SHARING IN CHRIST’S PRIESTHOOD
SCRIPTURE READINGS: [ HEB 13:15-21; PS 23:1-6; MARK 6:30-34 ]
The letter to the Hebrews focuses on the priesthood of our Lord Jesus Christ. He is the High Priest of our Faith. As the perfect High Priest, He offered the perfect sacrifice of Himself for the atonement of our sins and opened the way for us to approach God directly through Him. Reconciled to God, we are now asked to make the priesthood of Christ our own. This is what the author of Hebrews is suggesting to us, the ways we can participate in Christ’s sacrifice.
The first way to exercise our priesthood is to offer the sacrifice of praise. “Through Christ, let us offer God an unending sacrifice of praise, a verbal sacrifice that is offered every time we acknowledge his name.” In other words, we are called to praise God, acknowledging Him as our Lord and God. Praise is often a response to someone who has done something well or have done us a favour. When that happens, we offer a sacrifice of thanksgiving. But a sacrifice of praise is given to God even when He does not act according to our will. This means that we are called to praise God not just in good times but in bad times. We sometimes cannot see where God is leading us, but we are called to make an act of sacrifice by trusting Him. This is true especially when our prayers for success in our studies or a project, healing of a terminal illness, or a job that we are keen to get or a relationship that we want to develop are not answered. This is where we are called to be like Job who lost his property and the life of his children and yet praised God. He said, “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return there; the Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord.” (Job 1:21) King David also prayed, “It is good for me that I was humbled, so that I might learn your statutes.” (Ps 119:71) Can we continue to praise God even when we suffer in life? This is what it means to join Jesus in the sacrifice of praise. We must continue to honour His name and praise God for His divine wisdom.
The second way to share in Christ’s priesthood is to “keep doing good works” and sharing our resources, “for these are sacrifices that please God.” Again doing good works and sharing our talents, wealth and especially time, require sacrifice. Sometimes, it involves personal sacrifices such as our time, energy and efforts. This is particularly true when doing good works demands more than just doing something for people, like giving money to charity or even helping the poor and those in need, but making time to listen to people, to empathize with them and to show our compassion for them in their illnesses, failures, broken relationships, bereavement, etc.
At times, it calls us to go beyond our duty. We are called to help even when we are tired and deserve a reasonable rest. This was the case of Jesus and the disciples. We read that “the apostles rejoined Jesus and told him all they had done and taught. Then he said to them, ‘You must come away to some lonely place all by yourselves and rest for a while’; for there were so many coming and going that the apostles had no time even to eat. So they went off in a boat to a lonely place where they could be by themselves. But people saw them going, and many could guess where; and from every town they all hurried to the place on foot and reached it before them. So as he stepped ashore he saw a large crowd; and he took pity on them because they were like sheep without a shepherd, and he set himself to teach them at some length.” That is why Jesus was not simply a shepherd but a priest who sacrificed Himself, His rest and His time to be with the people. He took pity on them. They were hungry for the Word of God and for God. In such a situation, we are called to sacrifice our own rest and convenience, to answer the needs of others. We cannot turn away such people who are desperate to find God. A true shepherd and priest will make himself available to his people.
The first two forms of sacrifices demand much from us. Certainly, it is not easy to offer a sacrifice of praise when things do not go our way, or to continue to do good especially when we are tired. Many of us feel tired and burdened carrying our own cross in daily life, besides the crosses of others. That is why bishops and priests are tired looking after the parishioners because of the many demands made on them. Parents are tired having to perform well in their jobs and also looking after their young children or wayward adolescents or elderly parents. Yet, this is the concrete way of sharing in Christ’s priesthood because the Lord says, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will save it.” (Lk 9:23f)
But sharing in Christ’s priesthood does not stop here. It goes further by rendering obedience to our leaders. The author wrote, “Obey your leaders and do as they tell you; make this a joy for them to do, and not a grief – you yourselves would be the losers.” Obedience is an even greater sacrifice than doing good and giving ourselves to others. Samuel said to Saul who was disobedient to the Lord. “Has the Lord as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices, as in obedience to the voice of the Lord? Surely, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to heed than the fat of rams. For rebellion is no less a sin than divination, and stubbornness is like iniquity and idolatry. Because you have rejected the word of the Lord, he has also rejected you from being king.” (1 Sm 15:22f)
Many of us are not obedient to our leaders. We continue the sin of Adam in us, the sin of pride manifested in rebellion. There is a deep resentment against authority. We always feel that we know better and we are right and authority is wrong. By so doing, we replace the authority above with us with our own authority. We set ourselves as the authority instead and supplant the appointed leaders. The irony is that whilst we do not accept authority above us, we demand our subordinates to submit to our authority! This is so hypocritical because we are practising double standards. If we cannot accept authority, we have lost the authority to command obedience from our subordinates. This was the cause of the division in the Christian Church. The moment the Protestants rejected the authority of the Pope and set up their own authority, they lost their authority to claim authority over others. Thus, the Christian church today is divided into many denominations because all are claiming to be the right authority.
That is why those who desire to command must first obey! Jesus was obedient to the Father’s will unto death. His whole life was to do the will of God. Many times in the gospel, Jesus made it clear that He had come not to do His will but the will of His Father. “My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to complete his work.” (Jn 4:34) In the Garden of Gethesmane, the Lord said, “Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me; yet, not my will but yours be done.” (Lk 22:42) And on the cross, He said, “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit.” (Lk 23:46) Indeed, unless we follow Jesus in submitting to the Father’s will as expressed in legitimate authority, leaders appointed by God, we have lost our moral authority to demand that others obey us.
Of course, those in authority must be clear that they are not working for their own vested interests. They are accountable to God, as the author warns us “because they must give an account of the way they look after your souls.” Every leader is answerable not just to those in charge of him but ultimately to God. Leaders must be clear that they are not doing things simply to assert their authority, to protect their position and power, for their security and glory, for their comfort and ego. Unless a leader is a true shepherd who sacrifices his interests and his convenience, his wealth and time for others, he does not deserve respect. A leader must be like Jesus the Good Shepherd who puts the needs of His people before His own and even that of His apostles. So before a leader condemns those who do not follow him, he also must search himself whether he is working for them, their good or for himself.
Only in this way can we become like Jesus the Great Shepherd of the sheep and also our High Priest. In other words, we must become servant leaders, shepherds who are also priests, offering our lives as a ransom for many, to serve and not to be served. Let this be our prayer as well. “I pray that the God of peace, who brought our Lord Jesus back from the dead to become the great Shepherd of the sheep by the blood that sealed an eternal covenant, may make you ready to do his will in any kind of good action; and turn us all into whatever is acceptable to himself through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory for ever and ever, Amen.” In all that we do, let us seek to do His will and not ours, doing good and making ourselves acceptable to God by glorifying Him in all that we say and do.
Written by The Most Rev William Goh, Roman Catholic Archbishop of Singapore © All Rights Reserved
Best Practices for Using the Daily Scripture Reflections
- Encounter God through the spirit of prayer and the scripture by reflecting and praying the Word of God daily. The purpose is to bring you to prayer and to a deeper union with the Lord on the level of the heart.
- Daily reflections when archived will lead many to accumulate all the reflections of the week and pray in one sitting. This will compromise your capacity to enter deeply into the Word of God, as the tendency is to read for knowledge rather than a prayerful reading of the Word for the purpose of developing a personal and affective relationship with the Lord.
- It is more important to pray deeply, not read widely. The current reflections of the day would be more than sufficient for anyone who wants to pray deeply and be led into an intimacy with the Lord.
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