Jesus High Priest of the New Covenant misunderstood by his Relatives

Homily for Saturday Week 2 of Year 1

by Fr. Tommy Lane

We can understand why Jesus’ relatives thought he was out of his mind if we look at their situation from the human point of view (Mark 3:20-21). Jesus had left behind his family carpentry business to become an itinerant preacher.  There was no other son in the family to continue the business. Who was now going to support Jesus’ mother Mary? If we allowed our minds to wander on this Saturday morning and think wicked thoughts we might wonder if some of those relatives were now in some way providing for Mary and that was their main problem. Jesus certainly had no stable income, he was relying now on the generosity of others and Luke 8:1-3 gives us the names of some women who helped Jesus financially.

Another reason why Jesus’ relatives might have thought Jesus was out of his mind was that he was on a collision course with the Jewish authorities. Not long before this Jesus cured a man on the Sabbath which caused offense (Mark 3:1-6), before that he and his disciples picked heads of grain on the Sabbath (Mark 2:23-28). Earlier again when challenged about why his disciples did not fast while the disciples of John the Baptist and the Pharisees did fast he evaded the issue by saying that when he would no longer be with them they would fast, and he gave some cryptic defense by talking about new wine going into fresh skins (Mark 2:18-22). Before that he dined with sinners (Mark 2:15-17) and the really embarrassing thing is that it was in the house of a tax-collector (Mark 2:13-17). “How low Jesus had stooped” his relatives may have been thinking!  As if that wasn’t enough he even put his hand on a leper (Mark 1:40-45). Was Jesus out of his mind? His relatives had plenty of reasons from the human perspective to believe so.

And that brings us to Jesus’ disciples. Oh dear!! This is really embarrassing, from a snobby human point of view. A number of them were fishermen. They probably couldn’t read or write. One of them, Levi (Matthew in Matthew’s Gospel) was a tax-collector, in other words, a thief. We all know about those tax-collectors. They only gave a fraction of the taxes to Rome that they collected every year. And one of the disciples was a Zealot, Simon. What did Simon expect that he and his party could do, provoke the anger of Rome against Israel?  Jesus had proved himself as a rabbi because now he was allowed to preach in the synagogues, but why then did he associate this rabble with himself?  We can certainly understand why Jesus’ relatives thought he was mad.

But far from being mad, Jesus was, as the first reading (Heb 9:11-14 Year I) tells us, the high priest of the New Testament. Far from opposing Jewish worship, Jesus came to fulfill Jewish worship and liturgy. The high priest of the old covenant went into the Holy of Holies once every year on Yom Kippur and sprinkled blood to offer atonement for sins. Jesus entered the Holy of Holies in heaven offering his own blood and this sacrifice was effective for all time. The high priest of the old covenant offered an animal without blemish, he could not offer himself because he was a sinner. But when Jesus as high priest of the new covenant entered the Holy of Holies in heaven he did so as both priest and victim, he was “unblemished” and could offer himself. In the old covenant the animal offered in sacrifice was transformed by fire during the sacrifice. When Jesus offered himself in sacrifice, because he did not offer something external to himself but his whole self, he was transformed, and now reigns in heaven and is the means of our salvation.

It would have been consoling if Jesus’ relatives had understood Jesus but their lack of understanding did not take from the effectiveness of Jesus as high priest of the new covenant. When we decided to join the rabble of Jesus’ disciples there may have been some who thought we were mad. It would be encouraging if they understood but their lack of understanding does not prevent us from answering Jesus’ call or ministering to others in his name. We can imagine that Jesus’ relatives in time came to understand and we can pray that those who do not understand our call will one day understand.

Copyright © Fr. Tommy Lane 2013

This homily was delivered in Mount St. Mary’s Seminary, Emmitsburg, Maryland.