Priests are a special breed. Or at least they are often treated that way.
The Catholic Church was quite strong where I grew up. Priests were common place. You might come upon one at a restaurant or at the barber. Even from an age too young to fully understand denominational differences and the like, I understood that priests were important people in my community, though I couldn’t understand how he was everyone’s “father.” People would fall over themselves to please him. I understood enough to know when people were trying to find favor with a person, and my neighbors were certainly doing that.
I am also reminded of “The Fiddler on the Roof” and the esteem the people of Anatevka gave their old rabbi, the closest thing to a Jewish priest these days. Bless this or that. Teach me the right prayers to pray.
The Hebrew Christians would have come from a background where that same sort of thinking would have been prevalent. Priests are the best of the best. They are a step or two closer to God. These men who can trace their ancestry back to Abraham’s great-grandson Levi, who receive tithes from the commoners, who are holy enough to mediate for others, who have access to the inner sanctum of the Temple, places they had only heard about. Special people!
And now they were living a common life where all the people of God are equal. Where they all are holy. Where all have access to God in a world with no need for a Temple. Where all can pray for the other, and no one needs their neighbor to mediate their needs to God. Where ancestry doesn’t matter.
That would be a bit of change. One could miss their priest a bit. Demarcations like holy people and commoners do make life easier, at least on the surface. They make life simple to diagram and spell out. Everything is predictable and known. It doesn’t take much depth to understand.
The Hebrew Christians seem to be toying with the thought that it might be easier to return to the systematic structure of Judaism. This Jesus movement was just too egalitarian, too abstract, too spiritualized.
But what about Melchizedek, that strange non-Jewish priest and king from the first book in the Bible who met up with Father Abraham? He was a different kind of priest, a superior version it seems:
- With no father or mother, he arrives as some otherworldly being (7:3)
- He lives eternally, with no “beginning or end” (7:3, 8)
- He received tithes from Abraham himself, the great-grandfather of Levi from whom all regular priests come (7:6)
The Hebrews writer reminds his dear friends that they still have a priest. Jesus is a priest too, a high priest at that. Not a Levitical one; he comes from this superior order of Melchizedek. They have the best priest they could ever find.
- Jesus is an eternal, permanent priest because of “the power of a life that cannot be destroyed” (7:16, 21, 24)
- Jesus offers a better law and better hope than what can be found elsewhere (7:18-19)
- Jesus was sinless and did not even need to offer sacrifices for his own sins, something the Levitical priests would have to do (7:26)
- Jesus’ sacrificed once for all time and for all people, making his ministry far more effectual than anything in Jerusalem (7:27)
- Jesus offered himself, not a barnyard full of livestock (7:27)
Why would they return to an inferior option when they can have Jesus?