Hebrews 5:1-10 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. And one does not presume to take this honor, but takes it only when called by God, just as Aaron was. 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.” 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.
I don’t know about you but I am fuzzy on my understanding of high priests and ancient Jewish culture. The language of Hebrews confuses the modern Judeo-Christian reader who is disconnected from her religious heritage. What is the function of a high priest? And why do I care?
Jesus’ function as a high priest fulfills the role of Jewish religious leader and beyond. The high priest acts as a mediator between God and the people of God. However, Jesus’ death on the cross revolutionizes the name of high priest and brings a spirit of connection between God and creation. Traditionally, high priests were viewed as separate from the people and structurally above normal human experience with God. However, Jesus positioned himself alongside the suffering of humanity as he offered up tearfully prayers in the moment of his death. He suffered. He cried. He died.
Much like God’s silence in Job’s life, the book of Hebrews recognizes a God present with the suffering. Along with the pain of humanity, “Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to the one who was able to save him from death.” Jesus was not spared from death, but hung in loneliness on the cross. Therefore, his understanding of the loneliness of the world deeply connects with the human experience of a silent God. So why do I still feel lonely?
I recently read an interview with psychologist Sherry Turkle about her book Alone Together on the loneliness of technology. Although texting and Facebook messaging allow individuals to carefully chose words when interacting with others, the limited face-to-face dialogue prevents teens from developing emotional connections and the ability to communicate “in the moment” on a different level. One’s cell phone is ever present, in a pocket or on the bedside table throughout the night. Although one is always available, the connection prevents human contact. The article states, “All this leads to Turkle’s theory that it is possible to be in constant digital communication and yet still feel very much alone.” Despite our efforts to connect with others through social media, something is lost, leaving the typical American teenager, or myself, feeling insignificant. Although loneliness is not a unique feeling, it is a sensitive subject among younger generations who grow increasingly dependent on digital forms of communication.
Even though there are impossiblly infinite ways to connect with other human beings, why do we still feel completely isolated in our first world problems? Jesus’ death on the cross and painful loneliness of abandonment does not magically solve the loneliness of misunderstanding, isolation or death. However, his horrific death experience tells the story of a God who is not distant from the suffering of creation. Although I am privileged to live in a country where I own a smart phone and rely on it regularly, my cultural loneliness is real. And Jesus does not diminish my loneliness but joins me in it. Therefore, I am no longer alone, but experience the presence of God in the loneliness.