Notes on Sundays' Bible readings (Oct. 18)

Thoughts and Notes upon Sunday’s Bible Readings
For the 21st Sunday after Pentecost

Greeting – United Methodist Book of Worship (UMBOW) 384 
OR adapt the beautiful poetry in Psalm 104, a hymn to the Creator
Collect/Prayer – UMBOW 335
Thanksgiving Prayer – UMBOW 551

Hebrews 5

v.1-2 The high priest is a ‘mediator’ (because he approaches God “on their behalf” – for the people) and a bringer of sacrifice.  Jesus did not belong to the priestly tribe (of Levi) but the royal tribe.

v.4-6 Even as Aaron was called by God to the priestly ministry (Exodus 28 and following), so Christ was given a priestly ministry by the Father, “according to the order of Melchizedek” (Ps. 110:4).  Melchizedek is the priest-king who appears in Genesis 14:18-20, who:
                -brings an offering of bread and wine
                -who is king of Salem (literally, “peace”), possibly that is Jerusalem
                -whose name literally means “king of righteousness”
                -who blesses Abraham in God's Name
                -who receives a tithe/homage from Abraham himself (compare John 8:39-59)
He is seen as a “type” (pre-cursor and foreshadowing) of Christ, and I wonder if he is perhaps even an appearance of Christ (a 'Christophany').

What is the “order of Melchizedek”?
Probably the writer of Hebrews is emphasizing that the priesthood over which Christ is high priest, in which all Christian believers share (1 Pet. 2:4-5), and which gives a characteristic offering of bread and wine when blessing God’s Name is older than the Aaronic or Levitical priesthood; therefore showing that the ministry of Christ and the church as a priestly people is more ancient and primordial in its continuity and mission than those founded after the Exodus (stretching instead all the way back [at least] to the days of Abraham).  Thus it can be that Jesus, though a non-Levite, was even so a true priest in a priesthood recognized by Abraham himself, and that Christ's priesthood has a unique 'primacy.'

v.7-9 “…he was heard because of his reverent submission…he learned obedience through what he suffered; and having been made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him…”
Christ is the priestly mediator (v. 1, 10) because as a true human he completely submitted to the will of the Father.  The Kingdom of God came in and through him because he perfectly lived with God (the Father) as his King; with God’s will being done in him (literally on earth as in heaven).  Because the world is rebellious and sinful (openly rejecting God's kingship), Christ’s perfect submission to God’s royal will naturally and necessarily meant he would face rejection, the cross with its suffering.  That is the price for bringing the Kingdom of God into a fallen world.
So, through Christ and his cross, the eternal life is opened to us, because as God “heard him” and “saved him from death” (v.7) in Raising him who was perfectly obedient; and now we who "obey him" are aligned with him.  When we obey him as king with ‘the obedience of faith’ (Rom. 16:26, etc.) we too are part of his heavenly Kingdom; for then we are rightly related to him as our king.  This then connects to the “cup and baptism” that Jesus disciples partake (as signified in the sacraments), in giving up ourselves to him as 'living sacrifices' – following the true King in the midst of the rebellion (Mk. 10:38-40). 
“All who obey him” (v. 9) those who trust Christ and follow their Lord where he leads (even through death and into life), are obviously those whose lives should be characterized by obedience to him (see Matthew 28:20).  

Mark 10:35-45

v. 35 “…we want…”
What gall these disciples have!  And are our prayers often like verses 35-38?  Do we too fall (in subtle ways) into a consumerist “me-religion”?
After the teachings on cross-bearing, soft-hearted, generous discipleship that is also humble in the last 2 chapters, it seems the disciples still do not understand (they are still the “duh-sciples”) and so we have the self-promoting request in verse 37 and the angry (jealous?) reaction in v. 41.  Yet the way of Jesus is the way of servant-hood (v.42-5).  So whom are we serving?   

v.38 “You do not know what you are asking” – they do not understand that Christ’s glory comes from walking the way of humility, commitment, and the cross.  “Are you able to drink the cup I drink or be baptized with the baptism I am…?”  Jesus uses the sacrament-language to speak of his own faithfulness to God even in walking the way of the cross (Phil. 2:5-9; Heb. 5:7-9 above).  In the sacraments of Baptism and Eucharist we are connected with the reality and power of Christ’s sacrificial death and of his Resurrection (Rom. 6:3-11; 1 Cor. 10:16-17).  Through participation in the sacraments we are committing ourselves to lives of similar submission to God and cruciform servant-hood.  So too Jesus here speaks of the cup (as also at Gethsemane) and the Baptism as representations of his own complete submission to God his Father’s loving will, even though (in a rebellious world) that will mean the cross.  Jesus, in drinking this cup and being sunk in this baptism, is giving himself over to the ordeal that is his Passion.

v.39 “We are able…”  Jesus said to them…”you will drink…you will be baptized…”
These apostles, in the hardships and persecutions they face in their ministry, will indeed live out the utter commitment unto God’s will and Kingdom, to which they had committed themselves through the sacramental vows, and to which Jesus here calls them.  St. James was martyred (Acts 12:2) for his faith commitment to Christ, and according to tradition John was tortured, but survived.

v. 40 “…but to sit at my right…or on my left is not mine to grant, but it is for those for  whom it is prepared.”
And intriguing and cryptic statement.  Who is it?  If one thinks of the crucifixion as a strange “enthronement” as some scholars do, then the thieves on their crosses might fulfill this saying in a macabre way. 

v. 45 “Ransom” is one Biblical way of understanding the atonement through Christ’s cross, as here and in 1 Timothy 2:6 (see also Hebrews 9:15, NIV).

In his sermon on this passage at Duke Chapel Rev. Sam Wells says, “We all die sooner or later.  Jesus tells us what he is going to die for.”  He dies to ransom, to set free.  That is what he gives himself over to.  What about us?

What does ‘greatness’ look like?  (Tony the Tiger equates it with ‘tasty’) how do we use that word?  (see verse 43).  To What do we aspire?



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