Third Sunday in Lent Collect
WE beseech thee, Almighty God, look upon the hearty
desires of thy humble servants, and stretch forth the
right hand of thy Majesty, to be our defence against all our
enemies; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Jacob, now Israel, is coming to the end of his long and adventurous life. When Joseph heard the news that his father was nearing the end he brought his two Egyptian born sons, Ephraim and Manasseh, to his father for a blessing. All of Genesis has prepared us for this moment: Cain and Abel; Shem, Ham and Japheth; Abraham and Lot; Ishmael and Isaac; Jacob and Esau; Joseph and his brothers. Genesis is a story of generations and it is a story of God’s redemptive covenant that he made with Abraham’s ‘generations’ to save the whole world. Now Joseph, the son who had saved the world from famine, now brings his sons to be blessed by the patriarch. But they don’t simply receive a blessing. Israel adopts them as his own sons to fill out the number of the people when they return to the Land. At this point in the story it is not at all clear how that will be the case. Later we will find out that the tribe of Levi will be taken out of the roll of the tribes a tithe unto the Lord. They will serve him as priest in the Tabernacle and, later, the temple. So these two will take the place of Levi and their father Joseph keeping the number 12.
But we should be aware of another theme presented here as well. This is the theme of the younger brother receiving the covenant blessing. According to the most ancient traditions in the ancient near East and the Law of Moses the older son was supposed to get the blessing and the inheritance from his father. But oddly enough, in each one of the brother stories in Genesis, it is the younger son that gets the blessing. More particularly, Jacob had cheated his brother Esau out of his birthright and his blessing. Now Jacob, blind like his father Isaac, wishes to bless his grandsons, and the youngest son, Ephraim, receives the greater blessing. Joseph had made every attempt to position Manasseh to receive that blessing is disappointed.
The Reformation was in many ways a good and necessary event. To name one benefit, its emphasis on ‘the priesthood of all believers’ said that every profession and even each human act, was sacred to the Lord. This, of course, sought to demystify the Christian ministry on the one hand, and exalt the religious duty of the laity on the other. But perhaps one unfortunate effect of this rearrangement was to eliminate the concept of ‘priesthood’ from the minds of Christians altogether. But we should be clear that not only did God establish the priesthood in the Old Testament, but that Jesus was the perfect fulfillment of that duty in his earthly ministry.
A priest is a ‘go-between’. Humans know that God exists, but is completely different from us: more powerful, holy, just, worthy of praise. We, on the other hand, would like to offer that praise, and enjoy the benefits of being in communion with such a God, cannot come into the presence of that God because we are none of those things. So the job of a priest is to represent the people to God. This brings up the concept of ‘sympathy’ , literally to share the experience of someone else. That’s what a good priest does. See how Jesus is described in these verses: tempted like us, can sympathize with our sorrows, is gracious to our cries because he suffered and cried. Because he has shared in every moment of our humanity in his incarnation, he is able to represent us to the Father. He can speak our human language of pain, disappointment, and even dereliction. Jesus tempted in every way, but didn’t sin. But we still struggle to think of Jesus learning through that suffering, or even ‘being made complete and perfect’. The writer isn’t saying that Jesus was somehow imperfect. He has already claimed that Jesus was without sin. The point is that the suffering servant has now become high priest and Messiah. The recovery of the world that the Father seeks will not come cheaply, but thru the Son entering into the suffering that the world itself is struggling under. It is thru his cries from the cross that he completes and perfects his mission – killing death and bringing life. This is difficult to understand (11).