Text: Numbers 18:1-7, Malachi 2:7, Luke 2:22-35, Hebrews 4:14-16
A priest cares for the spiritual lives of the people. The job of a priest in the Old Testament was to read the spiritual posture of God’s people and attend to their fears and sorrows. Priests called the people to see themselves as they really were—needy but loved, frail but protected, prone to wander but kept. They served God’s people by reminding them that they were made for worship.
I confess: I used to silently pass judgment on parents who used those kid-leashes on their children. And then I had twin boys.
I remember buying a set of two such contraptions at the parents-of-multiples consignment sale when our boy babies were becoming toddlers. It was our one-stop shop for all the twin things, and it made me feel deeply understood simply to wander among the aisles of coordinating onesies and matching highchairs. By this point, of course, I’d met my boys and discovered just how, um, “lively” they were. They’d be on the move soon, and judging from the number of times they’d already overturned the toy shelf in their room, it was time to prepare our hearts and our home.
We didn’t know we’d come to envy the parents we once judged. At least their kids could be contained by such desperate measures. Our boys, on the other hand, were so rambunctious, they’d physically injure themselves (or us) when tethered via a puppy dog backpack.
The truth was I’d underestimated how difficult it would be to simply keep my boys near me—to keep them in the fold, so to speak. We opted for fenced-in playgrounds in their younger years to avoid the likely probability that they’d run toward the street in opposite directions and I’d have to choose which one to rescue first. I felt like a lifeguard, always on duty, always scanning the room or yard or park for those two little blonde heads, constantly fighting fear that I’d lose one or leave one behind.
Bless caregivers of little ones everywhere. I’m exhausted just writing this.
God’s priests in the Old Testament knew well the work of keeping their sheep within the fold. Shepherding was part of their job—not sheep, of course, but hearts. The hearts of God’s people—ever wandering, ever forgetful—needed the watchful eye of the priest to keep them close, to read their spiritual posture and anticipate their spiritual needs. In the same way that priests reminded God’s people who they were and Who they were made to worship, they also reminded them how to walk in light of those truths.
God’s people were needy, but loved. They were frail, but protected. They were prone to wander, but kept. The priesthood was a gift from God for both the people and the temple. The priests watched over the people for the sake of the temple, and watched over the temple for the sake of the people. It was heavy, holy work.
As God’s people today, we are just as needy, frail, and prone to wander as our Old Testament brothers and sisters. We, too, benefit greatly from the gift of shepherds who lead the people of the Church in the ways of God. But there is one crucial distinction: you and I no longer rely on any priest or guide to keep us in the fold. We have a Savior who does that.
There would come a perfect Priest into the world who would not just make it improbable but impossible for us to be separated from God’s covenant love. He would be the Shepherd of shepherds, the Messiah, and He was coming to be our forever priest.