“For we do not have a High Priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who has similarly been tested in every way, yet without sin.”(Hebrews 4:15)(+)
Last weekend Sharon and I went to see Dirty Rotten Scoundrels at the Shea Theater in TurnersFalls.It was a lot of fun.Community theater is pretty amazing.It reveals that some of the people we meet during the day, people we work and go to school with, some of our doctors and teachers, some of the people who work in the restaurants we visit or our even neighbours down the street, that they have another facet to their lives that we could never even imagine if it weren’t for community theater.The student walking the hallways between classes, just like the hundreds of other high school students, is the exact same kid who seems transformed while instead dancing across a stage, that the person sitting in a cubicle working 9 to 5 like so many other people working in identical cubicles is the same person who can make us laugh with a perfectly timed punch line.Community theater releases a side of people that we might never have imagined to exist, and yet there it is on stage for hundreds of people to see.There was one young lady who had a main role in the play.I know her only in passing; Sharon knows her much better.I kept saying to Sharon, “I can’t believe that’s her.”When you’re watching them up on stage in character, that person seems so natural that you wonder how you never saw that side of them before.It’s been there right along.It’s not something new.And yet it’s surprising to see.
Now in today’s Lesson from the Epistle to the Hebrews we hear of Jesus as our High Priest.It may come as a surprise to some, but there is no mention made of a Christian priesthood in the New Testament.There is only mention of Christ as our High Priest.Jesus offers Himself as the perfect and everlasting sacrifice.What we do here and now draws upon the merits of that one, perfect sacrifice, and through the mystery of the glorified Christ who in heaven serves as High Priest, Jesus becomes present at our altar once again.This is the message we often share around the time of Ascension Day and the Feast of Corpus Christi.But today we look at this mystery of Christ as High Priest from another perspective.We don’t look at it from the perspective of Jesus in heaven.Instead, today we look at it from the standpoint of the historical Jesus of Nazareth.It is written in Hebrews:“We do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who has similarly been tested in every way [that we have], yet without sin.”(4:15) In other words, Jesus’ human nature is real.Jesus’ compassion for our plight is sincere because He has faced life here on earth as one of us.
The shortest verse in the Bible is John 11:35.Lazarus has died.Jesus is a friend of that family.When He comes to Bethany and sees Lazarus’ sisters crying, when He hears them say to Him, “‘Lord, if you had been here my brother would not have died,’” Jesus, the Bible tells us, was perturbed and deeply troubled.When they lead Jesus to His friend’s grave, we there read that verse of only two words:“Jesus wept.”Jesus was surrounded by human pain and suffering.Constantly, people in need were brought before Him.How many other times in the life of Jesus was He brought to tears.And anyone who has walked with the church through the season of Lent, knows of Jesus’ own tortured suffering.This is all the foundation upon which Hebrews can say those scandalous words about God, that He is able to sympathize with our weaknesses because in Jesus of Nazareth God has endured them Himself.Any time we turn to Christ in prayer, no matter how painful or troubling the subject, even though our prayers are carried to the very heights of heaven, they are heard by a Saviour who can sympathize with any and all of our weaknesses because He has witnessed the lowest levels of the human condition and survived them.This humanity of our God is what never ceases to amaze me and to even surprise me.
But this humanity of our Saviour is so real that many people of Jesus’ day could not see anything else about Him.Let’s now jump to this morning’s Gospel selection from Mark.The apostles James and John approach Jesus asking for a favour.The small group of Jesus and disciples is approaching Jerusalem.They all feel apprehensive about this visit.Jesus has told them three times about His coming Passion in Jerusalem, but the apostles have not been able to process this news.Their faith is in Jesus as the Messiah, and for a thousand years that image carried with it the notion of victory and conquest, so we can’t be too harsh on the disciples.It is in this setting that James and John ask Jesus for seats of glory in His coming kingdom, one at His right and one at His left.Jesus says in reply that they do not know of what they ask, and then He inquires of them:“‘Can you drink the cup that I drink?’” (10:39)Basically, can you do what I do?And they flatly say in reply, “‘We can.’”Of course there’s unbelievable bluster in those words, but they also reveal the unmitigated humanity of Jesus, so that even His closest followers had trouble seeing in Him more than His identity as one of us.This is why the disciples will be so shocked on Good Friday as Jesus is crucified and dies, and from this harsh reality that is followed by the even more glorious reality of the resurrection will come all of our theology about humanity and divinity coming perfectly together in Christ, but at this point of the story we can’t ignore the message about how human Jesus was, even to the point that what else He was could not be clearly seen by those around Him.
Faith is the privilege shared with us by God to see what others cannot see.It’s like that revela-tion of community theater when we get to see people we know in a whole different light.Faith is a gift from God that lets us see Jesus as sharing exactly in our human nature, but also exactly in God’s nature.When that gift is taken seriously, when it is for real, it changes who we are too so that we become more than what is obvious.This is all part of the promise of what it means to sincerely believe, to see in Jesus more than the man and to see in each of us what God can imagine, and that this gift of faith may always be cherished by us, for this we pray in Jesus’ name.Amen.(+)