Tag Archives: Letter to the Hebrews

Keeping Heroes in Mind

We’re reading the Letter to the Hebrews at length these days in our liturgy at Mass. Why was this written? When and to whom was it written? Interpreters of the Letter to the Hebrews ask these questions to understand this writing better.

Obviously Hebrews is written to Jewish-Christians, some think in Rome which had a substantial Jewish-Christian population in the 1st century. It was written after a time of persecution, perhaps when the Emperor Claudius banished Jewish Christians from the city in 49 AD because they were causing riots in Rome’s synagogues in disputes over Jesus Christ. Or maybe a later persecution.

Did that  cause the followers of Jesus there to tamper down their efforts and embrace their faith less fully? Perhaps. The writer of Hebrews warns his hearers against “drawing back” and “losing confidence” in the faith they profess. Were they losing their enthusiasm? That sounds like something that happens to us too.

Keep before you the heroes of faith, beginning with Jesus, the author of Hebrews says as he draws up for them a lengthy list of inspiring believers.

“For, after just a brief moment, he who is to come shall come; he shall not delay. But my just one shall live by faith, and if he draws back I take no pleasure in him.”

 To that list of Old Testament heroes we can add the saints of the New Testament and saints of our times. They can inspire us too.

The World Here and the World Beyond

Two worlds are described in the readings at Mass this week. The Gospel of Mark tells of the world that Jesus lived in over two thousand years ago, the world around Capernaum by the Sea of Galilee, where he called his first disciples, encountered a demon in the synagogue, cured Peter’s mother in law, the paralyzed man and the leper– where he was fiercely opposed. (Mark 1,14-2,12) It’s a world like ours that he came to redeem.

The world described in the Letter to the Hebrews is a world beyond this one, the world of the Risen Lord. Jesus enters that world as Lord of all creation; he sits at the right hand of God the Father Almighty, our creed says.

The Letter to the Hebrews describes him further as a High Priest entering a heavenly sanctuary to intercede for us. He’s a merciful High Priest, the same Jesus who entered Capernaum and cured Peter’s mother in law, the paralyzed man and the leper. He’s knows our humanity with its yearning, its weakness and hardness; he carries the wounds of suffering and death.

It’s hard to keep these two worlds in mind, but our readings, like our creed, tell us to do it. They’re not sealed off, they’re joined to each other. They have a common goal:  “Our Father, thy will done, thy kingdom come.” The Risen Jesus is present in both of these worlds. He’s Savior and Redeemer. Through him, God’s kingdom will come.

Unfortunately, some today only think of the world they see now. Others are unsure or confused about a world beyond this one.  Some see the world beyond as an escape from this life, an isolated world in the clouds. For some the world beyond is a world we make, a world without Jesus Christ and the mystery of his resurrection.

Some conclude it’s just not important to think about it. But that’s wrong. What we think about life beyond this determines how we live now. It makes a difference.

Abraham, The Unwavering Nomad

We call Abraham “Our father in faith” in our 1st Eucharistic Prayer. That’s because Abraham believed when God called him to leave his own land and go to a land he did not know. He believed in God’s call.

A pastoral nomad, sometimes settling down but then moving on. Abraham was on the move, on the way to a permanent home. That’s us too. Abraham trusted in God rather than in himself. As an old man, he believed God who said he would generate a child.

The great patriarch was tested. Faith grows through testing. Abraham’s greatest test came when God asked him to sacrifice his only son Isaac.

My favorite reflection on Abraham is Jessica Power’s beautiful poem:

“I love Abraham, that old weather-beaten
unwavering nomad; when God called to him
no tender hand wedged time into his stay.
His faith erupted him into a way
far-off and strange. How many miles are there
from Ur to Haran? Where does Canaan lie,
or slow mysterious Egypt sit and wait?
How could he think his ancient thigh would bear
nations, or how consent that Isaac die,
with never an outcry nor an anguished prayer?

I think, alas, how I manipulate
dates and decisions, pull apart the dark
dally with doubts here and with counsel there,
take out old maps and stare.
Was there a call after all, my fears remark.
I cry out: Abraham, old nomad you,
are you my father? Come to me in pity.
Mine is a far and lonely journey, too.

Fixing Our Eyes on Jesus


We’ve been reading the Letter to the Hebrews at Mass for two weeks now. It’s a good example of how time-conditioned our scriptures are. Those who listened to the letter long ago knew more about the temple in Jerusalem and its round of worship than we do today.  They were more familiar with the story of the exodus and they knew “the great cloud of witnesses” better than we do.. We’re far removed from their times.

We’re people of our age, wired to the absorbing images of our time. Hard as we try, the language of the bible can be hard to appreciate.

Still, one image from those times stands fresh and strong.. It’s the image of Jesus on the Cross.  We must “keep our eyes fixed on Jesus, the leader and perfecter of our faith,” the Letter to the Hebrews says. “For the sake of the joy that lay before him, Jesus endured the cross, despising the shame, and has taken his seat at the right of the throne of God. Consider how he endured such opposition from sinners, in order that you may not grow weary and lose heart.”

The passion of Jesus  speaks to every time and place. It’s a book anyone can read, a sign to get the attention of every age, for it makes  a startling claim. The Son of God, through whom all things were made, endured the shame of dying on a cross.  Jesus, wise and powerful, fell into the hands of his enemies. And it was all because of a wondrous love.

Fixing our eyes on him, our faith in God grows, the Letter to the Hebrews says. If we keep this mystery before us we won’t tire or lose heart. Fixing our eyes on Jesus means fixing our eyes on the eternal God.

So utterly simple. Beyond past images and time.


Rest in Peace

Two friends of mine have died and their funerals will take place in the next few days. “Eternal rest grant to them, O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon them. May they rest in peace. Amen.”

What do we mean when we pray that those who die “rest in peace?”

The Book of Genesis says that God “rested” on the seventh day after completing the work of creation. God’s rest was a time of delight in what was done, and so we wish that those who die experience delight for the life they led on earth and the new life they share with God. The Letter to the Hebrews, read in the last weeks of January, also speaks of the rest of delight that those who go before us share with Jesus, our High Priest.

That doesn’t mean they will forget those they leave behind or the world they no longer live in. When Jesus rose from the dead he entered into his rest, but his work was not done on earth. God’s Kingdom must still come. As our High Priest, who shared our human life and its weakness and death, he continues to intercedes for us on earth. He is a compassionate and loving  High Priest.

Like Jesus, those whom God calls into his rest still love this world and those still journeying here. They don’t forget us. Resting in God, they’re restless  till God’s kingdom come. Given clearer sight as they commune with God, they accompany us on our way.  They’re in blessed communion with us, a communion of saints.

Are We There Yet?


A familiar question kids ask on a journey. So we give them games to play, tell them to go to sleep, or just shut up and wait. As we go through life, not only kids, but all of us ask: Are we there yet?

We are on a journey, a sacred journey, the Letter to the Hebrews says. Yet even on a sacred journey you can get tired. The Letter to the Hebrews– which we read in the next few weeks in the lectionary– is addressed to tired Christians. Would that be us?

Our ancestors, on their great journey from Egypt to the Promised Land, also experienced weariness, we’re reminded, and that led to discouragement and even rebellion. Despite the promises made to them and the signs of God’s power given them, they faltered. The desert journey got too much for them. Nothing big caused them to fail, just the weariness that came from being on the road day by day.

The Letter to the Hebrews is a letter of advice to tired Christians. Don’t ignore the danger that comes as you give yourself to life day by day, it says, but at the same time don’t let it get you down. Look to God who rested after the tiring journey of creation. God is your strength as you go along. Keep looking at people of faith, “the great cloud of witnesses” who pressed on through trials of every kind. Above all, look at “Jesus, who for the sake of the joy set before him, endured the cross, despising the shame, and has taken his place at the right hand of the throne of God.”

Are we there yet? No, but we’ll get there soon.