Wednesday of the Tenth Week in Ordinary Time
Confidence. That’s a difficult thing to have sometimes. We live in uncertain times. We often lack consumer confidence, economic confidence, political confidence, self-confidence, confidence in relationships . . . Confidence. Do you feel confident in your relationship with God? Or do you worry sometimes that despite your best efforts you may not measure up and be found lacking? Are you confident of God’s love for you?
St Paul assures us of our confidence before God, indeed of our competence as ministers in the Kingdom of God. Our right standing before God is his gracious gift through Christ, not something we merit in our own human efforts. We are not competent in and of ourselves; our competence comes by the Spirit working within us.
In our first reading, Paul contrasts the “ministry of death” with the “ministry of the Spirit.” God’s covenant with Moses instituted the prescribed system of animal sacrifices, implemented to atone for the sins of the people. Sinful humanity cannot come into the presence of the Holy God; sin functions as a barrier between God and people. Because the penalty for sin is death, the priests of the “old covenant” offered repeated bloody animal sacrifices for themselves and for the people. Day after day, year after year after year, these sacrifices took place, regular and ongoing, reminding the people that something had to be done about their sinful condition. Imagine the scene when the priests offered these sacrifices, the gallons of blood poured out over the altars all day long as people presented their animals to be slaughtered. It was a ministry of death. This sacrificial system was a “type,” or a foreshadowing, a model that pointed to our ultimate need for a Savior. The Old Testament law, including the Ten Commandments and hundreds of other requirements revealed our sin. This legal code was impossible to follow perfectly – no one could ever do it! That’s why Paul refers to it as the ministry of death, the entire system sounded the warning that people were going to die in their sins unless the sinful condition was remedied. We deserve the death penalty. We owe a debt we cannot pay.
The priests and the people exerted incredible effort in the old covenant system! Their confidence was in the system, not in themselves or in their own access to God. Only the High Priest was allowed into the presence of God in the “Holy of Holies,” and that was only once per year. People had no direct access to God; they had no personal confidence. The sacrificial system made people outwardly clean, ceremonial cleansed from sin, and confident that they had met the prescribed requirements. But personal confidence comes from being cleansed within. This is what Christ’s work on the Cross accomplishes for us.
Paul tells us that God has made us all (not just the priests!) ministers of a new covenant! This new covenant is not based on “letter” (on law) but it is of the Spirit. The writer of Hebrews explains it so beautifully,
When Christ came as high priest . . . he went through the greater and more perfect tabernacle that is not man-made . . . He did not enter by means of the blood of goats and calves; but he entered the Most Holy Place once for all by his own blood, having obtained eternal redemption. The blood of goats and bulls and the ashes of a heifer sprinkled on those who are ceremonially unclean sanctify them so that they are outwardly clean. How much more, then, will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself unblemished to God, cleanse our consciences from acts that lead to death, so that we may serve the living God! For this reason, Christ is the mediator of a new covenant, that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance – now that he has died as a ransom to set them free from the sins committed under the first covenant (Heb. 9:11-15).
Set free in Baptism and empowered by the Holy Spirit, we have confidence, personally, in Christ that we have free and unrestricted access to God! “Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need” (Heb. 4:16). Christ Jesus is our Mediator of this new and glorious covenant, which he instituted once and for all by his sacrifice on the Cross.
So, what about the Law? We are still called to follow the Ten Commandments, right? Indeed. But with a different kind of confidence. In today’s Gospel reading, Jesus declares that he came to fulfill the Law and the Prophets. Later in Matthew’s Gospel, we find Jesus’ summary of this fulfillment, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind’. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments” (Matt. 22:37-28). St Paul echoes Jesus’ words in his Letter to the Romans, “Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for he who loves his fellowman has fulfilled the law. The commandments . . . are summed up in this one rule: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself’ . . . Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law” (Rom. 13:8-10). The New Covenant in Christ is all about love! Receiving, returning, and abiding in God’s love, knowing it for ourselves with confidence, and allowing God’s love to flow through us to others. This is life in the Spirit! This is life in the New Covenant. We are not bound by legal obligation to follow the Ten Commandments; we follow them out of love for God and gratitude for Christ’s sacrifice on the Cross that paid the debt we owed but could never pay. The Spirit gives life, sings St Paul! As we respond in love to this Spirit-filled life, we participate in Christ’s fulfillment of the Law and Prophets, not out of fear or obligation, but out of love.
What about you? Do you feel confident in your relationship with God? Or do you sometimes place your confidence in the “system”? As Catholic Christians, sometimes it’s easy to misplace our confidence in the religious practices of our faith and in the ministry of the priests, deacons and other religious. Sometimes we trust in the system to “do it for us.” Do you believe that you can approach the throne of grace with confidence, as the writer of Hebrews affirms to you? Let’s spend time today meditating on God’s love. I encourage you to take time to just simply bask in God’s love; simply receive it. Then let’s pray to the Holy Spirit to empower us to live this new covenant life of love.
- Elizabeth Wourms