Qualification for Priesthood: An Outward Sign
Ex. 28:6 They shall make the ephod of gold, of blue, purple, and crimson yarns, and of fine twisted linen, skillfully worked. 7 It shall have two shoulder-pieces attached to its two edges, so that it may be joined together. 8 The decorated band on it shall be of the same workmanship and materials, of gold, of blue, purple, and crimson yarns, and of fine twisted linen. 9 You shall take two onyx stones, and engrave on them the names of the sons of Israel, 10 six of their names on the one stone, and the names of the remaining six on the other stone, in the order of their birth. 11 As a gem-cutter engraves signets, so you shall engrave the two stones with the names of the sons of Israel; you shall mount them in settings of gold filigree. 12 You shall set the two stones on the shoulder-pieces of the ephod, as stones of remembrance for the sons of Israel; and Aaron shall bear their names before the LORD on his two shoulders for remembrance. 13 You shall make settings of gold filigree, 14 and two chains of pure gold, twisted like cords; and you shall attach the corded chains to the settings.
This is one of those passages that we don’t often spend too much time reading. It’s a description of the garments that Aaron and his sons were to wear before the Lord. Yes, it’s a physical description of a garment, but could there be more? One of the reasons I enjoy reading the Church Fathers is because of their ability to see beyond that which is just in front of you. In this description of the ephod they see more than just the design of a piece of clothing, but begin to probe into what God may be saying to his people about the virtues of those who serve in the priesthood.
Gregory the Great challenges those in the priesthood to shine with great virtue. The very conspicuous nature of the colors which are selected for this ephod are conspicuous and so the priest should understand that there is a standard for service before God which is greater than that of the ordinary person. Their lives will stand in contrast to the world around them. The world, and God, have a higher expectation of these individuals.
The color of hyacinth represents the brilliant color of the sky, so that the priest is not driven by the things of this earth, but raises their eyes to God in heaven. There should be a love of heavenly things so that one is not captured or ensnared by the praise of the people of the world. Gregory goes on to explain, “With the gold and blue of the vesture there is also a mingling of purple. That is to say, the heart of the priest, while hoping for those high matters about which he preaches, should repress in itself the remotest suggestions of vice. He should, as it were, with kingly power reject them, ever setting his gaze on the nobility of his interior regeneration and safeguarding by his way of living his right to the heavenly kingdom.” PASTORAL CARE 2.3
The “twice-dyed scarlet” reminds us of the true nature of God, which is love. This is the “flame of love coming from the heart.” (Gregory the Great) This flame of love leads us to love of God and love of neighbor, for there cannot be simply a love for God without that reaching out as the “twice-dyed” to the world around, and the priest is to exemplify this behavior.
The “fine-twisted linen” is pure and white. There is an issue here of the purity of the priesthood as well — a purity of moral behavior. And all of this becomes a precursor that points the way to Jesus Christ who will come as our High Priest.
I remember speaking with a friend one day about those who are serving in the ministry. She said something about them just being ordinary people and “I guess we shouldn’t hold them to a higher standard.” I’ve thought about that statement because I think that would probably be the sentiment of many people these days. We have become so accustomed to the idea of “the priesthood of all believers” that at some point we may have lowered the standard or possibly not seen the role of ordained ministry. At the same time I don’t think that is correct. I believe that there has always been a higher standard for those who have been called into the ministry. Here, in the life of Aaron and his sons there was an expectation of a life of virtue that was quite different from the rest of the community. The life of the priest was to point one in the direction of God.
The vocation of ordained ministry is a call — and it is a call to something that is not ordinary. There is an expectation that this individual will help point people in the direction of Jesus Christ, not just by their preaching, but by their very life. The virtues above should be practiced in the life of one serving God in ordained ministry. This is the outward sign of those who are serving God in vocational ministry and we are in desperate need of these kinds of ministers and leaders for the Church today.
Lord, please help those of us called to ministry to serve you faithfully, and may you raise up and entire new generation of priests who will point us in the direction of you. Amen.