Monday, November 13, 2006

Jesus the Great High Priest

April 28, 2007
Luke 24.50-53

What is the significance of Jesus' raising of his hands and pronouncing a blessing (doubly stated) before ascending into heaven in Luke 24.50-53? Why is this his last gesture recorded by Luke?

Leviticus 9.22 tells of a priestly rite of which Jesus' action resembles: "And Aaron lifted up his hands toward the people and blessed them, and came down from offering of the sin offering, and the burnt offering, and the peace offerings." Perhaps Luke means to suggest that Jesus is the great high priest. Or perhaps he means to suggest that Jesus has performed the duties of the high priest in his death and resurrection (namely, given himself as the offerings required as a service to God for his people).

The Apochryphal book of Sirach may help explain Luke's text. Simon son of Onias, the high priest of 220-195 B.C., was a highly reveared historical figure among Jews, especially among those of priestly origin and service. He is most remembered as a leader responsible for the temple restoration (Sirach 50.1-11), a leader of whom Theophilus would have known well. In Sirach 50.20-21, we find Simon completing his duties on the Day of Atonement, after exiting the Holy of Holies:

"Then Simon came down and raised his hands over the whole congregation of Israelites, to pronounce the blessing of the Lord with him lips, wnd to glory in his name; and they bowed down in worship a second time, to receive the blessing from the Most High."

In Luke's story, Jesus performs this same rite. Theophilus would have recognized it immediately, for he himself had surely observed (performed?) this rite numerous times, both as a priest and as a Law-observant Jew. This is the very last action Jesus performed in Luke's Gospel - a fitting conclusion to Luke's story of Jesus, the great high priest.

This week's reading is short, but significant. Recall the various ways in which Luke has presented Jesus to Theophilus, the high priest of 37-41 A. D.. Meditate on those aspects of Luke's Gospel examined throughout this study. Has your understanding of Luke's story changed? If so, in what ways? Consider Luke's effort to convince a skeptic of Jesus' story. What can we learn from it?


There is a variant reading in Luke 24.52 which might shed yet more light on the issue. It reads (the variant in italics), "While he blessed them, he parted from them. And they worshiped him, and returned to Jerusalem with great joy." In Sirach 50.21 the people are said to have worshiped "a second time". Though this probably refers to the worship of God, as in the first instance (50.17). But, the language is ambiguous beyond the modifier, "a second time". It is believed among scholars that Israel worshiped the high priest because he was God's representative on earth. Conversely, God often treated the high priest as though he represented the people (such as in the transferring of sins in the rites of atonement). If this notion is a correct one, perhaps Luke's variant (whether original, or as from a scribe recognizing Luke's paralleling of the high priestly stories) might be well received, for it adds strength to the interpretation that Luke is presenting Jesus as the new great high priest, in the fashion of such Jewish figures of lore as Simon son of Onias.


Post a Comment

<< Home