climbs to it. And thus, priests presents different ways to go to God.

During the time of the writer of the Hebrews, the Greek understanding of the universe was simple: there were two worlds, the real and the unreal. Our world, the material world was just a pale copy of the real world. Ideas belong to the real world: the idea of the perfect table exists, and all other material tables are imperfect copies of it. Thus, the priest for them brings people to reality. It is not surprising when people ask me when they are hurting after a break-up, “Is love really real?” Priests points to what real love is to people who are groping in the dark. The same way with the ideals of peace and happiness. When temporary peace is achieved, we pattern it according to the perfect peace in heaven.

How do we become priests? The first reading tells us: as mediator, as the mesitēs. Mesitēs comes from mesos, which means middle. He is one who stands in the middle between two people and brings them together. He reconciles them. In Athens, there were a group of 60ish men who were called to act as mediators when there was a dispute between two people. Their role is to reconcile them. In Rome, there was the arbitri: the judge settled point of the law; the arbitri settled matters of equity, bringing disputes to an end. In Greek, the mesitēs also was a sponsor, who posts bail for a friend who was on trial, guarantees that a debt will be paid. He is a man who stands between and brings together two parties in reconciliation.

So, what does this mean for us who shares a common priesthood? Our role therefore as priests is to become mesitēs: to bring people together and bring them to God. We clarify our understanding of mediator. We used to understand it as the middle person: I-tell-him, he-tells-her. Now, to be mediator, is to open the doors for both of them to talk. In addition, our common priesthood is practiced when we decide whether a law helps people become closer to God or bars the doors for others to come closer to God. Do you make it difficult for people to come to God because of your many shoulds and don’ts? Do you put more importance to rules and steps, than that of charity and reconciliation?

And furthermore, we practice our common priesthood at mass. The mass is not just the presider’s show (like Fr. Jboy’s show), and all of you who attends it are spectators. The Church today encourages people to actively participate at mass: singing together, responding together, etc. Because now, we know that when you sing at mass, respond together like talking to each other, then you and I practice our common priesthood genuinely.

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