Posts Tagged ‘sacrifice’

HEBREWS 9:11-14

11 But when Christ came as a high priest of the good things that have come, then through the greater and perfect tent (not made with hands, that is, not of this creation), 12 he entered once for all into the Holy Place, not with the blood of goats and calves, but with his own blood, thus obtaining eternal redemption. 13 For if the blood of goats and bulls, with the sprinkling of the ashes of a heifer, sanctifies those who have been defiled so that their flesh is purified, 14 how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish to God, purify our conscience from dead works to worship the living God!

The high priest in Jerusalem entered but once a year through the curtain in the temple separating the Holy Place from the sanctuary commons, wherein the presence of God was believed to dwell in the fullness of glory. Interceding for himself and on behalf of the nation, he offered up to God the sacrificial blood of repentance, sprinkling it upon the mercy seat of the ark of the covenant according to strict ritual procedures.

Of course, what was really going on was a national catharsis of sorts, where Jews sought and received purification for their cumulative guilt over the previous year, and prepared to enter the new year with clean hearts. The atonement ritual in the temple by the high priest was the outward and visible demonstration of an inward and spiritual renewal of the people, made possible by the grace and forgiveness of God.

Continuing with his analogy of Christ as the high priest and sacrifice for our salvation, the author contemplates the contrast between the institutional high priest of Jerusalem and the heavenly high priest who by his own death and ascension has entered the realm of glory and motivated the grace of God on our behalf. Just as the annual ritual in the temple was really the outward display of an inward event of salvation, so the historical drama of Jesus’ ministry, revelation, and martyrdom for the kingdom of God was also the realization in time and location of a truly timeless and universal truth.

To understand this is to have our “third eye” opened to the mystical depths of religion where our heart’s true longing – to be pure, whole, and at peace – is satisfied. The spiritual purpose of religion itself is to instruct and facilitate our human progress into God.

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JOHN 6:56-69

56 Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me, and I in them. 57 Just as the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever eats me will live because of me. 58 This is the bread that came down from heaven, not like that which your ancestors ate, and they died. But the one who eats this bread will live forever.”59 He said these things while he was teaching in the synagogue at Capernaum.

60 When many of his disciples heard it, they said, “This teaching is difficult; who can accept it?” 61 But Jesus, being aware that his disciples were complaining about it, said to them, “Does this offend you? 62 Then what if you were to see the Son of Man ascending to where he was before? 63 It is the spirit that gives life; the flesh is useless. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life. 64 But among you there are some who do not believe.” For Jesus knew from the first who were the ones that did not believe, and who was the one that would betray him. 65 And he said, “For this reason I have told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted by the Father.”

66 Because of this many of his disciples turned back and no longer went about with him. 67 So Jesus asked the twelve, “Do you also wish to go away?” 68 Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom can we go? You have the words of eternal life. 69 We have come to believe and know that you are the Holy One of God.”

A friend once commented to me how this passage, and in particular John 6:66, reveals a truth concerning the anti-christ – about the one who turns against Christ. Instead of referring to some apocalyptic figure on the future stage of world politics, the real anti-christ is what inside ourselves pushes away the gospel’s total claim on our lives.

We may attach ourselves to a local faith community, give assent to the key beliefs of our tradition, and carry on as decent law-abiding citizens. As long as our religion helps us cope with the stresses of postmodern life and guarantees our beatitude in the life to come, we are willing to stay with it.

But should the deeper message and challenge of Jesus’ gospel break through our defenses, we complain with the disciples, “The teaching is difficult; who can accept it?” We would rather worship Jesus on Sundays than follow him devotedly throughout the week. To identify ourselves so completely with the example, the spirit, the mind, the gospel, and the revolutionary vision of Jesus – “Who can accept it?” we murmur, and turn away.

And that is precisely when we turn against (anti-) Christ. It’s not in hostile acts of aggression but by subtle dissociation that we become enemies of the gospel. The more of us that exempt ourselves from having to “eat the flesh and drink the blood” of Jesus, that is, who pass off the call to discipleship because the personal sacrifice is too great or the challenge of forgiveness demands too much, the more significant a barrier we become, individually and collectively, to the present realization of his vision.

MATTHEW 4:12-23

12 Now when Jesus heard that John had been arrested, he withdrew to Galilee. 13 He left Nazareth and made his home in Capernaum by the sea, in the territory of Zebulun and Naphtali, 14 so that what had been spoken through the prophet Isaiah might be fulfilled:

15 “Land of Zebulun, land of Naphtali,
    on the road by the sea, across the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles—
16 the people who sat in darkness
    have seen a great light,
and for those who sat in the region and shadow of death
    light has dawned.”

17 From that time Jesus began to proclaim, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.”

18 As he walked by the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon, who is called Peter, and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea—for they were fishermen. 19 And he said to them, “Follow me, and I will make you fish for people.” 20 Immediately they left their nets and followed him. 21 As he went from there, he saw two other brothers, James son of Zebedee and his brother John, in the boat with their father Zebedee, mending their nets, and he called them. 22 Immediately they left the boat and their father, and followed him.

23 Jesus went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the good news of the kingdom and curing every disease and every sickness among the people.

In his zeal to make Jesus the fulfillment of every Jewish hope and expectation, Matthew choreographs his word and actions to match up with the biblical prophecies. Since he truly believed that Jesus was the one promised of old, his job of connecting the dots was not terribly difficult, though still very creative.

Isaiah prophesied of the “great light” that would drive off the fog of ignorance and gloom. This is precisely what Jesus did, so the only thing left was to composed the storyline that would make the equation. Whether or not Jesus actually walked the path, said the words, and did the things Matthew describes him as doing is really besides the point, which is that Jesus brought God’s light (that is, God’s truth) into the world.

The world in Matthew’s day was very much as it appeared to Isaiah way back when, with the same shroud of darkness hanging over the minds and hearts of his generation as over the prophet’s. Indeed, this very shroud hangs over us still, and there still is only one way by which the veil can be split and the light revealed. Isaiah discerned it, Jesus exemplified it, and now we must walk this narrow path for ourselves. The progressive steps along this path are awakening, devotion, compassion, fidelity, and sacrifice.

The light of salvation revealed through Jesus first came by way of a simple message: Repent – stop, wake up, turn around and get back on the path that leads home. Throughout his ministry Jesus would teach on the mystery of God’s kingdom, which is this moment coming near. Now is the time to enter it. Now has always been the time.

                                                                                                   

As Jesus begins his ministry he calls those who will become his disciples, his companions and followers. He calls them not that he might become their object of veneration and respect, but that in following with him in the Way they might come to the direct experience of God’s kingdom for themselves.

This wasn’t a classroom, but a training ground, and the course of learning was not about information, but experience. That is to say, Jesus was inviting these men to a live encounter, to a veritable exploration into God.

The first turn-around of repentance needed, then, was a shift (we might well call it a paradigm shift, for such it is) from thinking-about to experience-of. His knowledge of the kingdom was more than a knowledge by acquaintance than a knowledge by description. You can have love explained to you in a thousand ways, but until you have “fallen” into it and tasted it for yourself you can’t be said to really know what love is.

In the same way, God’s kingdom (and the fact that Jesus uses a metaphor here should tip us off that he is speaking of a mystery) cannot be defined but only tasted, felt, entered, and thereby known by acquainting yourself with its power.

So perhaps the fact that Jesus went to the lake shore and called fishermen to be his disciples rather than going to the academy to call students reveals his preference for followers who are used to wrapping their hands around an experience more than their intellects around an idea. But let’s be careful: a disciple of Jesus and his gospel is not expected to go on mental by-pass! There will be plenty of opportunity and need for critical reflection and logical thought. For now, though, the heart must lead the way.