SACRIFICE FOR SIN – November 18, 2012 – Rev. Emmett H. Carroll, S.J.
SACRIFICE FOR SIN – HEBREWS 10:11-14
Rev. Emmett H. Carroll, S.J.
The Levitical priesthood contrasts with Christ’s priesthood. The Levitical priests made offerings of animals; the whole burnt offering (Lv1) must be unblemished; the offerer lays his hands on the victim; it is slaughtered and the blood dashed at the base of the altar; it is flayed and cut into pieces which are burned. This religious event indicates solemnity, and the whole burnt offering is a ritual act of supreme adoration of God.
This whole burnt offering occurs on such religious occasions as the consecration of priests, for temple prayers regularly morning and evening, and on major festivals. It is also offered at purification from uncleanness arising from sexual diseases. But the offering also is entirely burned at times of crisis and before battle in war, and to celebrate the accession of Solomon to the throne. What links these occasions is the solemnity and not the expression of any one emotion or moment.
The Levitical priesthood must constantly repeat the slaughter of animals and the solemn adoration of God. No sacrifice is complete; each is a fresh, new explicitation of the people’s realization of their lowliness before their Creator, before God.
In the Letter to the Hebrews (chapters 9 & 10), the priesthood and sacrifice of Jesus are contrasted with the priesthood and sacrifice of the Levitical priesthood. Just as previously the blood was splashed at the foot of the altar to suggest that a life has been offered to God, so in the sacrifice of Christ the atoning blood of the new covenant is the blood of Jesus (Hebrews 9:12-14).
A covenant cannot be ratified without blood (Hebrews 9:15-21). Forgiveness comes with the shedding of sacrificial blood. Perhaps something of this notion prevails: there is no free lunch. If a person sins, then the person must repent before God; blood evidences repentance.
The atoning sacrifice of Jesus has been offered only once, for that sacrifice is totally effective.
Christ entered into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God on our behalf. Nor was it to offer himself again and again, as the high priest enters the Holy Place year after year with blood that is not his own; for then [Christ] would have had to suffer again and again since the foundation of the world. But as it is, [Christ] has appeared once for all at the end of the age to remove sin by the sacrifice of himself. And just as it is appointed for mortals to die once, and after that the judgment, so Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to deal with sin, but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him (Hebrews 9:24-28).
This passage presents an overview of Jesus Christ’s work in bringing us humans into a fitting relation with our Creator. Sin necessitates reparation to God. Sacrifice repairs our relation with God.
Who doubts that sin flourishes among us? The Old Testament offers examples of humans sinning. Thus while Uriah the Hittite goes to war for Israel, King David dallies with Uriah’s wife Bathsheba. To cover up this sin, King David employs strategies, but in the end David deliberately brings Uriah to his death. The Second Book of Samuel (11:1-27) clearly articulates King David’s adulterous sin. We are reminded of Nathaniel Hawthorne’s classic The Scarlet Letter with its depiction of Hester Prynne and Arthur Dimmesdale, secret lovers.
Telling lies has terrible consequences. In Genesis (3:5ff.) Satan in the form of a serpent lies to Eve. And Jacob tells lies to Isaac (27:19). Saul lies about David. Judas betrays Jesus with a kiss of friendship, and Jesus asks Judas why he betrays with a kiss, a type of lie (Luke 22:47-48). After the resurrection Ananias and Sapphira lie to the Apostles (AA 4:32-5:11). In literature, Pinocchio’s nose gets longer because he tells lies.
Thievery exists among us. In modern terms we talk of shop lifting and we speak of an employer who will not miss an item, and we cover up not paying a debt. Mr. Bernie Madoff took large sums of money and made off with them. But we are reminded that Judas Iscariot kept the purse for the Apostles (John 12:6).
The Lord says in Isaiah,
Your iniquities have been barriers between you and your God
And your sins have hidden [God’s] face from you so that [God] does not hear.
For your hands are defiled with blood, and your fingers with iniquity;
Your lips have spoken lies, your tongue mutters wickedness (59:2-3).
Saint Paul, perhaps, had a degree in psychology when he wrote this. “For I do not do the good I want, but I do the evil I do not want” (Romans 7:19). The Roman poet Ovid observes this pull toward evil.
A Psalm emphasizes, however, quite a different relation to God. We align ourselves with our leader, with Christ, and we hear him speaking.
Sacrifice and offering you [God] do not desire, / but you have given me an open ear.
Burnt offering and sin offering you have not required. ….
I delight to do your will, O my God; / your law is within my heart (Psalm 40:6-8).
The work of the Levitical priests never ends in its ineffectiveness; their sacrifices of animal blood are a day-after-day-after-day tedium. Christ’s single offering in blood is complete, and he has only to wait until all its effects are brought to fruition.
At Mass, we humans strive to align ourselves with the one perfect sacrifice of Christ, the one offering for sin of all type. We recognize and admit our failings. Thank God, by His complete acceptance of God’s will, Jesus has satisfied our waywardness. Amen.