Sentence: When the Lord restored the fortunes of Zion, we were like those who dream. Then our mouth was filled with laughter, and tongue with shouts of joy (Psalm 126:1-2)
God of love,
your Son teaches us the heart of the law.
Open our minds, souls and hearts to discern what you ask of us.
Empower us to love you with our whole being,
to love our neighbour as ourselves and thus fulfil your law.
We ask this through Jesus Christ our Lord,who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit one God now and for ever. Amen
In the background to the coming of Jesus as the Messiah, as 'Son of David' (see gospel reading below), are a series of visions of glorious, better days for Israel.This passage is one of those visions. The Lord speaks through Jeremiah of a return of the 'remnant of Israel' (i.e. of those scattered by exile, 7). Among them will be 'the blind and the lame' (8). The healing story in today's gospel is a fulfilment of this vision.
Ditto for this psalm is much of the comment above re the Jeremiah passage. Here is another vision of 'When the Lord restored the fortunes of Zion' (1). The psalm is a little complicated because the first verses seem to presume the restoration has occurred and the last verses (from verse 4) seem to be praying for restoration. An explanation is that a partial restoration has occurred (e.g. when the fist exiles in Babylon returned to Judea) but there are more to come and so the prayer is for the restoration to be completed.
We need to approach each passage of Hebrews through these weeks - noting that sometimes significant omissions have occurred between passages - recalling that the overall argument is that Jesus is superior to all significant people and significant roles within Israel (greater than the angels, than Moses, than the high priests etc).
Since last week's Hebrews 5 passage (which introduced the priesthood of Melchizedek) the writer has:
(1) warned of the peril of falling away (5:11-6:12);
(2) discussed the making of oaths, with special reference to Abraham and come back to Melchizedek and the fact of Jesus being a high priest in the order of Melchizedek (6:13-20);
(3) described the ministry of Melchizedek (in glowing terms), pointed out that the priesthood of Melchizedek is greater than the priesthood of Levi (i.e. the priesthood of the temple of Israel, 7:1-10); and
(4) reiterated the point of the stronger priesthood through Melchizedek such that, 7:22, 'Jesus has also become the guarantee of a better covenant' (7:11-22).
Thus we can read and, hopefully, understand our passage today.
Essentially the passage summarises the perfections of Jesus' priesthood:
- he is a permanent priest 'because he continues forever', 24, contrasted with the mortal lives of Israel's priests;
- 'he is able for all time to save those who approach God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them' (25);
- he is 'holy, blameless, undefiled, separated from sinners, and exalted above the heavens' (26);
- he has 'no need to offer sacrifices day after day, first for his own sins, and then for those of the people' because 'this he did once for all when he offered himself' (27);
- he is 'a Son who has been made perfect forever' (28).
A song of praise would be an appropriate ending to the sermon based on this passage!
Note that verse 27 uses language which the Book of Common Prayer Holy Communion service takes up.
Verse 25 is straightforward in one way: Jesus saves those who approach God through him.
In another way it is enigmatic and has given rise to various theological developments: the words 'since he always lives to make intercession for them' has raised questions about the relationship between our time and heavenly time (or, indeed, timelessness) and thus led to consideration that in certain ways the sacrifice of Jesus (as a form of 'intercession' that people might be saved) is continually 're-presented' before God, with the possible implication - much argued over - that when we celebrate the eucharist we may properly 're-present' the sacrifice of Jesus, the earthly mirroring the heavenly.
This is the last event in the journey of Jesus towards Jerusalem. At first glance it looks like 'another miracle' but there are aspects to consider.
When we go back to 8:22-30, we find that there is a similar healing miracle there, also healing of blindness. Scholars suggest, reasonably, that the two healing of blindness events frame the intervening material which, as we have been seeing in recent weeks, highlights the spiritual blindness of the disciples. They do not understand who Jesus is. By contrast the physically blind man in today's story has good 'spiritual' sight. He 'sees' (i.e. understands) that Jesus is 'the Son of David' (47, 48). Unlike the disciples in the most recent Sunday passage (10:35-45), the blind man wants 'mercy' from Jesus and not 'glory.'
So Jesus heeds the call for healing and responds to the spiritual sight of the man (49ff).
But Jesus does not instantly heal him. He pauses and asks a question first,
'What do you want me to do for you?'
This sounds like an oddity. Surely Jesus knew what the man wanted. His disability would have been obvious. Yet he asks the question nevertheless. We may puzzle over that, but Jesus has left all readers with an important question. When Jesus comes to us, What do we want him to do for us? He is open to us telling him!
In conclusion, note that the blind man, now physically seeing as well as spiritually seeing 'followed him on the way' (52).