Since we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens,
Jesus, the Son of God,
let us hold fast to our confession.
For we do not have a high priest
who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses,
but one who has similarly been tested in every way,
yet without sin.
So let us confidently approach the throne of grace
to receive mercy and to find grace for timely help.
Despite the innumerable problems of the priesthood -- and we don't need to study Church history to know some of them -- we need our priests. They directly provide our sacraments of Eucharist, Penance, Confirmation, and Anointing of the Sick; and they often preside over Baptism and the Rite of Marriage. They represent a direct connection to the historical Jesus; a connection which we consider sacramental and vital. So we sit up and listen when the Scriptures tell us about the priesthood of Jesus.
Where the synoptic gospels celebrate Jesus as the royal son of David, the Gospel of Saint John and the Letter to the Hebrews highlight Jesus' identity and ministry as a priest. Today's readings from Hebrews 4-5 and the Passion Narrative of John sharpen that focus as we contemplate the events of Good Friday.
The Resurrection of Jesus has persuaded us like a blast of dynamite of God's merciful love for us. We have been "blown away" by the incident of Easter morning. But what does it mean? How do we explain this to the stunned mind that wants to make sense of it all?
Hebrews makes the connection. Jesus is first of all a human being; he is a brother to everyone, flesh of our flesh and bone of our bone. Being human, he is able to sympathize with our weakness. The Angels announced him as Messiah and Lord; Mary worshiped him as her God despite his being her own son; the disciples knew him as a man among men; his crucifixion proved he died like any man. The signs he performed demonstrated his authority as Son of God for those who willing to see. Throughout every account of Jesus without exception runs this paradox: he is fully God and fully human. He never appears as anything but human; he always carries the aura of God.
For that reason the Jewish institution of priesthood fits well upon Jesus. Aaron and his Levite descendants were undeniably human but as they ceremonially bathed and then donned a complete set of ceremonial clothing from linen undergarments to chasubles and miters they became holy, godlike. They were fit to enter, through the veil, the Holy of Holies, which was originally a tent in the Sinai desert, then a tent at the shrine of Shiloh, and finally a temple of Jerusalem. Jesus as priest enters through the veil of his flesh into the very presence of God in the Holy of Holies, in the Heavenly Temple, in the Heavenly Jerusalem. He saves us as a priest.
Some Christians may argue that he was the one, only and last priest; and I have no quarrel with that. But the Catholic sacraments of Baptism, Eucharist and Priesthood represent the mystery in this immediate moment. Jesus does not die in ancient history, in some remote corner of the Roman Empire. He dies with us today; and is raised before our eyes today. As the Letter to the Hebrews says,
"...he enters the sanctuary once and for all because he remains forever; he has a priesthood that does not pass away. Therefore, he is always able to save those who approach God through him, since he lives forever to make intercession for them.
In the Eucharist, we are as close to the Mystery as Mary and John were to Jesus on Calvary. Receiving his Body and Blood from the priest and altar, we know the immediate presence of the Crucified and Risen Lord.