Tag Archives: Hebrews

Sealed by God

Christ Pantocrator, 13th century Serbian icon

Monday of the Third Week of Easter

John 6:22-29

The next day, the crowd that remained across the sea saw that there had been only one boat there, and that Jesus had not gone along with his disciples in the boat, but only his disciples had left.

John 6:22

Whoosh! Jesus vanished like the wind without leaving a trace. Gazing across the Sea of Galilee, any “footprints” would have dissolved instantly in the crashing waves.

Not that the people fed by Jesus on the mountain surmised that the rabbi walked across the sea—what utter nonsense!—though he did miraculously multiply five loaves and two fish. Who knew what else Jesus could do? Like a collective Sherlock Holmes they noted (A) only one boat had been docked, (B) Jesus had not gone in the boat with his disciples, and (C) Jesus was missing. 

Other boats came from Tiberias near the place where they had eaten the bread when the Lord gave thanks. When the crowd saw that neither Jesus nor his disciples were there, they themselves got into boats and came to Capernaum looking for Jesus.

John 6:23-24

A brigade of boats rowed hotly in pursuit of their bread king.

And when they found him across the sea they said to him, “Rabbi, when did you get here?”

John 6:25

Not knowing what to make of Jesus’ appearance on the other side of the sea, the baffled people skirted the question, “How did you get here?” with a superficial “When?” 

Genuine, disinterested wonder in the marvels and person of Jesus was lacking in the crowd. Rather, impelled by fickle appetites, they chased him down for another free meal.  

Jesus answered them and said, “Amen, amen, I say to you, you are looking for me not because you saw signs but because you ate the loaves and were filled. 

John 6:26

Signs point beyond themselves to an imperishable good beyond the fleeting undulations of hunger and satiety. The miraculous bread of the outdoor picnic was supposed to stimulate the deepest hunger of the human spirit. 

Do not work for food that perishes but for the food that endures for eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you. For on him the Father, God, has set his seal.”

John 6:27

Bodily hunger necessarily drives people to work for food, but spiritual hunger is easily dulled and forgotten. Jesus presented himself, the Messianic “Son of Man,” as the very imprint of God the Father. Like an official declaration stamped and sealed (sphragizó) by the signet ring of a king, Jesus declared himself to be the very countenance and Word of God.

So they said to him, “What can we do to accomplish the works of God?” Jesus answered and said to them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in the one he sent.”

John 6:28-29

What kind of work is “believing” (pisteuó)? In the Hebrews Hall of Fame, Enoch is praised for believing, and Abraham for his extraordinary faith and obedience (Hebrews 11:5-12). Believing is not merely a cognitive assent, but a wholehearted trust in God even when his commands are incomprehensible, as with the sacrifice of Isaac. 

The “work” of believing is exemplified by Mary, Mary Magdalene, the women disciples, and John the Beloved standing at the foot of the Cross on Calvary. Like Abraham poised to slay his son on Mount Moriah they stood, not knowing the outcome of the crucifixion three days later. 

Paul preached that believing (pisteuó) the Word of God seals (sphragizó) the children of God with the Holy Spirit, making them unique imprints and icons of the Son of God (Ephesians 1:13).

Standing with Jesus in the best and worst of times surpasses logic and reason. Faith is a relationship and commitment to a person, Jesus Christ. 

-GMC

Living Tabernacles

Russian icon of the Crucifixion by Dionysius, ca. 1500, Tretiakov Gallery, Moscow

Why did the Son of God die on the Cross?

Many theories of atonement have been proposed since the early Church, but none of them are definitive. The Catechism of the Catholic Church simply states that the crucifixion is “part of the mystery of God’s plan” (599). 

Images of blood, sacrifice, temple, and altar dominate the book of Hebrews as Christ is shown to be the eternal high priest, final sacrifice for sins, and the fulfillment of the Old Covenant.

Jesus repaired what was broken in the center of the cosmos, temple, and heart of humanity. Blood spilled on the altar of the Cross to atone for the primordial disobedience in the garden of Eden. The first instance of animal sacrifice, according to many interpreters, took place when God clothed Adam and Eve in animal skins (Genesis 3:21). Fratricide and deicide followed in the wake of expulsion in the next generation.

Cain said to his brother Abel, “Let us go out in the field. ”When they were in the field, Cain attacked his brother Abel and killed him. Then the Lord asked Cain, Where is your brother Abel? He answered, “I do not know. Am I my brother’s keeper?” God then said: What have you done? Your brother’s blood cries out to me from the ground!

Genesis 4:8-10

Bloodshed was the last step in a series of thoughts and passions ignited in the human heart. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus identified the root of murder in the angry, hateful heart.

“You have heard that it was said to your ancestors, ‘You shall not kill; and whoever kills will be liable to judgment. ’But I say to you, whoever is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment, and whoever says to his brother, ‘Raqa,’ will be answerable to the Sanhedrin, and whoever says, ‘You fool,’ will be liable to fiery Gehenna. Therefore, if you bring your gift to the altar, and there recall that your brother has anything against you, leave your gift there at the altar, go first and be reconciled with your brother, and then come and offer your gift.

Matthew 5:21-24

The book of Genesis stands as primeval witness to the heart of the “New Law” before lawmaking even began.

Then the Lord said to Cain: Why are you angry? Why are you dejected? If you act rightly, you will be accepted; but if not, sin lies in wait at the door: its urge is for you, yet you can rule over it.

Genesis 4:6-7

When his brother lay dead, consciousness of the law immediately sank in:

Cain said to the Lord: “My punishment is too great to bear. Look, you have now banished me from the ground. Anyone may kill me at sight.”

Genesis 4:13-14

A vague sense that Cain owed his own life for the life he had taken was expressed in his fear of retaliation. The Levitical law of “life for life” was instinctual.

Whoever takes the life of any human being shall be put to death.

Leviticus 24:17

Life is sacred on account of its divine origin. Since Adam is made in the image of Christ, the “firstborn of all creation” (Colossians 1:15), any harm done to Adam is done to Christ. Fratricide is deicide.

“Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me? …I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting.”

Acts 9:4-5; 22:7-8; 26:14-15

These words could have also been addressed to Cain, for Abel is a type of Christ. 

All the blood spilled in the sacrificial system of the Old Law sought to restore the original unity of God and humankind but failed. No amount of animal blood could bring back the dead or grant access to the divine presence (shekinah) in the Holy of Holies. 

And when I am lifted up from the earth, I will draw everyone to myself.

John 12:32

The Son of God assumed the humanity of Adam and Eve, Cain and Abel—the whole human family—and united what was split asunder. With forgiveness and mercy on his lips and in his heart, Jesus laid down his life and rose victorious over sin and death. 

The New Law of theosis or transformation into Christ superseded the Mosaic law and Levitical priesthood. The animal instincts of the murderers Cain and Lamech were transformed by the grace of the Holy Spirit to enable the human heart to respond with divine charity from the Father’s heart:

“You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, offer no resistance to one who is evil… “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your heavenly Father, for he makes his sun rise on the bad and the good, and causes rain to fall on the just and the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what recompense will you have? Do not the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet your brothers only, what is unusual about that? Do not the pagans do the same? So be perfect, just as your heavenly Father is perfect.

Matthew 5:38-39, 43-48

The ultimate end of Christ’s sacrifice on the Cross is to pour out the Holy Spirit on the earth, deify the children of Adam, and unite human persons and the cosmos in the love of God the Father. Persons and the cosmos are the temple of the Holy Spirit, and the heart is God’s sanctuary and Holy of Holies.

“This is the covenant I will establish with them after those days, says the Lord:
‘I will put my laws in their hearts,
and I will write them upon their minds,’”

he also says:
“Their sins and their evildoing
I will remember no more.”

Hebrews 10:16-17

Each one of us can build a tabernacle for God in himself. For if, as some before us have said, this tabernacle represents a figure of the whole world, and if each individual can have an image of the world in oneself, why should not each individual be able to fulfill the form of the tabernacle in oneself? …For that part within you which is most valuable of all can act the part of priest—the part which some call the first principle of the heart, others the rational sense or the substance of the mind or whatever other name one wishes to give to that part of us which makes us capable of receiving God.

Origen (fl. c. 200-254)1

The Image of the Blessed Trinity rests in the most intimate, hidden, and inmost ground of the soul, where God is present essentially, actively, and substantially. Here God acts and exists and rejoices in Himself, and to separate God from this inmost ground would be as impossible as separating Him from Himself… And thus in the depth of this ground the soul possesses everything by grace which God possesses by nature.

Johannes Tauler (c. 1300-1361)2

Fractured Adam
Shattered glass
Made one in Christ
By Love on the Cross
Not glued together
Nor sewn in patches
But indivisibly divided
Divided indivisibly
Trinity in Unity 
Unity in Trinity
We are children of God
Living tabernacles

-GMC

1 Origen, Homilies on Exodus 9.4. From Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture, Hebrews, Erik M. Heen and Philip D. W. Krey, editors, and Thomas C. Oden, general editor (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2005), 132-3.

2 Sermon 29 from Johannes Tauler, Sermons, trans. Maria Shrady, Classics of Western Spirituality (Mahwah: Paulist Press, 1985), 105.

From Melchizedek to Adam

Replica of the Temple menorah, made by the Temple Institute, Jewish Quarter, Jerusalem.

The Lord has sworn and will not waver:
“You are a priest forever in the manner of Melchizedek.”

Psalm 110:4

The dreamlike quality of the mysterious Melchizedek defies logical analysis and reasoning. Efforts to pin down his identity from ancient times to the present have failed. The Spirit of Scripture seems unvexed by analytical demands for clarity, for the historicity of the King of Salem adds nothing to the portrait of Christ, the eternal high priest. In fact, the very silence of Scripture on Melchizedek’s origins becomes the springboard for “arguing” to the eternal priesthood of the Son of God.1

Without father, mother, or ancestry, without beginning of days or end of life, thus made to resemble the Son of God, he remains a priest forever.

Hebrews 7:3

Melchizedek is considered a “type” of Christ, as Adam and David are types of Christ. The entire edifice of the book of Hebrews rests on typology, a kind of overarching analogy that sees earthly realities as coming from and returning to a perfect, eternal model in heaven.2 Unlike a step-by-step rational argument, a typological “argument” is more like facial recognition. 

To see a World in a Grain of Sand 
And a Heaven in a Wild Flower 
Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand 
And Eternity in an hour 

William Blake

Instant recognition of “a Heaven in a Wild Flower” is poetic, holistic, and intuitive rather than logical and rational. The author of Hebrews similarly expects his listeners to recognize Melchizedek in Christ and Christ in Melchizedek.

The psalm that invokes Melchizedek out of the dreamlike past was inspired by the Spirit. For David had no precedent for saying, “The Lord says to my lord: ‘Sit at my right hand’” (Psalm 110:1). We do not know how David understood “my lord,” but Jesus interpreted the psalm as pointing to himself, the Son of God (Mark 12:35-37; Matthew 22:41-46).

David linked his kingship to a priesthood prior to the Mosaic law and the covenant of circumcision, for Abram met Melchizedek before he received his new name. The mysterious “king of righteousness” appeared and disappeared without a trace, blessing Abram during a sacred feast of bread and wine.

Abraham never forgot his encounter with Melchizedek for the story passed down from generation to generation. Hymns may have been composed in honor of this Canaanite priest-king who is “without beginning of days or end of life.” Melchizedek points to an eternal sonship beyond time and history.

Priesthood and sonship are thus inseparable and return to God the Father as origin. Apart from creation, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit pre-exist with an incomprehensible glory without reference to creatures. Priesthood appears with the Incarnation. 

When we speak of Christ’s priesthood, what else do we mean than the incarnation?

St. Fulgentius of Ruspe, bishop (c. 467-532)3

The Incarnation and priesthood
begin in the beginning 
before the beginning
in the mind of God.

According to the blueprint of typology, Adam was made in the image of Christ, the “firstborn of all creation” (Colossians 1:15). The perfect Adam preceded the Adam of Eden in the divine mind, but descended from him in the Incarnation.

Return to the beginning
of the heavens and the earth,
When the Father gave his temple
and creation new birth.
King Adam, priest and son of
the garden sanctuary,
Protected paradise and
with all creatures made merry.

Primordial priesthood began with the first-created person, Adam. Selfless generosity characterized every action of Adam, the son of God in the Son of God.

Priesthood and sonship are thus synonymous with self-gift, for the Son is an eternal gift from the Father in the Spirit. The cosmic human person is a temple modeled on the Trinity. 

Jesus’ sacrifice and resurrection restored the original priesthood of Adam and humanity. The Levitical priesthood, instituted on account of Egyptian idolatry and sin, was superseded by our priest of paradise: 

holy, innocent, undefiled, separated from sinners, higher than the heavens.

Hebrews 7:28

The veil protecting the tree of life in the garden of Eden, symbolized by the branches and blossoms of the menorah in Solomon’s temple (Exodus 25:31-40), was removed by the eternal high priest who granted access to the divine presence (shekinah) in the Holy of Holies.  

The Holy of Holies is the human heart.

But this is the covenant I will establish with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord: I will put my laws in their minds and I will write them upon their hearts. I will be their God, and they shall be my people.

Hebrews 8:10

-GMC

Related post: Melchizedek’s Feast

1 See New American Bible (Revised Edition) footnote to Hebrews 7:3.

2 See New American Bible (Revised Edition) footnote to Hebrews 8:2.

3 From a letter by Fulgentius of Ruspe, bishop. See Liturgy of the Hours, Second Week in Ordinary Time, Thursday, Office of Readings.

Morning Thoughts: The Substance Of Prayer

by Howard Hain

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How do we know if our prayer is answered?

When we no longer remember what we requested. When we discoverer inexplicable peace and experience inexplicable joy—even though we ride a hot, crowded, slow-moving subway car and have no idea if the specific circumstances surrounding our lives have changed in the least.

We know God is real, His will is perfect, and He never abandons us. We know we don’t need to understand. We know that somehow the peace and joy within us are actually related to our lack of understanding. We trust. We believe. We know “faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” *

We know we’ve been blessed.

We know our faith has increased.

We know God has answered our prayer.


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* Hebrews 11:1

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