1/17/2017 – Tuesday of the 2nd Week of Ordinary Time
Today both readings invoke the Jewish Temple to describe the audacity of Christian hope and the divine gratuity which underlies it. As the place of the shekinah, the divine dwelling on earth, the Temple is for Jews a source both of awe and of fear: awe, that God should elect a particular people and their particular land as his chosen mundane residence; and fear, that such a gracious favor may not be profaned by any kind of human impurity, uncleanness, sinfulness. Accordingly, the Temple was divided into progressively more sacred chambers. Only the men of the priestly, landless tribe of Aaron, the Levites, could enter the inner chambers, and only the Levitical high priest could enter the most sacred chamber of all: the Holy of Holies, separated from the outer areas by a veil.
In some manner, Christianity inverts this arrangement of increasing exclusivity and divine removal from the profane. At Christmas, God is given to us, plainly, in a baby, born in circumstances noteworthy only for their plainness and meanness. This man is our brother; he speaks in language we can understand; he does not reside in hidden removal from what is human, especially what is profane, absurd, or ugly. Rather, he touches it. This is still the same almighty God, but now unprecedentedly near at hand. There is a merciful divine brashness, fearlessness, risk-taking revealed in the Incarnation. The light shone in the darkness, not simply the darkness of his own unfathomable being, but amongst human darkness.
The brashness of this inversion is captured in the language of our readings. It is implied when the author of Hebrews says that the hope stemming from faith in Christ “reaches into the interior behind the veil.” The one who bears hope is the new high priest. The one who stakes his life on the promises of divine mercy already mysteriously has access, “sure and firm,” to the very heart of God, the innermost mystery of all that is.
Likewise, against the accusations of profanation that the Pharisees level at his disciples, Jesus defends them with reference to an apparent sacrilege: David’s penetration into the holy place to eat bread consecrated for Levitical consumption alone. What justified the act? Human need. Jesus reminds the Pharisees how cruel God would be if he intended human weakness and need to be compounded and tortured by the provision of law; rather, the Sabbath was made for human beings, not the other way around. As Lord of the Sabbath, Jesus is therefore the Lord of our needs. He invites us behind the veil, provides everything for us, is moved by our cries for what we need and defends us from unfair accusation born of misanthropic legalism. Our trust is in him.