Letter to the Hebrews, Commentary on some verses
Year 1, Week 1, Tuesday
“You have put him in command of everything.” Hebrews 2.5-9
For Christ is coming and will take possession of all things, being master even of the angels, for nothing is not subject to him.
Christ is effecting the future. His body is transforming all bodies, his mind is enlightening all minds, his will is influencing all decisions, his Spirit is encouraging all true ambition. His person, in every dimension, is giving its dimension to the fabric of creation. And continually so, for ever, and yesterday too, for the past and all times are determined by his determination.
For all of us too, we have that same future. All are to be subject to all, and all to the Eternal One who is subject to none. We too by our bodies will transform all bodies, if we are already subject to the Incarnate One who is subject to none but his God.
We are subject to Christ in every way: our bodies to his glorious body of splendour and strength; our minds to his infinite awareness; our wills to his authority and breadth of determination; our spirit to his Spirit of exultation and peace. Each of us in turn will attract each other, not with a solitary strength but with the strength of all: for all give him their encouragement; and he in turn, as he draws, gives his strength to all others to draw him with his own and their strength, so that all are drawn together into one body.
We let Christ take our bodies and our spirit – or rather we let the mysterious one who Jesus has become – not in his limitations as the Nazarene – take over our mind and hearts; let that welcome visitor possess us. For we see him only obscurely, he who influences us so mightily. We welcome him and he transforms us, opening wide fields of activity and clearing our eyes to see the brightening day, for he is ruler of the coming world, coming, even now, even in me.
Year 1, Week 1, Thursday
“Every day, as long as this ‘today’ lasts, keep encouraging one another.” Hebrews 3.13
To encourage means to give heart. The work of encouragement is a divine work, for it means to recognize, – as God recognises his Son, to give vitality and power – as God gives the Spirit to his Son. To encourage means to recognize people in their worth and to want it. It means to add one’s will to their talent, to give energy to their body, life to the clay of which they are made.
The writer calls upon us to encourage one another as long as this ‘today’ lasts: this time of pilgrimage, this desert sojourn, for the Church cannot achieve its goal without the vitality of the Spirit coming from God through each member as through the Son. But even in heaven the work of encouragement continues, indeed principally in heaven, for the peace and joy and vitality reach their infinite pitch due to infinite encouragement.
If we fail in encouragement, sin will lure us, for we cannot do without encouragement. If it does not come from truth, it will come from the lie. If it does not come from us who are of God it will come from Satan and his minions. We will seek encouragement from idols and the false comfort of sin.
To fail to encourage someone is to drive them to sin. To deny them the Spirit is to condemn them to the evil one. To deny them heaven is to give them the darkness of hell. Therefore, we are guilty of the sin of others, for we have failed to encourage them.
To be able to encourage, one must have been encouraged by the mysterious workings of God in history and society. One must have been made to feel of God, a son to him, of one nature with him and empowered. Then in turn, being one with God, with his nature and spirit, one is able to encourage divinely. Only a son can establish sons. Yet even as l establish sons, it is God who really establishes them, for the hour is his and the greater force is his, but he uses me as he uses the events of history, to engender further sons.
And of all that he has used, Christ is the First-born.
Year 1, Week 1, Friday
“We must therefore do everything we can to reach this place of rest, or some of you might copy this example of disobedience, and be lost.” Hebrews 4.11
The Hebrews were freed from their slavery to Egypt by the crossing of the Red Sea. Yet their rebellion cost them a speedy capture of the Promised Land. For a whole generation they had to sojourn in the desert until all those who had lacked faith should die.
The writer of the Letter to the Hebrews takes their case and applies it to his audience. They have crossed from slavery to freedom through the waters of baptism Let them beware lest a lack of faith condemn them to a sojourn in the desert and final loss.
He is urging them to faith. For it is lack of faith which prevents us from reaching the land. If we had faith to move a whole range of mountains we could bring heaven to earth. If we had strong faith we would accomplish the purpose of mankind.
Yet we are weak. We are held back by the faithlessness of others and we also hold back their faith. For this reason, we are forced to keep marching without making any advance. The faith of Christ draws us on, yes, but we place hindrances to the full expression of that faith. We hold him back. Although he has redeemed the world, we restrain his redemptive power.
The writer urges us to do everything we can. Yet we are rebellious for reasons we do not know, and even our rebellion is hidden from us, so blinded are we by sin. Therefore, we wait for the gift of God and the Breath of God to move us.
The place of rest is no idle sinecure. The rest we seek is perfect motion, infinite activity, which knows no effort and knows no tiring. The perfect grace of consummate art, the ease of excellence, the facility of expertise: this is the rest of God who sustain the universe, directs all history from within his eternal seventh day of rest. We too look for that ease: of blessing and of giving the Spirit, of knowledge and of drawing to ourselves. All the work of redemption will be ours, without effort, because of the perfection of faith.
Year 1, Week 2, Monday
“Although he was Son he learned to obey through suffering; but having been made perfect, he became for all who obey im the source of eternal salvation…” Hebrews 5:8
The suffering endured by Christ changed him. It cut away all that did not pertain to faith. It burnt away all that was imposed from the sin of society. It stripped him of mortality and all weakness, so that he was made perfect; that is, he was made perfectly in tune with God, so that God’s will was his, God’s thoughts were his thoughts, God’s purpose was his. In this way he was obedient.
For obedience is not a blind carrying out of orders. That is obedience solely of an external sort. Obedience of mind and will, indeed obedience of the spirit, is the supreme form – where one’s spirit is God’s Spirit.
For this reason, the Trinity is the supreme example of obedience: for the Son is of the same nature as his Father; and more than that, the Son breathes the same Spirit as his Father. For they are One in every way.
It is to this obedience we are called, modelled on the Trinity. Yet we shall achieve it only by following the same path of suffering. We must be cut and burnt and stripped – by the events of life or by our own penance.
In tune with God we will have the strength of God and the peace, the resourcefulness and the solidity, the knowledge and the affection of God. In tune with him we will know all times future and times past, with a love extending from end to end. For the stripping is the stripping of chains, the burning is the refining of gold, the cutting is the removal of rotten flesh. As a result, all that is human will be made full, fully human, fully divine, by our obedience, for the good of mankind.
Year 1, Week 2, Thursday
“For it was fitting that we should have such a high priest, holy, blameless, undefiled, separated from sinners, and exalted above the heavens.” Hebrews 7:26
Jesus is holy.
This means, on the one hand, that he is without sin. But, more positively, he has been raised to a greater condition: condemned as a criminal he has been freed from the Law; crucified with robbers he has gone deeper than any sin. And again, humiliated as much as a person can be, he has been glorified beyond all humans and angels; spread on a cross between heaven and earth, he has been raised beyond the highest heavens.
Holiness therefore is two sided: there is freedom from sin and there is exaltation. If either aspect is missing, both aspects are missing. If a person seems to live an innocent life, yet is not raised on high, his innocence is only apparent – there are important hidden areas of sin. If a person feels exaltation but lives with sin, his exaltation is illusory, an emotional out-growth of sin.
Jesus is holy. Raised on Easter Sunday, he is free now in this world as he has never been before: free from death and free to do wonders. Like the sun at dawn he is not obscured by the mountains of sin. His light sines without hindrance. Beyond the influence of sinners, he is no longer restricted by them, but like the sun which ascends gradually to the brightness of noon, his influence increases in effectiveness with the passage of time. He is not depressed by sin; he is not silenced by the authorities; he is not limited to this time or place; he is not hemmed in by his own ignorance. He is free.
He is strong in his freedom: the energy of the universe is concentrated in him. The energy of the Creator of the universe is present in him. He is stronger than the earth and the heavens, being raised above them all, freer than them all. He guides all things.
Year 1, Week 2, Friday
“It is a better covenant of which he is the mediator.” Hebrews 8:6
Jesus is the mediator of a new covenant. Being so excellent in himself and undergoing the ultimate event of death, his covenant with his God cannot but be a covenant between God and all men. For if every human action involves every other human being, how much must the supremely human action of a supremely human man implicate every person who is still human. Jesus’ covenant with the God who saves him is a covenant, therefore, between every human being and the God who is saving us.
Yet all this does not condemn us to inactivity and sinecure. On the contrary, involved by his choice, we are called to make our choice. Each one of us, moved by the Spirit, will make that covenant for him/herself. Each of us, being born of the Father and not of the Son, will be inspired to act in the same way. Each of us, come to the maturity of Christ, will need, like him, to make his/her free covenant.
While we were children, covenants are made on our behalf. Once we become mature in the domain of grace, we need to make covenant for ourselves. We will stand before God and say: ‘you are my God’ and he will say ‘You are my son, my people’. And again: ‘You are my God, the strong one, the one who builds up and cuts down’. And he will say in turn: ‘You are my ‘son’ to whom I give the ends of the earth for your feet, the trophy of mankind for your shoulders’.
And as we make this covenant freely and independently, based solely on the Spirit moving in us and free of models and pre-conceptions, we will find in fact that it is like, is indeed the same as the covenant of Christ. For if we make it out the Spirit and our humanity, he has made it out of the fullness of power and his pre-excellence in humanity. If we make it through feelings of joy and strength, he has made it through the experience of being the First Born. What we do he fulfils and has fulfilled, for he excels. Our covenant renews his. Our covenant, made in freedom, is his covenant. For his covenant, new and eternal, is eternally renewed.
There were many covenants: with Noah and Abraham, Moses and David, to mention a few. The greatest, the new and eternal covenant is made with the Nazarene. After him there are many covenants: with each person who comes to maturity, until the last day, when all is complete.
Year 1, Week 2, Saturday
“… how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish to God, purify our conscience from dead works to worship the living God!” Hebrews 9:14
The author of Hebrews describes at length how Christ has replaced the liturgy of the Temple. The excellence of Jesus’ person, the significance of his life and death: these have fulfilled the glory of the temple and its sacrifices. The writer uses parallels, such as blood and movement, to bring out the nature of the fulfilment, but we know it is the excellence of Christ’s resurrection, not the external parallels, which prove the fulfilment.
Christ, in his excellences, brings the temple liturgy to its fullness. Even when he performed nothing cultic or symbolic, every action was a liturgy, every action was a reconciliation between God and mankind, every action showed forth the purpose of God, every event of his life combined heaven and earth.
Christ replaces the Temple. We take the place of Christ. Christ replaces shadows with his reality. We take the place of Christ’s glory. Jesus fulfils what the Temple approximated to, each person of virtue is the prolongation or Christ. We do not have Christ in our world, so much as Christians.
For this reason, our every action, performed in the spirit, is a liturgy. Even our common duties of workplace and home, are a cultic action. Liturgy is no longer reserved for specific times and places, but is performed every time a person acts in faith, hope and charity. It is the extension in our world, of the liturgy performed in heaven, for our Spirit is a gift from Christ who is full of Spirit as he stands before his God.
Never again will Christ appear as he did. He cannot appear again in the flesh, but only in the Church, that is, in every person of virtue. He can only appear in the Spirit who impels every just person. Such a person is one with the Strong One, knows him, has his dimensions in body, action and spirit, so that his/her action is that of the Strong One; the liturgy of the Strong One is his: in heaven and in earth. Then the person of virtue is Christ in the world as Christ is that person in heaven.
No need for Christ to appear: the person of virtue takes his place, is Christ in his time and place.
Thus, because Christ replaces the temple, the strong person takes the place of Christ.
Year 1, Week 3, Tuesday
“Here I am. I am coming to obey your will”. Hebrews 10.9
Jesus goes beyond presenting symbols and presents himself. Symbols were the imperfect sign of a future perfection. Jesus himself, in his perfection, can use no symbols.
He has the fullness of divinity in him, for he says the great ‘I am’. He is the compar of the God who dwells in the unknown and who make all things known. He is the fulfilment of all the hopes of mankind as they sought to see who was their liberator.
And as he says ‘Here I am’, he presents himself before God, equal to him yet subject to him. God could not say that phrase to Jesus. No, Jesus comes before God and is aware of himself, for even the Son is aware of the mysterious God through being aware of his generation from God.
And as he stands, it is a dialogue of love. Between man and woman there is that relationship of I-thou. Between man and his God there is not that relationship. It is one of Father and Son, where the Son rejoices in his being and in his being knows his Father as the source of his being. He rejoices in his Father’s greatness and goodness and acknowledges him as the source. (Between husband and wife there cannot be that acknowledgment, for one is not the source of the other). And this dialogue continues in eternity: for the Father is continually source of the Son and the Son is aware of his continued generation and stands continually with awareness of his being and acknowledges his Father’s greatness.
And in return the Father recognises him and says: ‘You are my beloved Son’ and ratifies him and sends down his Spirit upon him, that blessing and ratification by the Father.
And as the Son is acknowledging his Father, he places himself consciously and determinedly within his Father’s will, so that he goes on to say: “I am coming to obey your will”.
So that, as there is unity of nature in the generation and acknowledgment, so there is unity of Spirit in the ratification and obedience – an eternal dialogue where deed and word are one.
And as the world is created and salvation history is initiated within the Spirit, so Christ, impelled by that Spirit, will become incarnate, will preach and be raised, he who says: “Here I am! I am coming to obey your will.”
Year 1, Week 3, Wednesday
“… he has perfected for all time those who are sanctified” Hebrews 10.14
How is it that we are perfect when it is so clear that we are weak?
We are perfect by Christ’s intention, but imperfect by our indecision. We are perfect by association with him but imperfect by ourselves. We are perfect in the future and imperfect in the present. Perfection and imperfection mingle in us and compete. Yet he is the stronger, for his determination overrides our faint-heartedness, so that our imperfection is temporary and our perfection is settled.
In ourselves we feel our weakness. Christ knows his strength. From his point of view, it is only a question of time. From our point of view, it is a doubtful agony. As we change, our mind becomes that of Christ, our weakness is changed into his strength and our determination becomes like his and changes our bodies, our lives, our world.
In our determination we achieve the perfection of others less firm We are a rock supporting them, forming them. As Christ to us, so we to others.
And this by the Holy Spirit.
Year 1, Week 3, Thursday
“… let us approach with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water.” Hebrews 10.22
We are entering the Holy of Holies.
Already we are entering heaven, even in this life. Death is not the beginning of our entry into heaven. The death by faith – that is the doorstep of our entry into life. Even now, once we have died and risen with Christ in faith, even now we are entering ring the Holy of Holies, into the presence of God.
Our faith is now in the risen one, the one who is spirit, the one who is beyond knowledge. Our faith is in the one we do not see but whom we sense: the great one, of mystery and authority, the one who is symbolised to us in different ways but above all in his sojourn in the flesh.
Death is a significant moment, but it is not the most significant moment. The most important moment is faith, when we die with Christ and receive the life of Christ. The weakness of our faith is made up for, not by the moment of our death, but by the work of the community and their penance on our behalf. A certain judgment is made of us at death, for the history of our lives is to an extent written and concluded at that time, but the work of resurrection is to be performed by the community and by Christ.
Already at faith we have begun to enter the Holy of Holies. The writer of Hebrews urges us to continue with our movement into that place. He is urging us to holiness, to deeper faith, firmer hope and works of love, in particular by attending the community meetings – presumably the Eucharist on the Lord’s Day. For as we grow in these virtues, the whole world becomes the sanctuary. As the heart changes so does the universe. As we become divine so does the world. As we become holy, so do all things become the Holy of Holies.
Year 1, Week 3, Friday
“But we are not among those who shrink back and so are lost, but among those who have faith and so are saved.” Hebrews 10.39
Constancy is the gift of God. God does not waver or vary in his moods and intentions. His anger and his compassion are the same motivation applied to different circumstances. He does not vary, for he is faithful. It is because we change that God seems to change. The earth tilts this way and that so that the sun appears higher or lower in the sky, warmer or colder. Yet the sun does not change, it is our earth which varies. God is faithful, determined, peaceful. His constancy is not indifference but infinite concern. His constancy is not boredom but fullness of power. He is determined to make us a kingdom where each shall be son.
We are destined to have the same constancy: not varying in exultation or depression according to the circumstance. For our will comes from God, not from the fortunes of history. Our determination is from outside this wheeling planet and we do not vary in basic mood. At all times we have peace, at all times we seek the kingdom destined for others and for me. If at times we act in anger or at other times in compassion, these moods are found at the periphery of our existence where we impinge upon the varying world, but our heart is constant and determined.
Therefore, we are of God. Therefore, our souls are saved. We are already beyond the judgment, beyond the grip of the world. Already we are with God, saved; and like God, saving: for our fidelity is saving the world, preserving those who also look to faith.
Our constancy is perfectly subtle. Like water, it is infinitely variable according to the structure of the river bed, and like water, it is irresistible. Water has immense force precisely because it is so determined – drawn by gravity; it is irresistible precisely because it is so variable – forever finding new routes.
But we are of God, we seek the kingdom; and the fight is no trouble, because our victory is certain.
Year 1, Week 4, Thursday
“everyone is a first-born son”. Hebrews 12.23
The title ‘first-born’ is a title of privilege and excellence. It is a messianic title, as in Colossians. How can it be predicated of all?
Christ is not the source of grace as God is. The Father is primarily the source of grace to all. Yet the Father does nothing without the Son. The Son seconds his Father’s will. The Son is source of grace in a seconding way, but the Father remains always He by whose will we are born again. Our sonship is of God. We are not sons of Christ.
Christ is called ‘first-born’ because of the excellence of grace in him. We are less than first-born because we are firstly created, the result of the free decision of God. We are associated with him by his sharing of our human nature. God, in giving his grace to all, cannot do without the seconding will of the Man among men, but the source of from God.
The Christ is “first-born” by virtue of his eternity. We are first-born in time by virtue of the fullness of grace which comes to us. Christ has the precedence and we are the result. We are first-born, not in honour but in power, not in place but in fact. What Christ is excellently, we are eventually. What God makes of Christ, in the first instance, he makes of us, at the last. We are all sons of God, all equal in fact, all first-born.
Year, 1, Week 3, Monday
“He does away with sin by sacrificing himself.” Hebrews 9.26
This is shorthand for the essential mystery of all reality: he does away with death by ‘doing away with himself’.
Jesus is full of life. He feels such energy, such desire, and yet he finds himself in a world of lassitude and tepidity, of unhappiness and discord. He and the world are clean contrary to each other: he does not accept the world and the world cannot accept him. Therefore, the fight begins. He sees through the world and its weakness and condemns it. He comes to replace it with the life, the body he feels already within himself. They grapple: the world covers him with shame and pain, with doubt and death. Every scar, every brand is tried on him in vain. He allows the worst: death itself; he wants the worst: complete rejection, so as to show their weakness and inconsequence compared with his vitality.
All these things he turns to his profit, for as he grapples he strengthens; as the fire burns he is refined; as he seizes hold he adopts new postures. The vitality, so active and yet so dormant, becomes awake and appears; the pain brings out the best in him.
When the worst has been tried – death by public crucifixion – he achieves the best: his fullness of vitality, filling the whole world and impelling all people. His death is a sacrifice bringing the blessings of heaven. Death with all its attendant sorrow and lassitude, despair and doubt are shown to be ineffective: the sin of the world is taken away. Death is made insignificant at the moment of his death. Death is done away with at the moment he ‘does away’ with himself.
The infinite life is all around us, within us, with its strength and solidity; and to it, as it possesses us, we say ‘Yes, let it be’.