GOSPEL, FIRST READING & PSALM TRANSCRIPT (Subscribe or Login for Full Transcript):
The Fifth Sunday of Lent for Year B continues our journey toward the paschal mystery of Jesus's death, resurrection and ascension into heaven, and it does so with yet another passage from the Gospel of John. And this passage might not be as familiar or as famous to people because it's only in John, but it's really significant in the arc of the narrative within John's gospel. And that is Jesus's final public statement before his passion begins in John 12, it's the reference to Jesus’ hour having come. Before I read the gospel, just a quick side note on that. So whenever you look through the Gospel of John and read it from beginning to end, one of the distinctive aspects of his gospel is going to be an emphasis on the hour of Jesus. So Jesus is going to frequently refer to his passion and death and resurrection as his hour, even though it takes place over the course, obviously, of more than a day. He will use this terminology of the hour to refer to the significance of this redemptive moment within salvation history. And so the gospel for this week, on the cusp of the final week of Lent which will be of course Palm Sunday or Passion Sunday, the last Sunday of Lent before Palm Sunday, is going to be the last words of Jesus during his public ministry from the Gospel of John. So that's what we’re reading this week and it’s from John 12:20-33. It’s kind of a long passage, but it's definitely worth reading carefully and closely. So let's just walk through that together and we’ll try to unpack it. In John 12:20 we read these words:
Now among those who went up to worship at the feast were some Greeks. So these came to Philip, who was from Beth-sa'ida in Galilee, and said to him, "Sir, we wish to see Jesus." Philip went and told Andrew; Andrew went with Philip and they told Jesus. And Jesus answered them, "The hour has come for the Son of man to be glorified. Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. He who loves his life loses it, and he who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life. If any one serves me, he must follow me; and where I am, there shall my servant be also; if any one serves me, the Father will honor him. "Now is my soul troubled. And what shall I say? `Father, save me from this hour'? No, for this purpose I have come to this hour. Father, glorify thy name."
And then something interesting happens here. This is one of the three times that the Father speaks in all of the public ministry of Jesus. You’ve got the baptism, you’ve got the Transfiguration, and then you have this final word from the Father in heaven. And this is only in John the father says this:
Then a voice came from heaven, "I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again." The crowd standing by heard it and said that it had thundered. Others said, "An angel has spoken to him." Jesus answered, "This voice has come for your sake, not for mine. Now is the judgment of this world, now shall the ruler of this world be cast out; and I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to myself." He said this to show by what death he was to die.
Okay, so not a very familiar passage maybe to many of us, but very important for John's gospel. A couple of points about it, first, notice the context. The context here is the Feast of Passover which, as I’ve mentioned on previous videos, was a pilgrimage festival. It took place in the spring when hundreds of thousands of Jews would come together in the city of Jerusalem to celebrate the feast in the Temple. And in this case, John says that there were also some who went up to the feast who were Greeks...
SECOND READING TRANSCRIPT (Subscribe or Login for Full Transcript):
Now the next thing that Hebrews says here is fascinating. It says:
Although he was a Son, he learned obedience through what he suffered; and being made perfect he became the source of eternal salvation to all who obey him… (Hebrews 5:8-9)
Now that’s the part of the line, especially when it’s read in the lectionary, read in the liturgy, that I know strikes most people as problematic. Because for Hebrews to say that Jesus was made perfect, makes it sound like it’s implying that He was imperfect — that there was some flaw or some fault or some imperfection about Him that was corrected somehow through His Passion. So is that what the letter to the Hebrews is saying? Well, you can probably detect from my tone that the answer is no. But how would you explain that? So let me try to say what being made perfect does not
mean and then what it does mean as well, to try to clarify.
Okay, so the first thing that we want to say here is that when the letter to the Hebrews says that Jesus was made perfect, it does not
mean that He was a sinner or that He had any fault or imperfection. And you can know that by going back a few chapters in Hebrews itself, because of all the letters in the New Testament, Hebrews is the most explicit about the fact that Jesus has no sin. So in Hebrews 4:15, it says:
For we have not a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. (Hebrews 4:15)
So Hebrews is very, very clear about the fullness of Jesus’ humanity. It is a full human nature. He does have limitations, He does have weaknesses — the most obvious being that He can suffer...but there’s no sin. He can even experience external temptation (like all human beings do) but without sinning. So Hebrews is very clear about the sinlessness of Jesus. So that’s not what we’re talking about here when it says that He was made perfect or that He learned obedience through what He suffered.
So what are
we talking about? Well, this is a fascinating example of why knowing Greek is very helpful. And in this case, the Greek word for “being made perfect” or to perfect, teleoō
, is a word that has a wide range of meanings. And in order to determine the meaning, you have to look at the context. So in this case, it’s very fascinating that if you go back to the Greek translation of the Jewish Scriptures known as the Septuagint, one of the most prominent uses for the word teleoō
(to make perfect) is not — as we would commonly think of it — to be made flawless. Although, it can be used that way. It can be made...perfect can mean “complete,” “whole,” “without flaw.”
It can mean all those things, but one specific meaning that it has in Jewish Scripture is to be ordained a priest. It’s the word for “ordination.” On the day of a priest’s ordination, they are perfected, consecrated to God and to His service.
So for example, let me just show you here...in the book of Leviticus 8:31,33. In the Greek Septuagint — this is a parallel — Moses is giving instructions to Aaron and his sons for how they will be ordained. So if you’ve ever been to a priestly ordination today, if you’ve ever been to the liturgy of a priest ordination, you’ll know it’s a pretty elaborate ceremony. There are lots of symbols and rites involved. It’s pretty momentous and solemn and fascinating. It’s just a beautiful, beautiful ceremony. Well, Leviticus 8, if you were wondering, is what the ordination service of an Old Testament priest looked like. So if you want to go back and see the details of it, you can read the whole chapter. But in that chapter in the Greek translation, verses 31 and 33, this is what it says:
And Moses spoke to Aaron and his sons: “…You shall not go out of the entrance of the tent of testimony for seven days, until the time of your fulfillment
(lit., “the day of your perfection,” Greek hēmera teleiōseōs
) is fulfilled, for he will complete your ordination
(literally, “the perfection of your hands,” Greek teleiōsei tas cheiras hymōn
) in seven days… (Leviticus 8:31, 33) (trans. Lexham English Septuagint
, p. 124)
That’s Leviticus 8:31-33, Greek Septuagint. So notice, in that passage, in Leviticus 8, the Greek word teleoō
, perfect, is used to describe both the day of ordination and the act of ordination. The day of ordination is called the day of your perfection — being made complete — and then the act of ordination is called the perfection of your hands. Now, it’s not clear exactly what that means. Even in the original Hebrew, the term that would be used to describe a priest’s ordination is sometimes “the filling of his hands.” You can see how that would become “the completion of his hands.” And we don’t know exactly what that entailed. It seems
to have been a way of expressing that the priest was given the sacrifice, the ordination sacrifice — his hands were filled probably with the bread offering, known as the mincha
or one of the sacrificial offerings. And then he would offer that up to God in his first act of priestly sacrificial offering.
Whatever that expression means, the point is that the word teleoō
— to be made perfect — is the
Greek word for the ordination of a priest in the Jewish Scripture and in the book of Leviticus and Exodus. So when Hebrews, the letter to the Hebrews — which, by the way, is all about the priesthood. I mean, you read Hebrews from chapter 1 all the way to chapter 13. The central theme of the book — and the vast majority of the book in terms of its topics throughout the chapters — is about the priesthood of Jesus Christ. So when you see the word teleoō
in a book that’s almost entirely about the priesthood, in a first century Jewish context, the natural reading would be that it’s referring to the ordination of Jesus, the consecration of Jesus, His act of priestly sacrificial offering as a priest...as the true priest of the new and eternal covenant.
So when Hebrews 5 says:
...and being made perfect he became the source of eternal salvation to all who obey him…
It’s talking about His perfection as a priest. It’s not talking about the elimination of some sin or some flaw from Him. And it’s really unfortunate in this case that the lectionary stops in verse 9, because if you have any doubts about what I’m suggesting to you, you can just read the next verse. Because in verse 10 — Hebrews 5:10, which isn’t in the lectionary but is in Hebrews — it actually repeats the line and makes explicit reference to the priesthood. So I’ll read the full text now, and you’ll hear what I mean. So, I’ll go back to verse 8:
Although he was a Son, he learned obedience through what he suffered; and being made perfect…
...think here, being ordained, being consecrated a priest.
...he became the source of eternal salvation to all who obey him, being designated by God a high priest after the order of Melchiz′edek.
Now this is a classic example of what happens in Hebrew poetry. It’s called synonymous parallelism, where you’ll take two verses of the poem and they’ll say the same thing in two different ways. There are two different ways of saying the same thing. “Being perfected” and “becoming a source of salvation for all” is the same thing as “being designated a high priest...according to the order of Melchiz’edek.” Does that make sense? Do you see the verbal parallelism there? So to be perfected and to be designated priest are two ways of saying the same thing, which is exactly the case in the book of Leviticus 8.
So in closing, then, what Hebrews is doing — and this is very important, on the fifth Sunday of Lent as we head toward the celebration of Palm Sunday and the Paschal Mystery of Jesus’ Passion and Death — is to remind us that the crucifixion of Jesus isn’t just an execution. That’s what it would have looked like to anyone who saw it. You have a Jewish non-citizen being sentenced to death by capital punishment, by hanging in asphyxiation. It just looks like a Roman execution. But through the eyes of faith, the letter to the Hebrews is revealing to us that what looks like an execution is actually an ordination. It’s the perfection of Jesus’ day where He will offer as a sacrifice not the blood of bulls or goats or lambs or even the unleavened bread of the mincha
of the Old Testament, but He will offer Himself as a sacrifice for the sins of all.
So the crucifixion isn't just an execution; it’s a sacrifice. It’s a priestly sacrifice of a man who was not a priest according to the order of Levi, but high priest according to the order of Melchiz’edek.
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