Scripture Readings for January 16, 2017
At first glance these two readings can appear to be pretty far removed from our experience. At least that’s what I thought when I first read them. The Hebrews reading is about Jesus as priest and few of us are priests. Second, Mark’s Gospel is talking about how Jesus life on earth creates a special situation. His disciples don’t fast because of it. Since we live 2,000 years after Jesus of Nazareth walked among us it would seem the situation is long past being useful to us.
However, closer examination reveals that the two readings are more about the kind of relationships Jesus had with God the Father and with those around him. Let me explain.
In Hebrews the relationship is identified as a priestly relationship. The reading says, priests were understood as the people’s “representative before God, to offer gifts and sacrifices to him.” It’s still that way today. We expect priests to be the people with a special relationship to God. Although Hebrews is about being chosen as a priest it reminds us that every priest is chosen from among the people and that Jesus too “learned” and only over time was he “made perfect.” In other words, the topic is priesthood but the subject is Jesus who came as one of us, a human being just like us. Sometimes we can be tempted to think of Jesus as God, kind of temporarily, acting as a person. But that isn’t what Catholic teaching says. It says Jesus was a human being, with two natures. Christmas wouldn’t mean what it does if God were only pretending to be a person. The wonder is that the second person of the blessed trinity became a human being, born just like the rest of us, subject to the same difficulties and in need of the same learning and discipline as the rest of us. If that is true, then Jesus can more easily be seen as a model or stand in for us as Christians and the readings as examples of the kind of relationship we can have with God.
Mark’s Gospel tells of the time of Jesus own ministry and how it was unique. Jesus identifies himself as the bridegroom and he invites us all to this feast. He is being criticized because his life was an open invitation, like the meals he and his followers enjoyed. Like the meals, he told stories about the King who invites the ordinary people out in the streets to come to the wedding feast. By doing this, Jesus is changing the way people could expect to relate to God. Jesus, the ultimate priest, in Hebrews, is extending the invitation to all us to have that same priestly relationship with God. We are to be as it says in 1 Peter, “a kingdom of priests.” It is this extravagant welcoming behavior that raises the questions among those who follow John the Baptist and the Pharisees in the Gospel.
I think Mark is trying to remind us that Jesus came to bring Good News, which is what the word Gospel means. Jesus didn’t come to ask us to fast, suffer or feel guilty about our mistakes. Jesus came to invite us to a great feast that God offers. Using the marriage analogy opens to a great wealth of interpretation. It isn’t that being married is always easy but rather that the two people are happy together, share a life together and can say over time, we are good for each other and as a result we are better individuals because of it.
This world is not a perfect place, but unless we begin by acknowledging that we are blessed just to be here, that life is a gift that opens to wonderful possibilities we will have a hard time coming to the kind of close personal relationship that God wants to have with us. Together these readings suggest that the relationship with God can have the power and wonder we have thought of in terms of priesthood, but extended to be a banquet for all. This world, this life is God’s gift to us. The first thing we should do isn’t to give up something or restrict our behavior. The first thing we should do, is say thanks.