Thursday, June 30, 2022

priest, offering, altar


There’s a prayer we say after receiving Communion, that goes,

Almighty God,
we thank you for feeding us
with the body and blood of your Son Jesus Christ.
Through him we offer you our souls and bodies
to be a living sacrifice.
Send us out
in the power of your Spirit
to live and work to your praise and glory.

In the Gospel set for Holy Communion today, Matthew 9:1-8, we meet a group of people who carry a paralysed man to Jesus. The Greek text suggests that they are bringing this man to Jesus as one would bring a sacrifice to God, and that he was on a low couch such as was used to recline at a meal table.

These people inherently recognise that Jesus is the altar of God, at which the bread of God is offered. These people, including the paralysed man, symbolically act as Aaronic priests, in contrast to the priests in the temple at Jerusalem. Moreover, the paralysed man is not only priest but also offering carried to the altar.

However, these priests and this offering fall short of the instruction of the Law. For Moses instructed Aaron, concerning his descendants, that no one who is lame may approach the altar to offer the bread of God. He may eat of it, but not bring it. And, while every firstborn male of flock or herd was to be consecrated to the Lord, being eaten in the Lord’s presence at the place of his choosing, no lame firstborn was to be eaten in this way. Such a blemished offering was to be eaten in the people’s own towns and cities, but not in the Lord’s presence in the place of his choosing.

As both priest and offering, the paralysed man falls short, doubly so, and with him, those with him, by association. But Jesus, seeing their faith, sends away the shortfall, forgives them their sins. And when onlookers object to this interpretation of the Law, Jesus demonstrates his authority by restoring the paralysed man to physical strength. Not out of able-ism, but in placing the letter of the Law in service of the spirit of the Law and not the other way around.

Which brings us back to where we started, to understanding ourselves to be living sacrifices, offered on the altar that is Jesus, the bread of life; and sent out by him to live and work to the praise and glory of God.


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