THE SECOND READINGS OF WEEKS 27-33, YEAR B, FROM THE LETTER TO THE HEBREWS
A Continuous Reading. The second readings for Weeks 27 through 33 of Year B, the final portion of the church year, all come from the Letter to the Hebrews. Their selection follows the liturgical principle of Lectio continua, Latin for “a continuous reading,” a series of Scripture texts all taken from the same book of the Bible in sequence. While the first reading at Mass usually is selected to compliment the gospel, the second reading has no intended connection to either and stands on its own. The texts chosen for the second reading are those judged most significant in a book or, as a group, work together to unfold an important spiritual concept.
The Letter to the Hebrews. The letter itself is peculiar because so little is known about it. For many years the author was thought to be St. Paul, but that proposition has been disproved due to differences in literary style and theological content. It is not so much a letter as a long written homily intended to instruct and encourage. The intended audience, “the Hebrews,” is also unclear. Generally “the Hebrews” is another term for “the Jews,” so it may be directed to Jewish converts to Christianity, or to Jews who were contemplating conversion, or to Gentile Christians who could benefit from a better understanding of the Hebrew Scriptures.
The Theological Thread. A thread is a theme that is woven through a series of chapters of a book of the Bible; two or more readings on a particular Sunday, a horizontal thread; or a sequence of readings over a number of consecutive weeks, a vertical thread. The thread that connects the seven consecutive readings from Hebrews is the priesthood of Jesus.
Week 27B, Hebrews 2:9-11. The first passage explains the sacrificial nature of Jesus’ priesthood: “by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone” (Heb 2:9). Jesus was perfect so his self-offering was a perfect sacrifice. It is the work of a priest to consecrate, to make holy, and Jesus consecrates or makes every person holy before God (Heb 2:11).
Weeks 28B and 29B, Hebrews 4:12-13 and 4:14-16. Chapter 4 goes on to explain that Jesus is a priest from whom nothing is concealed (Heb 4:13); he is all-knowing, omniscient. He is the wise priest whose word is living and effective (Heb 4:12). He is the “great high priest” (Heb 4:14), not only human, but a priest who came down from heaven, the Son of God, a divine high priest. Because he was tempted and knows first-hand the struggles of the human condition, he is a compassionate priest, approachable, merciful, and helpful.
Week 30B, Hebrews 5:1-6. Jesus is not a self-appointed priest but was sent by his Father (Heb 5:5). His priesthood is eternal, not like other priests who serve only for a time. It is the duty of a priest to offer sacrifice for sin. Temple priests offered animals, Jesus offered his own body; Temple priests were sinners and offered sacrifice for themselves, Jesus was sinless and offered sacrifice for the human race.
Week 31B, Hebrews 7:23-28. This passage repeats key points made previously about Jesus’ priesthood. His priesthood is eternal, it “remains forever,” it “does not pass away” (Heb 7:24). He is a priest who is “holy, innocent, and undefiled” (7:26) which enables him to make intercession on our behalf. He is the priest who has the power to save us (Heb 7:25).
Weeks 32B and 33B, Hebrews 9:24-28 and 10:11-14,18. These texts highlight the glorious nature of Jesus’ priesthood. Jesus now reigns as the exalted priest in the sanctuary of heaven, seated forever at the right hand of God, revered because he offered himself in sacrifice, not multiple times, but once, to perfect and sanctify, to remove sin once and for all, so that when he returns a second time at the end of the age, he will bring the gift of salvation.