Every high priest chosen from among mortals is put in charge of things pertaining to God on their behalf, to offer gifts and sacrifices for sins. He is able to deal gently with the ignorant and wayward, since he himself is subject to weakness; and because of this he must offer sacrifice for his own sins as well as for those of the people. And one does not presume to take this honour, but takes it only when called by God, just as Aaron was.
So also Christ did not glorify himself in becoming a high priest, but was appointed by the one who said to him,
‘You are my Son, today I have begotten you’;
as he says also in another place,
‘You are a priest for ever, according to the order of Melchizedek.’
In the days of his flesh, Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to the one who was able to save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverent submission. Although he was a Son, he learned obedience through what he suffered; and having been made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him, having been designated by God a high priest according to the order of Melchizedek.
This reading seems made for the kind of “compare and contrast” questions beloved by GCE “O” levels when I sat exams. That phrase “priest after the order of Melchizedek” has always seemed curious to me; it rolls off the tongue so neatly, that it is “by God” sounds so complete. Except – why Melchizedek; why had the Psalmist taken the reference from Abram being blessed (Gen 14:18-20) and therefore why had the writer of Hebrews? Our reading points out that only Aaron of the tribe of Levi was called priest by God, the others could not presume their elevation to High priest.
The first 4 verses are full of allusions to the setting of the cultic standard of Judaism but they do not bring together the attributes of Christ as “Son” and “High priest” as is now done by placing verses from 2 psalms (Pss 2:7 and 110:4) in juxtaposition. (This is the start of a theme developing as the letter continues.) In terms of the ritual Jesus, being of the line of David was not a Levite, and therefore following the cult could not be appointed High Priest. By contrast as a Son his elevation is made by God and is forever, his sacrifice is of himself not for himself as the High priest sacrifices on the Day of atonement.
In contrast to Aaron, Melchizedek was completely other: a King of Salem, not an intermediary like Jewish High Priests between people and God. In contrast, Melchizedek brought an offering of bread and wine and blessed Abram and God There are times when doing the right thing is done because it is right, not because doing the right thing is the done thing. Melchizedek did the right thing because it was right and not because, as far as we can judge, it was the usual ritual. Jesus is made perfect and does the right thing which is not ritual but the source of eternal salvation.
Creator God, we give praise and thanks that Jesus being made perfect is the source of eternal salvation. May we be able to share this as an honour for all. Amen
The Rev’d Ruth Browning, retired minister worshipping at Thornbury URC