I would like us to reflect on two main ideas from the 1st Reading. The 1st main idea is found in these lines: “For it is clear that he did not come to help angels, but the descendants of Abraham. Therefore, he had to become like his brothers and sisters in every respect”.
We have just finished the celebration of the Christmas season. The key message of the Incarnation is that Jesus, the 2nd person of the Blessed Trinity, the Son of God, did not to cling to his divinity. As a divine being, he emptied himself and chose to assume the fullness of our humanity. Jesus does not pretend to be human. He is not a God who mimics what it means to be human. He truly is 100% human.
As the opening sentence of the 1st Reading states, he shares with us the same “blood and flesh”. In fact, Jesus takes on the totality of our human condition, including death. It is for this reason that the Church teaches that Jesus is like us in every way, but sin.
The beautiful truth here is that God is not a God who creates us, walks away, gives us a bunch of strict rules to follow, is indifferent and uncaring and then expects us to live up to his standards. We have a God who comes to us as one of us and lives among us. As Bishop Robert Barron puts it, “Jesus stands shoulder to shoulder with sinners”. What Bishop Barron is saying is that Jesus identifies with sinners and stands in solidarity with sinners.
Since Jesus is like us, he has compassion for our weakness, brokenness and sinfulness and, therefore can plead with the Father on our behalf. This point is reinforced at the conclusion of the 1st Reading: “Because he himself was tested by what he suffered, he is able to help those who are being tested”.
Since Jesus is human, he understands and can relate to all our trials, sorrows and suffering. That’s what makes him such an effective intercessor on our behalf before God. Therefore, with great hope and confidence, let us approach Jesus and hand over to him all our troubles, worries and cares, trusting that he will give us exactly what we need.
The 2nd main idea is found in these lines: “Therefore, he had to become like his brothers and sisters in every respect, so that he might be a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make a sacrifice for atonement for the sins of the people”. This sentence contains “temple” vocabulary. It is important to explain this “temple” vocabulary in order to understand the sentence.
The Jewish people would bring an animal, such as a lamb, to the temple to be sacrificed. The animal would be killed and offered to God as a sign of repentance for sins. The intent was that the animal would take on the sins of the person. As a result of this animal sacrifice, reconciliation with God was achieved.
What the writer of Hebrews is saying is that Jesus himself becomes the lamb of sacrifice. On the Cross, Jesus, the very Son of God, offers himself as a sacrifice to his Father. Although he was sinless, he stands in our place and takes on our sins. Since Jesus offers the perfect sacrifice of himself for our sins, we become totally reconciled to God. The break in the relationship caused by sin is now restored.
All this is very relevant to what we are doing right now. At every Mass, Jesus presents once more, in an unbloody way, the offering of himself to the Father for our sake. That’s the reason we often refer to the Eucharist as the “Holy Sacrifice of the Mass”.
Notice that we refer to Jesus as the “Lamb of God” at 3 different times during the Mass. The 1st time is during the Gloria: “Lord God, Lamb of God, Son of the Father, you take away the sins of the world, have mercy on us”.
The 2nd time occurs as the priest breaks the consecrated host: “Lamb of God, you take away the sins of the world, have mercy on us”. This same sentence is repeated. Then, we say, “Lamb of God, you take away the sins of the world, grant us peace”.
The 3rd time is right before we receive Communion. The priest raises the host saying: “Behold the Lamb of God, behold him who takes away the sins of the world. Blessed are those who are called to the supper of the Lamb”.
That’s the reason for which Vatican II taught that the Eucharist is the source and summit of our life. The Eucharist is our most important prayer; it is also our best prayer. No other prayer or devotion is superior to the Mass; no other prayer or devotion is better than the Mass. Attending Mass ought not to be viewed as a mere obligation. What a gift, what a privilege, what a blessing it is to be here!
As our Eucharist continues, let us do so with joyful and grateful hearts for 2 reasons. First, although we are sinners, we have a God who stands shoulder to shoulder with us in our daily lives. Second, that same God offers himself on our behalf as the Lamb of Sacrifice. So, what could we possibly be afraid of – even as we journey through a lockdown during a pandemic?
Deacon Roland Muzzatti
January 13, 2021