23 January 2007: Tuesday of the 3rd Week in Ordinary Time
Hebrew 10, 1-10, Psalm 40, Mark 3, 31-35 Obedience
The Gospel today tells us that what determines our kinship with Jesus is our obedience to the will of God. Our brotherhood and sisterhood are shown when we all commonly hear the voice of the Lord and follow it.
The writer of the letter to the Hebrews says the same thing when he tells us about sacrifice. Religion for him must bring a person closer to God. And Jesus, with his ultimate sacrifice of himself, has given us direct access to the Lord. Let us understand Hebrew worship.
First, the temple of Jerusalem is divided into different courts. The outer court is the Court of the Gentiles; then the Court of the Women; the Court of the Israelites, then the Court of the Priests. And in the innermost sanctuary that symbolizes the presence of God is the Holy of Holies that contains the Ark of the Covenant. Each court resembles a barrier to the innermost court: until only the high priest enters the inner sanctuary. For the writer of the letter to the Hebrews, Jesus, the High Priest, entered the innermost court with us, thus removing barriers that prevents one to be in the Presence of God.
Second, another barrier that prevents us from being totally in the presence of God is our sinfulness. Thus, Jews offer sacrifices at the Tabernacle especially in the Day of Atonement every year. The sacrifices are supposed to purify people from their sins, and thus make them worthy to enter the holy presence. For the writer of the letter to the Hebrews, Jesus, the High Priest, has made Himself the ultimate sacrifice, more powerful than all the animal sacrifices in the Temple. And the writer quotes Psalm 40: “Sacrifice and burnt offering thou doest not desire…I delight to do Thy will, O my God; thy law is within my heart.” The psalmist tells us that rather offer a formal sacrifice of thanksgiving, he pledges himself to do God’s will.
If we therefore put the whole of our reflection together, we can say that what would provide direct access to God is our obedience to His will. A sacrifice is something that we have, but we are willing to give out of love for someone else. Thus the ultimate sacrifice is when we offer our lives to our friends. Concretely, it does not mean that we can kill ourselves physically; obedience means even the death of our own will. Jesus said, “Let your will be done”. To obey is to sacrifice our whole lives. Let me end with a story.
Many years ago, when I worked as a volunteer at a hospital, I got to know a little girl named Liz who was suffering from a rare and serious disease. Her only chance of recovery appeared to be a blood transfusion from her 5-year old brother, who had miraculously survived the same disease and had developed the antibodies needed to combat the illness. The doctor explained the situation to her little brother, and asked the little boy if he would be willing to give his blood to his sister. I saw him hesitate for only a moment before taking a deep breath and saying, “Yes, I’ll do it if it will save her.” As the transfusion progressed, he lay in bed next to his sister and smiled, as we all did, seeing the color returning to her cheek. Then his face grew pale and his smile faded. He looked up at the doctor and asked with a trembling voice, “Will I start to die right away?” Being young, the little boy had misunderstood the doctor; he thought he was going to have to give his sister all of his blood in order to save her. You see, after all, understanding and attitude are everything.