“Every high priest chosen from among mortals is put in charge of things pertaining to God on their behalf, to offer gifts and sacrifices for sins. He is able to deal gently with the ignorant and wayward, since he himself is subject to weakness; and because of this he must offer sacrifice for his own sins as well as for those of the people.” (Hebrews 5:1 – 3)
Before I see/read where Paul is going with this, I want to let you know where my pondering has taken me with just these few verses. First, in my faith tradition we do not put one person above all others to complete “priestly” tasks. Yes, we have ministers and preachers but they are not tasked with making “sacrifices” or offering “gifts” to offset sin and guilt. Each person can be their own “high priest” – we call it the “Priesthood of All Believers.” But we do have people who guide believers in their faith journey, pointing out significant instances. The term that we use is “Spiritual Directors.”
“And one does not presume to take this honor, but takes it only when called by God, just as Aaron was.” (Verse 4)
We believe this also, that the Divine calls out of the Lord’s people those who have gifts and skill sets that equip them to guide others in Christian faith. It is a calling that is rigorously tested and examined.
“So also Christ did not glorify himself in becoming a high priest, but was appointed by the one who said to him, “You are my Son, today I have begotten you”; as he says also in another place, “You are a priest forever, according to the order of Melchizedek.” (Verses 5 – 6)
It occurs to me that Paul still holds on to the idea that someone has to take leadership and responsibility for assuaging the collective guilt and sin that is amongst the people. Maybe not a high priest, but someone. I am not sure that in this passage at least, that Paul makes the jump from one priest overall to all being their own priest.
“In the days of his flesh, Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to the one who was able to save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverent submission. Although he was a Son, he learned obedience through what he suffered; and having been made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him, having been designated by God a high priest according to the order of Melchizedek.” (Verses 7 – 10)
What the “Priesthood of All Believers” means is that we do not need an intermediary between the Divine and ourselves. I have in the past assumed that was the way with all faith traditions that do not ascribe to Catholicism, or the faith traditions that are offshoots of the belief system that has a Pope as the highest leader in their faith. I could go into the history of my faith tradition, and go on for some length. But I will not. Well, maybe a little.
Christianity started as a belief system that said the Messiah came to us to offer the gift of forgiveness, grace, mercy, redemption and so on. Jesus came to us instead of us having to use established channels to get to Him. But as time passed, channels were established again. And while not call “high priests” there was definitely an hierarchy established – witness the fact that they are now called “priests” at the basic level and as one rises in the hierarchy new titles/positions are given. I am not knocking Catholicism! I am simply saying that my faith tradition longed to return to the way of relating independently, personally, and intimately with the Divine. We who are Anabaptists (yes, that is the denominational name) believe that we are all equally under the Lord God Jesus Christ and the Creator who sent Christ and the Holy Spirit that was/is that Unseen Presence of the Divine. We are not sure if it was what Paul had in mind, but we want to believe that he would approve!