This blog provides a meditation on the Episcopal daily readings along with a headline from world news:
CATHEDRAL WITH 5 ONION DOMES TO BE NEAR EIFFEL TOWER
5Every 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. 2He is able to deal gently with the ignorant and wayward, since he himself is subject to weakness; 3and because of this he must offer sacrifice for his own sins as well as for those of the people. 4And one does not presume to take this honour, but takes it only when called by God, just as Aaron was.
5 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’;
6as he says also in another place,
‘You are a priest for ever,
according to the order of Melchizedek.’
7 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. 8Although he was a Son, he learned obedience through what he suffered; 9and having been made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him, 10having been designated by God a high priest according to the order of Melchizedek.
Melchizedek appears in the Hebrew bible in Genesis 14 as a mysterious priest of El Elyon who offers bread and wine to Abraham and receives tithes from him. He is also referred to in Psalm 110, as quoted by the author of Hebrews. T here is some doubt whether the words in the Psalm do indeed require the translation “Melchizedek” but we can take it that this is the translation intended by this author. Perhaps there had already been some attention to Melchizedek in Jewish reflection, but here we have an identification of Jesus with the order of priesthood represented by Melchizedek which is older and more authoritative than the Aaronic priesthood and to which Abraham gave homage. The point is that Jesus’ supreme priesthood is prefigured in the story of Israel. Jesus is the unique Son of the Father but he gains his priesthood through obedience and suffering, by which he is united to humanity; and through God’s appointment of him as high priest through the resurrection by which he is united with God. This theology is obscure but profound, especially as it includes a reminiscence of the agony in Gethsemane, which may come from a source separate from the Gospels. Meditation on Jesus is part of the tradition of Lent and the Letter to Hebrews will prove helpful to those who are prepared to do a little background work.
4Now when Jesus* learned that the Pharisees had heard, ‘Jesus is making and baptizing more disciples than John’— 2 although it was not Jesus himself but his disciples who baptized— 3he left Judea and started back to Galilee. 4But he had to go through Samaria. 5So he came to a Samaritan city called Sychar, near the plot of ground that Jacob had given to his son Joseph. 6Jacob’s well was there, and Jesus, tired out by his journey, was sitting by the well. It was about noon.7 A Samaritan woman came to draw water, and Jesus said to her, ‘Give me a drink’. 8(His disciples had gone to the city to buy food.) 9The Samaritan woman said to him, ‘How is it that you, a Jew, ask a drink of me, a woman of Samaria?’ (Jews do not share things in common with Samaritans.) 10Jesus answered her, ‘If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, “Give me a drink”, you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water.’ 11The woman said to him, ‘Sir, you have no bucket, and the well is deep. Where do you get that living water? 12Are you greater than our ancestor Jacob, who gave us the well, and with his sons and his flocks drank from it?’ 13Jesus said to her, ‘Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, 14but those who drink of the water that I will give them will never be thirsty. The water that I will give will become in them a spring of water gushing up to eternal life.’ 15The woman said to him, ‘Sir, give me this water, so that I may never be thirsty or have to keep coming here to draw water.’
16 Jesus said to her, ‘Go, call your husband, and come back.’ 17The woman answered him, ‘I have no husband.’ Jesus said to her, ‘You are right in saying, “I have no husband”; 18for you have had five husbands, and the one you have now is not your husband. What you have said is true!’ 19The woman said to him, ‘Sir, I see that you are a prophet. 20Our ancestors worshipped on this mountain, but you say that the place where people must worship is in Jerusalem.’ 21Jesus said to her, ‘Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. 22You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews. 23But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshippers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father seeks such as these to worship him. 24God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.’ 25The woman said to him, ‘I know that Messiah is coming’ (who is called Christ). ‘When he comes, he will proclaim all things to us.’ 26Jesus said to her, ‘I am he, the one who is speaking to you.’
In Jewish stories the one seeking a bride on behalf of his master arrives at the encampment and asks for a drink of water. The image of Jesus as the true bridegroom of God’s people lies behind this story. Acres of sensitive psychological analysis have been wasted on a story which is not primarily about a notorious Samaritan woman, but about the salvation offered by Jesus. The well is Jacob’s but is a pointer to the water of eternal life which Jesus gives. The woman jokes that this water would save her a daily journey but Jesus asks her to come back with her “bridegroom”. She has none, because as a Samaritan she is separated from Israel and the true Messiah. The five husbands she did have are the books of Moses from which the Samaritans are judged to have wandered. The Jewish-Samaritan quarrel about the right place of worship is mentioned only to be cast aside as irrelevant because Jesus brings the new time in which the God who is Spirit, that is, goodness unlimited by time and space, can be worshipped anywhere and any time, without any sacred places and festivals. Such worship is described as being in spirit and in truth. The word for truth means “without concealment” Through Jesus the God who is Spirit will be revealed openly. We can think of the veil of the temple being torn apart at the time of the crucifixion. We may ask if people who worship in spirit and truth need a vast new cathedral built in Paris. The seriousness of Jesus’ drive against any kind of idolatry, including all kinds of Christian flummery, is evident in the remarkable narrative. Like the passage from Hebrews this can assist Lenten meditation on the mystery of Jesus.