The Letter to the Hebrews, focusing on Jesus as the true high priest and the once-and-for-all nature of his sacrifice, can leave modern readers feeling uneasy and uncomfortable. It is because we are trying to put on someone else’s mindset and frame of reference. Before the destruction of the Temple in 70 AD, Jewish Christians were trying to see how Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection related to the daily sacrifices offered in the Temple and the major feasts that were celebrated there, such as the Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur) and Passover. It gradually became clear to them that Jesus’ own death was the perfect sacrifice that surpassed all others, and this compassionate gift of self-giving revealed him to be the perfect high priest. Other than in the last week of his life, his ministry took place in Galilee, and it was one of healing, exorcisms, and teaching. His ministry did not take life; rather, he gave life and hope to others as he preached about the reign of God and God’s immense care for all, especially the poor, disenfranchised, and those who suffered from various diseases.
Mark’s Gospel was written for Gentile Christians, and early in the Gospel, it is made clear to the reader that the ministry of Jesus is inclusive and is not isolated to those in Galilee reaching out to Judea, Jerusalem, across the Jordan, and as far as Tyre and Sidon (modern Lebanon). His ministry extends to whoever needs to be touched by him physically and spiritually. Anyone carrying burdens is welcome to come to him as he exercises his priesthood of compassion and care. Psalm 40:6 reminds us today, “You do not ask for holocaust and victim. Instead, here am I.” The presence of Jesus is transformative and life-giving. He makes no conditions or demands, and no sacrifices have to be offered as a means of payment or to gain God’s favour and protection. All we need to do is bring ourselves.
Fr. Chris Monaghan CP, lectures in the New Testament and is President of Yarra Theological Union. He is a member of the Passionist community of Holy Cross in Templestowe.