Madison Avenue Presbyterian Church - Outreach - Blogs - TEEZing Out The Roots
“But recall those earlier days when, after you had been enlightened, you endured a hard struggle with sufferings, sometimes being publicly exposed to abuse and persecution, and sometimes being partners with those so treated. For you had compassion for those who were in prison, and you cheerfully accepted the plundering of your possessions, knowing that you yourselves possessed something better and more lasting. Do not, therefore, abandon that confidence of yours; it brings a great reward. For you need endurance, so that when you have done the will of God, you may receive what was promised. For yet ‘in a very little while, the one who is coming will come and will not delay; but my righteous one will live by faith. My soul takes no pleasure in anyone who shrinks back.’ But we are not among those who shrink back and so are lost, but among those who have faith and so are saved.”—Hebrews 10:32-39
I have never really delved into The Letter to the Hebrews. I have read it, but the temple language and the high atonement theory have prodded me to focus my attention elsewhere. For, no matter how rich the material is, the temple cult seems to be miles and miles from my context. So, of the oft-touted trifold role of Christ—prophet, priest, and king—the role of priest has always held the least appeal for me.
As I have found myself saying so frequently lately, though, I am learning. The temple is an apt metaphorical ecosystem for so much of what happens in this world. We worship at the altar of Mammon. All too many of us dedicate ourselves to the service of that altar. The real kicker, though, is that those with power and privilege sacrifice others at that altar to Mammon—to more power and more money. We oppress, dispossess, and slaughter unwilling victims in order to maintain and expand principalities of injustice.
Hebrews, however, gives us an alternative vision of the temple. Jesus is at once the high priest, the sacrifice, and the god. When we look at the theodicy, we often ask how a loving God could willfully send their child to suffer terribly and die, all for the sins of others. I, also, am deeply troubled by this question. Another way of looking at it, though, is to see that God chose to become incarnate as a human, to join in the fullness of suffering, and to willingly die alongside of those who are sacrificed at the altar of Mammon. The entire paradigm was flipped. The all-powerful God relinquished power and joined the oppressed. The all-powerful God chose to use that power to challenge the earthly principalities. The all-powerful God chose to be sacrificed alongside of those who did not choose such a fate so that the system would fall and the sacrifices would no longer happen. The temple was torn down and rebuilt.
Clearly we have polluted this temple of incomprehensible grace. We continue to choose the altar of Mammon. Yet, we have an example and a clarion call from Hebrews. “You endured a hard struggle with sufferings, sometimes being publicly exposed to abuse and persecution, and sometimes being partners with those so treated. For you had compassion for those in prison, and you cheerfully accepted the plundering of your possessions, knowing that you yourselves possessed something better and more lasting. Do not, therefore, abandon that confidence of yours; it brings a great reward.” Those of us with power in this world must choose to partner with those who are publicly exposed to abuse and persecution, with those who are being imprisoned. We must make use of our possessions to aid in the struggle while we still have them, and we must be willing to let go of our possessions without remorse. We must challenge the principalities with confidence. We must be active to the point of being targeted ourselves for public abuse and persecution.
Imagine if the Church became such a temple! Let us seek to make it so as we await the coming of the High Priest.