Summary: The grace won by Jesus on the cross is infinite, and therefore enough to redeem every human being, liberating us all from slavery to sin.
Monday of 2nd Week in Course 2021
“Son though [Jesus] was, he learned obedience from what He suffered, and when He was made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey Him.” That word, “perfect,” really confused me when I was a kid. And even now it seems to be an impossible challenge. Looking at Matthew’s version of the Sermon on the Mount, I see the words “be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect” and I think, “whoa, I could never get there!”
But let’s look more carefully at the word translated “perfect,” teleios, and try to understand what is being asked here. The word refers to our “end” or “goal,” which is union with God, attainment of the status of adopted son or daughter of God. So a better word than “perfect” might be “complete.” We are complete when we reach our divine destiny, and we become more and more complete by being conformed to the image and likeness of God. Here, Jesus is given as both a model and a means to that.
The means that Jesus provides for us is His High Priesthood. The author of Hebrews, in claiming that distinction and role for Our Lord in a letter to Christianized Jews, knows he is making quite a statement. High Priests were all descended from Levi, son of Jacob, and they were specifically from the clan of Aaron, the brother of Moses, through his descendant Zadok, who was High Priest for King Solomon. Now that line had died out many decades before Christ, and the High Priest in His times was chosen in a political process. Jesus, of course, was a descendant of King David, who was of the line of Jacob’s son, Judah. So how could Jesus be High Priest?
There is an old Jerusalem tradition that probably goes back to the Jebusite king, Melchizedek. Melchizedek was king of Jerusalem in the time of Abraham, but he was also a priest of YHWH, it seems. The psalm we prayed today certainly dates back all the way to King David, who conquered Jerusalem and took over the kingly role of the long-dead Melchizedek. We even see David offering sacrifices, like a priest. So Jesus, like David, is a priest in the line of Melchizedek, and so can act as a Jewish High Priest in a tradition even older than that of Aaron. He then can offer prayers and supplications to the One who could save Him from death, but Who asked more. In obedience to His Father, what sacrifice does Jesus offer? He offers Himself on the altar of the cross. Our Lord is Son of God, and therefore a divine priest. But He is also Son of man, clothed with the same humanity we all share. He became complete through the sufferings He endured on Calvary. And when we are incorporated sacramentally into Christ, we become able to share in His glorious Resurrection, won through suffering. When we suffer, we don’t add to the perfection, the completion of His suffering in His own person, but we do suffer with Christ, sharing in His offering to the Father.
This mystery of becoming complete ourselves by being conformed to Christ is the new wine poured into the fresh wineskins of Christ’s Church. In the Old Law, the animal sacrifices were of no real value in freeing humans from sin, which is disobedience to God. So they had to be done over and over again, each year at the Day of Atonement. But because the sacrifice of the High Priest, Jesus, on the cross is an eternal sacrifice of a divine victim, done once in history and commemorated every time we take communion, that sacrifice does not need to be repeated. The grace won by Jesus on the cross is infinite, and therefore enough to redeem every human being, liberating us all from slavery to sin. What an awesome gift!
We become complete, perfected and made ready for union with the Trinity, to the extent that we participate in that growth process modeled for us in Jesus Christ. We become as it were junior priests in our Baptismal commitment. We, too, offer prayers and supplications daily for ourselves and others, especially our families. In life, we, too, suffer, but to a tiny extent compared to what Jesus endured. And, yes, we learn obedience through suffering, and are by grace perfected and by our witness bring other humans to know and follow Our Lord. That’s the mystery we daily participate in. That’s the mission to which we devote ourselves every time the deacon of the Mass says “Go in peace, proclaiming the Gospel of Christ by your lives.”