Hebrews 10:11-18; Psalm 109:1-4 (LXX); Mark 4:1-20
All the priests stand at their duties every day, offering over and over again the same sacrifices which are quite incapable of taking sins away. He, on the other hand, has offered one single sacrifice for sins, and then taken his place forever, at the right hand of God, where he is now waiting until his enemies are made into a footstool for him. By virtue of that one single offering, he has achieved the eternal perfection of all whom he is sanctifying. (Hebrews 10.11-14, Jerusalem Bible)
Who shall ascend the hill of the Lord?
And who shall stand in his holy place?
He who has clean hands and a pure heart,
who does not lift up his soul to what is false,
and does not swear deceitfully.
He will receive blessing from the Lord,
and vindication from the God of his salvation.
(Ps 23.3-5 [LXX])
I hope I can be forgiven for having grown a bit weary of the same four verses about Melchizedek that seem to accompany many of the readings from the middle of the letter to the Hebrews. As I read the invitatory psalm for today (an alternate to the usual Ps 94 [LXX]), it seemed to fit well with the passage from Hebrews.
These few verses in particular always used to worry me: I despaired of ever being the one with clean hands and a pure heart, worthy to ascend the hill of the Lord. But eventually I came to realize that the one who has clean hands and a pure heart is Christ, the Lord, the priest who ‘has offered one single sacrifice for sins’ and, in so doing, ‘has achieved the eternal perfection of of whom he is sanctifying’.
The psalm no longer worries me as it once did. Some days, I confess to feeling a bit complacent, though: Jesus has done it all, and my sins have been done away with by his sacrifice. And I am perhaps not as contrite as I should be. Other days–better days, I think–I am humbled by the knowledge and the comfort that this psalm brings me. Not only the big, dramatic sins of the world and its great ones (the Apostle Paul comes to mind here), but for my stupid, petulant, and self-serving sins, Christ has overcome by his life, death and resurrection. At least Paul, I surmise, thought he was doing the right thing, however wrong-headed his persecution of the church was. Often I stumble forward, not even trying very hard to determine what the right thing is: I am, rather, concerned about avoiding pain. I seek the pleasures, small and great, that make life enjoyable and give me something to look forward to after the chores are done.
To think that the Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world, stoops to take away my sins of ignorance and stubbornness, pettiness and weakness, is humbling indeed. In return, all I have to offer is what has been asked of God’s people: a sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving.
Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit,
as it was in the beginning, is now and ever shall be,
world without end,