We are called to reflect the sacrifice of Jesus
By: By Shawn Reeves
Thirty-second Sunday in Ordinary Time, Nov. 11
1 Kings 17:10-16; Psalm 146:7,8-9,9-10; Hebrews 9:24-28; Mark 12:38-44
The Sunday readings have been taking us on a pilgrimage through the Letter to the Hebrews, preparing the heart and mind to receive the full glory of Christ’s Kingship, which is nearly upon us.
They announced that in taking human flesh, Jesus “‘for a little while’ was made ‘lower than the angels.'” With His singular initiative “in bringing many children to glory,” the Son of God became man, for “since the children share in blood and flesh, he likewise shared in them” (Hebrews 2:10,14). As such, Jesus is “not . . . unable to sympathize with our weaknesses” but has “similarly been tested in every way, yet without sin” (Hebrews 4:15).
Beyond this, Jesus has been declared to us as that “great high priest who has passed through the heavens” (Hebrews 4:14), “a priest forever” (Hebrews 5:6), He who “remains forever” and “has a priesthood that does not pass away” (Hebrews 7:24), “a high priest holy, innocent, undefiled, separated from sinners, higher than the heavens” (Hebrews 7:26).
But what exactly makes Jesus a “great high priest”? For the Hebrew people, to whom this letter is written, the function of the priest was to offer sacrifice to God on behalf of the people, as a gesture of their devotion to God. The high priest offered the most significant sacrifice to God, a sacrifice that particularly atoned for sin and restored communion between God and the people. As last Sunday’s readings announce, Jesus did offer a sacrifice but not some ordinary, material offering: “He offered Himself” (Hebrews 7:27).
This total, definitive, offering of self is the defining characteristic of Christ’s priesthood and the quality that sets his priestly sacrifice apart from all before him (Hebrews 9:11-14,25-26; 10:4-10). Whereas other high priests offered “blood that is not his own,” Jesus “offer[s] Himself” (Hebrews 9:25).
Jesus’ irrevocable and total donation of self redeems us and ushers in our salvation precisely because it marked the perfection and mystical locus of genuine human devotion to God, in which “Christ, offered once to take away the sins of many” (Hebrews 9:28).
UTTER GIFT OF SELF
The Second Vatican Council attests that “Christ the new Adam . . . fully reveals man to himself and brings to light his most high calling,” for “man can fully discover his true self only in a sincere giving of himself” (“Gaudium et Spes,” No. 22, 24). In the sacrifice of the cross, Jesus not only offered priestly redemption — He also revealed the paradigm for human life.
Jesus commends the poor widow in this Sunday’s Gospel because her offering was a complete and total self-offering — “her whole livelihood” was given in love. She retained nothing for herself and became a resonating sign and anticipation of Christ’s own self-offering.
Likewise, the widow of Zarephath gave all her livelihood to Elijah, a sincere gift of self. Such self-offering, to God and to neighbor, is our most high calling. In this the meaning of life becomes fully discovered — in emulation of Christ’s utter gift of self.
We are called to reflect the sacrifice of Jesus, to offer our “whole livelihood” to the Father, and to draw the strength to do this from the eternal wellspring of Christ’s own self-offering. Because Jesus is true God from true God, the sacrifice of His self-offering does not remain confined to the past but is elevated into eternity, for after His death “Christ did not enter a sanctuary made by hands, a copy of the true one, but heaven itself, that He might appear before God on our behalf” (Hebrews 9:24).
Our Great High Priest offered the whole of Himself, unreservedly, on the cross. He has “passed through the heavens” into that “true” sanctuary of heaven itself; there, as “a priest forever,” His self offering is perpetuated “before God on our behalf,” as the foundation and source of our own gestures of self-gift; and He will “appear a second time” (Hebrews 9:28) in saving victory, the victory of self-gift.
SHAWN REEVES has served as the director of religious education at St. John’s Catholic Newman Center in Champaign since 2001. He and his family are members of St. Malachy’s Parish in Rantoul.