Priest, Bishop, Hierarch, and service

What do we mean when we speak of a priest? Our word, “Priest,” comes from the “Old English from the older Germanic represented by Old Saxon and Old High German prestar, the Old Frisian prestere, all from Vulgar Latin *prester “priest,” from Late Latin presbyter “presbyter, elder,” from Greek presbyteros.” When we think of our Bishop, we think of the high priest or the one who is over the priests. “Bishop,” comes from “Late Latin episcopus, from Greek episkopos ” from epi- “over” (see epi-) + skopos “one that watches, one that looks after; a guardian, protector.”

8919_1243228163516_2601477_nThe Greeks called their priest, “Hierarchy.” This is the word the Greeks used for “High Priest” in our liturgical reading for the Twenty-ninth Sunday in Ordinary Time. Hierarchy is, “super-human, mighty, divine, wonderful, holy, hallowed, of one dedicated to a god,” and from this, “offerings, sacrifices, victims, sacred things or rites.” When St. Paul wrote Hebrews, he was thinking of the person who represents God before the people, and the people before God. Jesus is The Great High Priest, the superhuman, mighty, all knowing, wonderful presence. The priest is the humble table waiter offering the one true sacrifice, Jesus himself, in the Eucharist.

The Hebrew for the first reading is, “In knowledge he makes a charitable/just person, a charitable/just person, my servant. Their rebellion he bears.” The word “rebellion” relates to the word for “Eye.” The rebel is crooked, as the eye is round. Isaiah uses the word for someone who intentionally erred. The suffering servant comes to rescue this person. If we only knew the greater glory of God, we would realize our rebellion is but simple error.

The Hebrew for “wicked” comes from the same root as Rosh Hashanah, the head of the year. The wicked put themselves first. In the Gospel reading, Mark writes of James, John, and their wanting to be first, after Jesus, in the kingdom. When the others find out about James and John, they complain, thinking themselves first. Each wants to be first, and engages in the same back-biting office politics we see in government, church, and at our jobs. God rules the kingdom. Jesus tells them how only God has the authority to give fancy titles. God gives vocations/places to sit, not us. In Matthew 23:9-12 he tells his followers how he is not interested in fancy titles. Jesus wants people “dedicated to God, and from this, an offering to others, a sacrifice for others, a victim for others, a sacred person who helps others to see the sacred in themselves.”

Words of Institution 3Many Protestant denominations try to pattern their congregations after the congregational model of the early church. They call themselves Presbyterians, and Episcopalians. Their leaders  are pastors and shepherds. They are elders and overseers. They are new titles for the same overbearing hierarchy haunting us, in church, in government, and in private enterprise. Jesus reminds us of how true service, whether in leadership, or in digging ditches, is about using all we have to service others. That is all there is to Gospel morality.

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