Lectionary Commentaries for October 25, 2009
Twenty-first Sunday after Pentecost

from WorkingPreacher.org


Commentary on Mark 10:46-52

Matt Skinner

Bartimaeus is the paragon of faith in Mark’s Gospel, which makes it more than mildly ironic that some churches will skip his story to read something else for Reformation Day.

Don’t feel bad for Bartimaeus, though; he already knows how to deal with people who try to silence him. His persistence adds substance to his bold expression of “faith alone.”

The Active Faith of Bartimaeus
In the final verse, Jesus names faith as what impels Bartimaeus. The rest of the story shows us what that faith is. Bartimaeus’s faith is not about reciting the correct confession or subscribing to certain dogmas. It is his unrelenting conviction that Jesus can and will rescue him from his need. We see this faith in what Bartimaeus does:

  • He grasps who Jesus is. No one else so far in Mark has been able to perceive so much about Jesus from so little data. The title Bartimaeus uses, Son of David, appears only here in Mark, therefore we cannot say too much about exactly what it expresses about Jesus. Elsewhere (12:35-37) Jesus adds nuance to his connection to David (or his differentiation from David) and implies his superiority over Israel’s greatest king. For Bartimaeus, the title obviously indicates that Jesus is God’s designated agent, and it introduces the notion of Jesus as a royal figure, an image that becomes very important when Jesus enters Jerusalem (11:1-10), goes on trial (15:1-15), and dies (15:16-32) as a king. Bartimaeus, despite his blindness and all its connotations of spiritual ignorance (compare 4:12; 8:18), sees the royal dimensions of Jesus’ identity. As the story progresses, we discover that Bartimaeus also discerns that Jesus is specially able to show mercy and heal.
  • He persists despite hindrances. Faith does not come easily to people in Mark; it must surmount obstacles to obtain what it seeks (see 2:4; 5:27, 35-36; 7:27; 9:18b). Others in the crowd rebuke Bartimaeus, demanding he be silent. This detail reminds us that blind beggars dwell near the bottom rung of social privilege in ancient (and contemporary) society. Do people shout Bartimaeus down because they think he deserves to be who he is? Probably. Do they put their own needs before his? Perhaps. In their ignorance about Jesus, the focus of his message, and his concern for blind beggars, their reprimand of Bartimaeus threatens to limit the range within which Jesus might dispense his compassion and grace. Bartimaeus knows better, and so he yells “even more loudly” until his words penetrate Jesus’ ears.
  • He expects a transformation. Presumably Jesus could have walked to Bartimaeus to talk with him. Instead, he tells the onlookers to summon Bartimaeus to him. Now those who sought to inhibit the beggar must assist in Jesus’ ministry to him. Then Mark adds one more delicious detail: Bartimaeus tosses aside his cloak. Obviously he expects to regain his sight, for a blind beggar would ordinarily do well to keep his possessions close at hand. He obviously expects a change in his status. His health problem (blindness) and his economic problem (begging) are a single piece of fabric. As with other healings (5:1-20, 25-34), Jesus can restore Bartimaeus to a place of wholeness that will demand his belonging within society. When Bartimaeus casts off his cloak, he confidently prefigures that he will no longer sit on his garment dependent upon handouts from passersby.
  • He asks for the right thing. When Jesus asks Bartimaeus, “What do you want me to do for you?,” his reply is a simple request voiced with the confidence that Jesus can deliver. “That I would see again,” declares resolutely that Jesus can bring the wholeness and deliverance that people seek. In this confidence and simplicity, what Bartimaeus says is fully consistent with the expressions of faith others have made in Mark. Also, when we consider that Jesus’ question repeats what he asked James and John in last week’s Gospel lection (10:36), we note that Bartimaeus seeks no special privileges. This reiterates that Jesus has not come to bestow power and honor but to open eyes to the new spiritual, social, and material realities made possible when God reigns. When it comes to understanding what Jesus has come to do, the disciples James and John are more “blind” than Bartimaeus.

Following Jesus on the Way
The spatial dimensions of this story contribute to our understanding of Bartimaeus’ salvation (note that in 10:52 Jesus literally says, “Your faith has saved you”). Bartimaeus begins the story alongside (para) the road. He ends the story as a follower (compare 8:34). He follows Jesus on (en) the road. The shift of prepositions reflects Bartimaeus’ move from the invisible periphery of society to the heart of the scene. The movement also suggests more when we consider that “road” (or “way”) is a term Mark uses to indicate Jesus’ journey to Jerusalem and his suffering, the same “way” that he calls his followers to walk (see 8:27; 10:32; 11:8; compare 1:2-3).

In Mark, Bartimaeus is not the first person seeking a miracle who approaches Jesus in faith, but he is the only one who winds up following him, presumably straight into Jerusalem and into his confrontation with the temple-based aristocracy. After ten chapters full of so much secrecy, confusion, and misapprehension, Bartimaeus shows Mark’s readers that faith in Jesus remains possible and potent. Without Bartimaeus, and others in Mark like him who tenaciously cling to Jesus out of faith born from their urgent needs, this Gospel would offer little assurance that anyone could have the spiritual insight to perceive the mysterious ways of God in the person and ministry of Jesus Christ.

Concluding Suggestions
Healing stories, especially those that call attention to a sufferer’s faith, can present difficulties for preachers. There are obvious dangers in drawing simplistic connections between faith and health. Likewise, we must reject suggestions that illness results from one’s sins. Sensitive preachers will avoid chastising (even indirectly) the broken and despised for their lack of faith. Preachers cannot promise cures; they promise what Jesus promises on the “way” that leads to the cross. Nevertheless, congregations can in their community, practices, advocacy, and architecture imperfectly embody and proclaim the wholeness to which Jesus restores Bartimaeus.

Those difficulties, however, cannot allow us to shy away from the images of faith that Bartimaeus provides or to avoid considering how faith clings to Jesus no matter what. Among other things, this story invites us to consider how faith is manifested, nurtured, and stunted within communities.

Mark’s narrative compels us to consider the various roles characters play in this scene, and also the various situations in and around our congregational and communal life: Bartimaeus with his needs and prophetic insights, Jesus with his compassion and grace, the crowd with its determination to keep Bartimaeus both blind and invisible, and others with the opportunity to guide him to Jesus with the hopeful words, “Take courage; get up; he’s calling you!”

First Reading

Commentary on Jeremiah 31:7-9

Brent A. Strawn

This lection is quite short, a snippet from within a larger literary context.

Such snippets, which are not infrequently encountered in the lectionary, can actually function to hinder if not hamper biblical literacy, something that the compilers of the lectionary certainly did not want to have happen! The last point granted, preachers–even and perhaps especially lectionary preachers–should consider the benefits of occasional, if not regular, lectio continua.

In the case of Jeremiah 31:7-9, the snippet in question has literary integrity: it is a complete oracle, capable of being treated in isolation from its larger context. The beginning of the oracle is marked by a prophetic speech formula (“For thus says the LORD,” verse 7). Similar formulae occur in 31:2 and 31:10, thus setting verses 7-9 apart as a coherent, self-standing unit.

But, of course, it is not completely self-standing! The first word of 31:7 (“For”) signals as much, connecting what follows to what precedes. More generally, 31:7-9 belongs to a larger section in Jeremiah commonly called the “Book of Comfort” (chapters 30-31). As this title intimates, these chapters contain promises of restoration and consolation.

The majority of Jeremiah’s book, in accord with four of the six paradigmatic verbs used in his call narrative, has been negative, full of God’s wrath and judgment; there has been much plucking up and pulling down, destroying and overthrowing (1:10b). But there remain those two other verbs that were used when God called Jeremiah: “to build and to plant” (1:10c). These positive activities are at work in the Book of Comfort wherein the majority of the promises in the book–the building and the planting, as it were–have been collected (see also chapters 32-33).

One expects, therefore, positive sentiments from an oracle found in the Book of Comfort, and that is precisely what we encounter in 31:7-9. And yet, lest this be cheap grace or a mere Band-Aid of hope, readers (and preachers) need to recall that Jeremiah and his book have lived through many chapters of death, destruction, and judgment to get to this point.

The promises in the Book of Comfort are anything but cheap. They are, however, to be sure, profoundly grace-full. They come unexpectedly and, or so Jeremiah asserts, undeservedly. It is not that Israel has repented or somehow otherwise pleased God, thereby satisfying his wrath. It is rather that the long-promised destruction of Judah and Jerusalem has taken place and that God–despite, apparently, all possible reasons to the contrary–simply cannot give up beloved Israel (see, e.g., 30:18; 31:3, 10, 20).1  This is a new and unexpected thing, alright: it is the Gospel of God–God proving God’s love for us, even while we were still sinners (cf. Romans 5:8). So we see that this sin and judgment is real and must not be forgotten despite the fact that the snippet of 31:7-9 does not focus on it.

And yet even the good news of restoration in 31:7-9 cannot completely ignore the past history of sin, judgment, and exile. This is, after all, a text about re-storation. Verse 31:8 indicates that what is promised here is a re-turn. God must bring Israel back from other climes: “the north” (where lies the road to Babylon) and “the farthest parts of the earth” (31:8a). Those who return are “a great company,” and all are included, no matter what state of being or health. None are left behind. Even those who might otherwise be considered unfit for a long journey–the blind, the lame, the pregnant, those in labor–will return too. All will return “together” and will return “here” (31:8b).

Both words are weighty, signifying the concreteness of social solidarity and particular locality. The remnant of Israel that is prayed for (31:7) and that is now returned is not solely the creme de la creme. Or, said differently, God’s assessment of “la creme” includes those whom others would prefer not to return “here,” let alone all “together.”

Evidently it is not only God who remembers the judgment, even if it is now past (or imminently so). Those who return do so with weeping (31:9a). Such weeping makes sense in light of the viciousness of exile and judgment, the signs of divine wrath. On the other hand, this weeping could include tears of joy, as the exiles return home. After all, they are returning here, together. A decision between the two options is not possible, in part because of the play of poetry (which so often traffics in ambiguity and indeterminacy), but also because the “parallel” word in the next line is not entirely certain.

The Hebrew text reads “with supplications, I will lead them back,” whereas the Greek (followed by NRSV, see the text note there) reads “with consolations, I will lead them back.” The former (“supplications”) may suggest that the weeping is of a penitent sort; it also suggests that Israel has responsibilities and duties that accompany, if not facilitate, its return (cf., e.g., 29:13; 31:18-19). The latter (“consolations”), quite apart from the specific nature of the weeping, emphasizes the merciful, nurturing, even kind aspects of God’s work–a point reinforced by the remaining images in the verse, especially the parent metaphor.

The difference between the two terms (“supplications” and “consolations”) in Hebrew is slight, and it may be that here, too, a decision cannot be made. Perhaps the openness of the poetry, along with the antiquity of both readings, permits the preacher to play with both options and their correlate significations.

Whatever the case, the last two images used in the oracle are rather unambiguous. First, God promises to lead the returnees by steams of water, in a straight path, in which they won’t stumble (31:9b). The pastoral imagery as well as the confidence and trust evoked here are familiar from Psalm 23.

Second–and this image is precisely what causes the pastoral imagery (note the “for” in Jeremiah 31:9c)–God is portrayed as Israel’s father. While the “fatherhood of God” is a common notion and metaphor now, perhaps especially via the Lord’s Prayer, it is actually not as pronounced in the Old Testament as one might suspect. The first instance of the God-as-parent/Israel-as-child metaphor does not appear until Exodus 4:22.

While that passage, like this one, explicitly names Israel as the firstborn (son), the divine parent is not gendered as a “father” explicitly until Deut 32:6.2  In Exodus, the metaphor connotes fierce parental love that leads to passionate protection; in Deuteronomy, it has to do with the creation and establishment of the people. Both passages and their connotations find resonance with Jeremiah 31:9.

As God created Israel like a parent (Deuteronomy 32:6), rescued Israel from Egypt like a parent (Exodus 4:22), and carried Israel in the wilderness like a parent (Deuteronomy 1:31), so now God will return the remnant of Israel, saving it (Jeremiah 31:7) and leading it back safely with plenty of water at hand because “I have become a father to Israel, and Ephraim is my firstborn.”

All parts of Israel’s life–its creation, its slavery and redemption, its sustenance and re-redemption post-judgment –is marked by the God who creates, redeems, and sustains, not unlike the very best of parents.3

1For the theological dynamics, see Walter Brueggemann, The Theology of the Book of Jeremiah (Old Testament Theology; eds. Brent A. Strawn and Patrick D. Miller; New York: Cambridge University Press, 2007), esp. 115-132; and, earlier, Thomas M. Raitt, A Theology of Exile: Judgment/Deliverance in Jeremiah and Ezekiel (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1977).
2Other and mother metaphors are, of course, found elsewhere. For the latter, see famously the passages from Second Isaiah (Isa 42:14; 45:10-11; 49:15; cf. 66:13)–a unit of Scripture that, at several points and on several themes, bears close comparison with Jeremiah 31. Some scholars have posited a relationship between the passages.
3For more on the divine-parent/human-child metaphor in the Old Testament, see Brent A. Strawn, “‘Israel, My Child’: The Ethics of a Biblical Metaphor,” in The Child in the Bible (eds. Marcia J. Bunge, Terence E. Fretheim, and Beverly Roberts Gaventa; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2008), 103-140.

Alternate First Reading

Commentary on Job 42:1-6, 10-17

Karl Jacobson

In some ways I kind of hate the ending of Job, at least the very, very end.

Here, after all his struggling with suffering and faith and the apparent absence of God, the story raps up with Job getting it all back, twice over.  I struggle with the ending because it almost seems to undo everything the book has tried to do, or at least that’s often what’s done with it.

An example:  Not long ago I heard a preacher trying to deal with a chapter from the middle of Job.  He read the passage aloud to begin his homily, and then held up his hands and said, “For those of you who don’t know the book of Job, don’t worry, this isn’t the whole story.  Job gets it all back in the end, so don’t let this get you down.”  Well then, I thought to myself, why not just skip to the end?  Why not just give us the happy ending part?  Why bother with the struggle if, in the end, you’re going to say that it doesn’t really matter?

The problem with this, it seems to me, is that it dishonors the reality of the struggle–both Job’s and our own.  ‘Cause let’s face it, at least in this life the loathsome sores don’t go away having left no marks; most of us don’t just have the cancer erased, or the loved one replaced, or the wealth restored (double).  Real-life struggles are almost always messier, and there is rarely a magical happy ending to fast-forward to.

When I read Job, I find that I would almost prefer a “shorter ending,” ala the Gospel of Mark, for the book.  Stop it at verse 6, after Job confesses his sin.  Or maybe at verse 9, after Job’s questioning, far from being sinful or wrong, is praised by God as right and acceptable (42:7-9), and his “friends” have gotten their comeuppance–a part of Job 42 that for some reason we don’t include in our lectionary readings, although maybe we should.  Almost any ending would be better.

So if I may make so bold, let me beg you not to go there, should you decide to preach on Job this week.  It is my fervent hope that the preacher will resist the urge to do the homiletical equivalent of patting folks on the head and saying, “There, there, don’t fret.  Everything works out in the end; even better.  Just see Job.”

So what, then, can one do with Job 42, if not simply glory in the nice ending?  There may be several possibilities, I will suggest two. 

The change in Job
First, is the change in Job.  Call it a re-reversal or a change of heart, whatever the case, Job’s experience in his “Come to El Shaddai meeting,” seems to have done the trick.  Chapter 42 finds Job neither questioning God aggressively nor intoning fatalistic sounding pietisms.  Here Job admits that he has been wrong.  Here Job acknowledges that before, he had not known God, that he had “heard of” God, but never truly “seen” God.  While it may be true that suffering and struggle will open one’s eyes, and that one may well view the world–life, relationships, spirituality, faith–differently because of it, I don’t think this is primarily what makes the change in Job.  For Job, the change comes when God speaks to him.  Having confronted God Job is now answered, and so he is changed.

Remember that God, in the missing verses of our reading, identifies Job’s speech not as sinful, but as “right.”  And remember that Job’s speech is not rejected by God, but accepted.  The key is that while God accepts Job’s speech, God does not allow Job’s complaint to be the last word, or for Job to “stay where he is.”  Job’s challenge does not go unchallenged; God responds, and sets Job straight.

This is a lesson learned from the psalms as well; complaint, accusation, doubt, are all faithful expressions in their way, precisely because they are expressed in relationship with God.  But complaint is almost never allowed to trump trust, nor does doubt go unanswered.

Things too wonderful for me
Second, is the use of the word “wonders.”  Part of Job’s repentance is that he is speaking of things he does not understand.  With Job 38:4-7, 38-41 in mind these “wonders” may be taken to mean the wonders of creation–the creation itself, the sending of lightning to announce the rains, the rains to answer drought (“Can you tilt the waterskins of the heavens, when the dust runs into a mass and the clods cling together?”), and the care of all creatures great and small.  These certainly are wonders, and are specifically used to illustrate the many ways in which Job is ignorant of God’s working.

But equally suggestive is another application of the word “wonders,” particularly in the book of Exodus.  In Exodus the same root word is used to describe what we typically think of as the ten plagues.  Exodus  3:20, “So I will stretch out my hand and strike Egypt with all my wonders that I will perform in it; after that he will let you go.”  Depending on one’s perspective the works that God performed in Egypt could be taken as plague, or wonder.  So too, perhaps, could the events of Job’s life.

Job’s story, the broad arch of which we have followed over these four October Sundays, is defined largely by God’s wonders, and wonder at and about God.  It is God who is, finally, at work in and through the satan.  It is God–God’s presence, God’s absence–that Job desperately seeks.  It is God’s work in creation, and in the life of Job that centers the answer given to Job’s complaint.  It is God who, though too wonderful to know, is all that Job cares to know in the end.

In Job, with his struggles, with his complaint, with his wonder, we too can not just hear of God, but see with our eyes.


Commentary on Psalm 126

Rolf Jacobson

The psalm selected for the Twenty First Sunday after Pentecost, for those traditions and congregations that do not observe Reformation Sunday, is Psalm 126.

Psalm 126 is one of a collection of poems (Psalms 120-14) known as the “Songs of Ascents.” These poems most likely did not all originate from a single source or for some unified purpose, but were rather collected together for some common use.

Although interpreters cannot be absolutely certain, the best guess is that the psalms of ascents were collected together sometime after the return from exile, in order for the now dispersed faithful to use when they made pilgrimage to Jerusalem–perhaps to observe one of the three major festivals of the year, especially the fall harvest Festival of Booths. There is a passage in the Mishnah (Sukkoth 5:4) that mentions the singing of the Psalms of Ascents during this festival.

The psalm has two stanzas (verses 1-3; 4-6). Similar to the way in which Psalm 85 begins, the first stanza of Psalm 126 recalls God’s past acts of restoration (verse 1) and the emotions of joy and celebration of laughter that accompanied those saving acts. The temporal clause with which the psalm begins, “When the Lord restores the fortunes of Zion,” most likely has in mind the return of the people to the land following the Babylonian exile.

But within the broader biblical narrative, the phrase calls many divine restorations to mind:

  • the restoration of Sarah to Abraham
  • the restoration of Joseph to Jacob and his brothers
  • the restoration of the people to the land after the Exodus
  • the restoration of the ark to the people after the Philistines captured it
  • the birth of the Messiah
  • the restoration of Jesus to his parents
  • the resurrection.

The phrase, “we were like those who dream,” conjures to the imagination both theological and emotional meaning. In terms of theological content, “those who dream” are prophets–those who receive visions from God (see Joel 2:28-29). The meaning, then, is that the divinely wrought restoration includes the re-opening of the lines of communication between God and people. In terms of the emotional content, “those who receive visions” often experience and express ecstatic joy–like David dancing beside ark as it was brought into Jerusalem. The picture, then, is of spontaneous and uncontainable joy: “our mouth was filled with laughter, and our tongue with shouts of joy.”

The first stanza also contains what I consider to be perhaps the surprising testimony concerning God’s gracious deeds in the entire Old Testament. The nations–that is, the very people who worship other gods, who often threatened Israel and who caused Israel to go into exile–praised God. The very people who, during the years in Babylon, looked upon God’s people and “were astonished at him–so marred was his appearance, beyond human semblance, and his form beyond that of mortals–these very nations witnessed the restoration of the people to their land and to their God and they said, “The Lord has done great things for them!”

Thinking ahead to the New Testament, one is reminded of the non-Israelite magi coming to worship the one who was born “King of the Jews,” or the Roman centurion who announced, “Truly this man was God’s Son!”

Even more surprising, the nations’ testimony to God’s deeds inspires Israel to respond with its own testimony, repeating the words of the nations do verbatim: “The Lord has done great things for us” (verse 3). Often in the psalms, the enemies’ words are quoted as reason for God to punish them (see, for example, Psalm 10:12-14 or the ending of Psalm 137).

But here, the words of the nations are quoted approvingly. And then, even more shockingly, the people of God repeat the words of the nations. Why? Because God’s gracious and faithful acts of restoration are so self-evident, that even the blind nations can see them. And because the blind nations see those acts, the often-even-more blind people of God can see them, too.

The second stanza develops the themes introduced in the first stanza and rephrases them in the form of renewed appeals for restoration (this is similar to the structure of Psalm 85, lacking only the set of promises with which Psalm 85 culminates). The people ask God to restore them once again, in order that they may rejoice yet again.

The psalm paints bountiful images. Dry river beds coursing with torrents of water. Farmers weeping as they plant, because they did not expect a harvest. Those same farmers singing joyfully as they harvest, because creation has produced an unlooked-for bounty. Those same farmers bearing heavy sheaves of produce home from the fields.

These images may reflect a prayer for rescue from drought. But the images also may simply be metaphors for a people in need of God’s restoring actions in many different crises–crises of spiritual drought, of national military defeat, of plague, etc.

It should be emphasized that the closing verses of the psalm are an appeal couched in the form of imaginative wishes: “May those who sow in tears reap with shouts of joy….” Today, the wish is extended for God’s people who still recall God’s restorative acts in the past. They recall the testimony of the nations to God’s deliverance. They recall their own joy. And they know that until the Son of God comes again, we will be in constant and everlasting need of God’s continued restoration.

Second Reading

Commentary on Hebrews 7:23-28

Paul S. Berge

How can this text from Hebrews, an obscure writing in thought and language, compete with the gospel for this Sunday on Jesus’ healing of blind Bartimaeus, the one who follows Jesus “on the way” of the cross (10:46-52)?

Or what if you choose to preach on the Reformation texts also assigned for this Sunday? How can you turn your back on the new covenant in Jeremiah 31:31-34, the “mighty fortress” of Psalm 46, Paul at his best in the justification/righteousness text of Romans 3:19-28, or the “Son makes you free” text in John 8:31-36?

Given this rich choice of texts, why are you even entertaining the thought of tackling this Hebrews text? This most likely is not a household text you have previously conquered or even been interested in. Besides you don’t have time to look up any information on this enigmatic priest-king Melchizedek. You could do a google search on this strange, mysterious, little-known figure, and find a few sentences for your own curiosity, but you really don’t have time to develop a full-blown exegesis of this text.

For your convenience, here are two paragraphs on Melchizedek from Wikipedia on-line together with some material from the HarperCollins Bible Dictionary:
Melchizedek is an enigmatic figure twice mentioned in the Hebrew Bible, also known as the Old Testament. Melchizedek is mentioned as the King of Salem, and priest of God Most High, in the time of the biblical patriarch Abram. He brought out bread and wine, blessed Abram, and received tithes from him, Genesis 14:18-20. Reference is made to him in Psalm 110:4 where the victorious ruler is declared to be “priest forever after the order of Melchizedek.”

“In the New Testament, references to Melchizedek appear only in the Epistle to the Hebrews (end I century CE). Jesus the Christ is there identified as a priest forever in the order of Melchizedek quoting from Psalm 110:4, and so Jesus plays the role of High Priest once and for all. Abraham’s transfer of goods to Melchizedek is seen to imply that Melchizedek is superior to Abraham, in that Abraham is tithing to him. Thus, Melchizedek’s (Jesus’) priesthood is superior to the Aaronic priesthood, and the Temple in Jerusalem is now unnecessary” (Wikipedia on Melchizedek).

The name Melchizedek occurs nine times in the New Testament and only in Hebrews: (5:6, 10; 6:20; 7:1, 10, 11, 15, 17, 21). In these nine occurrences before our text in 7:23-28, the point is being made is that if Melchizedek is regarded as the ideal priest-king, he is “a supernatural figure whose miraculous origin and indestructible life foreshadow the eternity of the Son of God” (HarperCollins Bible Dictionary, page 672).

Jesus’ identity in Hebrews portrays Melchizedek as a forerunner of Jesus and his preistly office. The argument that precedes our text in Hebrews is to show that if Melchizedek is “without father, without mother, without genealogy, having neither beginning of days nor end of life, but resembling the Son of God, he remains a priest forever” (7:3). Because there were many priests as descendants of the Aaronic priesthood, all of whom ended in death, Jesus’ priesthood is superior as “he holds his priesthood permanently, because he continues forever” (7:24).

The verse that immdiately precedes the gospel text for this Sunday from Mark 10:46-52, relates directly to the theme of our text from Hebrews: “For the Son of man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom (Greek: lutron) for many” (Mark 10:45). From Martin Luther’s exegetical insight to let scripture interpret scripture, this theme verse from Mark is beautifully exegeted in Hebrews: “Consequently he (Jesus) is able for all time to save those who approach God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them” (7:25). Jesus is the high priest whose life, death and resurrection has made the perfect and complete “ransom for many.”

In God’s purpose of creation and redemption, “it was fitting that we should have such a high priest, holy, blameless, undefiled, separated from sinners, and exalted above the heavens” (7:26). The language of priesthood stretches our understanding beyond comprehension. Only in God’s eyes could such a one atone for our sins in a way that is holy, blameless and undefiled. Jesus has entered once for all into the holy of holies to make atonement “for many.”

Exalted at the right hand of the “Most High God” (7:1), Jesus is the exalted Lord whom we confess in the Philippian hymn: “Therefore God has highly exalted him (Jesus) and gave him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue should confess, ‘Jesus Christ is Lord,’ to the glory of God the Father” (Philippians 2:9-11).

Jesus is unlike “other high priests.” In Jesus we have one who “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” (7:27).

I don’t know how you are doing with this text, but I am overwhelmed with the wealth of these six verses within the context of Hebrews. The author is a theological genius and a masterful artist using language to open up the incredible wealth of Jesus’ role as a high priest, an image that is uniquely this author’s contribution to the richness of christology present in the New Testament.

Jesus offered himself. What more can one say when we are presenting an understanding of Jesus’ gift for the freedom and redemption of all humankind. There is nothing more we can say but to stand in awe of the way in which God’s Son has come to us in such a personal way. Jesus puts to rest all our attempts at self-justification and atonement for our wrongs and alienation from God and one another.

At this point the author summarizes and brings the circle together. The author began with the unfulfillment of the law through the transient priest of the Aaronic order, all of whom ended in death and incompleteness. In contrast, the author has proclaimed one who fulfills the priestly role with completeness and perfection. “For the law appoints as high priests those who are subject to weakness” (7:28). In God’s Son, Jesus Christ, we meet a God who holds faithfulness in perfection and “appoints a Son who has been made perfect forever” (7:28).