Posts Tagged ‘God’s grace’

HEBREWS 7:23-28

23 Furthermore, the former priests were many in number, because they were prevented by death from continuing in office; 24 but he holds his priesthood permanently, because he continues forever. 25 Consequently he is able for all time to save those who approach God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them.

26 For it was fitting that we should have such a high priest, holy, blameless, undefiled, separated from sinners, and exalted above the heavens. 27 Unlike the other high priests, he has no need to offer sacrifices day after day, first for his own sins, and then for those of the people; this he did once for all when he offered himself. 28 For the law appoints as high priests those who are subject to weakness, but the word of the oath, which came later than the law, appoints a Son who has been made perfect forever.

The writer of Hebrews, likely writing in the decade following the destruction of the Jewish temple in Jerusalem by the Romans (70 C.E.), is deeply engaged in spiritualizing the familiar parts and practices of temple sacrificial worship. As the apostle Paul had earlier transferred the identity of the temple itself from the physical building to the spiritual community of believers, so now this author (in the tradition of Paul) interprets the identity and saving achievement of Jesus Christ according to the earthly function of the Jewish high priest. But, of course, the heavenly High Priest is superior in every way, perpetually interceding for all those who call on his name.

The historical role of the Jewish high priest was to serve as chief mediator between the people of Israel and their God. On the high holy Day of Atonement he first purified himself and then offered a sacrifice of repentance (“returning”) on behalf of the nation, removing its guilt and wiping clean the slate of its sin-record against God. Although he had been raised up from among the people and (here was a sore spot for many Jewish purists) appointed by Rome, the high priest was fallible, in his own way sinful, and naturally mortal. In other words, he was neither perfect nor permanent.

But Jesus, according to this spiritual re-reading, was indeed perfect, and, what’s more, lives even now in everlasting beatitude with God. So, while there may have been legitimate questions over the certification and virtue of some of his former and earthly counterparts, Jesus represents a permanent fixture in the universal process of salvation. Now there is no need to travel to Jerusalem, or any other religious center for that matter, to have access to God’s saving grace.

Advertisements

MARK 10:2-16

Some Pharisees came, and to test him they asked, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?” He answered them, “What did Moses command you?” They said, “Moses allowed a man to write a certificate of dismissal and to divorce her.” But Jesus said to them, “Because of your hardness of heart he wrote this commandment for you. But from the beginning of creation, ‘God made them male and female.’ ‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.’ So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.”

10 Then in the house the disciples asked him again about this matter. 11 He said to them, “Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery against her; 12 and if she divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery.”

13 People were bringing little children to him in order that he might touch them; and the disciples spoke sternly to them. 14 But when Jesus saw this, he was indignant and said to them, “Let the little children come to me; do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs. 15 Truly I tell you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it.” 16 And he took them up in his arms, laid his hands on them, and blessed them.

Grasping, finally, the two-edged blade of this difficult passage, we need to ask the urgent question that rushes to the modern mind. Is Jesus here condemning every divorced and remarried person as an adulterer? And if so, then aren’t such people disqualified from grace and salvation because of the perpetual state of their sin?

Well, let’s say something first about grace and its disqualifications. According to Jesus there are none. Grace is not defined in terms of a recipient’s merit or obedient effort for its reward. Grace is God’s outpouring of life and blessing and love, regardless of whom it ‘spills’ on or how deserving they are. Grace is a “God thing.” Jesus invited tax collectors and prostitutes to his meals, not because he approved of their lifestyles or condoned their sin, but because he believed that everyone is sought and loved by God. He didn’t approve of adultery either, but he would not have excluded an adulterer from the fellowship.

But what about his hard words on divorce? To understand what Jesus meant when he called a remarried person an “adulterer,” we must try to appreciate his very high view of the marriage covenant. Marriage is a sacred union under God, the terms and conditions of which are not for the human partners to negotiate. In marrying, they are joining their lives together in a sacrament that constitutes them as a “new being” in the sight of God.

Just because, and for whatever legitimate reasons, the partners decide to divorce, doesn’t nullify the holy union – at least from God’s point of view. And Jesus was trying to help us see marriage, and all of our human relationships for that matter, from God’s point of view. The forgiveness of God, thankfully, means that we can always pick up the pieces of our lives and venture forth under God’s blessing, hopefully with a bit more wisdom under our hats.