Second Reading: Hebrews 4:14-16;5:7-9

The Moment of Death

Popular Translation

4:14 Since we have a High Priest who went up to heaven, Jesus, God’s Son, we should hold tight to what we believe. 15 We don’t have a High Priest who has no idea about our weaknesses. He was tempted in every way, but he didn’t sin. 16 So, we can come to God to receive his mercy and help when we really need it.

7 When Jesus lived on earth, he cried out in tears to the God that could save him from death. And God hear his devote prayers. 8 But, as the Son, Jesus learned to obey God in the way he suffered. 9 Since he finished his work, Jesus can now save everyone who obeys him.

Literal Translation

4:14 Having, then, a great High Priest, having passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, we should hold (close) the confession. 15 For, we do not have a High Priest not being able to suffer with our weaknesses, having been tempted in every way, (yet) without sin. 16 So, we can approach the throne of grace, so that we might receive mercy and and find the help of grace at a good time.

5:6 And so also, in another place (of the Scriptures, God) says, “You are a priest into the age with the rank of Melchizedek,” 7 who, in the days of his flesh, having offered up both requests and petitions to the (One) being able to save him from death with strong shouts and tears, and having been heard from (his) reverence, 8 and indeed being a Son, he learned obedience from what he suffered, 9 and having completed (his task perfectly), he became for everyone obeying him the cause of eternal salvation, 10 having been given the title by God High Priest with the rank of Melchizedek.

5:6-10 This very long sentence began with a Scripture very that identified Jesus as High Priest with the status of Melchizedek (Psalm 110:4). This status was God-given. The sentence ended with a repetition of the same thought. So, there was and “A-B-A” structure that highlighted the relative clause found in 5:7-9. There were two main verbs for the clause: “he learned obedience (from suffering)” and “he became (cause of salvation).” The two verbs seemed to be connected in a cause-effect relationship: his obedience led to his function as Savior.

For the author of Hebrews, these verses were a central point of the letter. Christ was the High Priest because, through his suffering, he learned obedience and completed his task in full measure.

The notion of obedience is a difficult one for Westerners who live in democratic societies (especially Americans). We do not like to buckle under to anything that smacks of tyranny. Blind obedience implies acquiesce to such abusive power. But, obedience in this case did not mean blindness. It meant fulfilling the will of God. Jesus did the will of his Father. The author defined the role of High Priest in those simple terms.

What separated Jesus from the rest of humanity was the extent of fulfillment. He did the will of the Father completely. The author implied that we humans are weak. We do not fulfill God’s will completely. We are imperfect, incomplete, wanting in one area or another. Yet, Jesus could empathize with our condition because he lived among us. He was, in fact, one like us in every way, save sin.

Notice how the author contrasted the shift of location and time. Jesus was with us, but through his obedience, he is with the Father. He was a person within time; now he exists in the transcendent, the eternal. The turning point between earth and heaven, between the now and the forever, was death. It was also the moment of God’s will.

Most of our lives we do not reflect on death as the moment of God’s will for us. We see it as a tragic end to this life or a necessary transition point between planes of existence. Yet, will we die for ourselves in doubt and even despair? Or, will we die for God? Will we simply die? Or will we die to self and rise with another?

Why is Jesus our High Priest? Because he showed us the way to the Father through death. As our bridge between earth and heaven, he is our assistance and our hope. He gives us to power to die for God. And live with him forever.

In the Hail Mary, we ask for the Mother of God to pray for us at the moment of death. Why should we reach out to others as we prepare (even spirituality) for death? How will our prayers help others prepare for eternity?