Thursday, October 4, 2012

The Church Year and the Lectionary Commentary – 27th Ordinary (Day 3)



Hebrew 1:1-4; 2:5-12
 
In the past, God spoke through the prophets to our ancestors in many times and many ways. In these final days, though, he spoke to us through a Son. God made his Son the heir of everything and created the world through him. The Son is the light of God’s glory and the imprint of God’s being. He maintains everything with his powerful message. After he carried out the cleansing of people from their sins, he sat down at the right side of the highest majesty. And the Son became so much greater than the other messengers, such as angels, that he received a more important title than theirs. . .
God didn’t put the world that is coming (the world we are talking about) under the angels’ control. Instead, someone declared somewhere,
What is humanity that you think about them?
        Or what are the human beings that you care about them?
For a while you made them lower than angels.
        You crowned the human beings with glory and honor.
        You put everything under their control.
When he puts everything under their control, he doesn’t leave anything out of control. But right now, we don’t see everything under their control yet. However, we do see the one who was made lower in order than the angels for a little while—it’s Jesus! He’s the one who is now crowned with glory and honor because of the suffering of his death. He suffered death so that he could taste death for everyone through God’s grace.
10 It was appropriate for God, for whom and through whom everything exists, to use experiences of suffering to make perfect the pioneer of salvation. This salvation belongs to many sons and daughters whom he’s leading to glory. 11 This is because the one who makes people holy and the people who are being made holy all come from one source. That is why Jesus isn’t ashamed to call them brothers and sisters when he says,
12 I will publicly announce your name to my brothers and sisters.
        I will praise you in the middle of the assembly.

Next time you wonder whether theology (faith seeking understanding) has any practical, nitty gritty, rubber hits the road meaning, take a look at today’s readings from Hebrews.

The writer begins with some very high-falutin’ theology!  Jesus is bigger, better, and of ultimate significance for the world, absolutely more so than even the angels!  He is God’s final and best Word to his world, made everything, is the one in whom we see God perfectly embodied, sustains the creation’s existence at every moment, cleansed us of our sins, and is crowned with God’s own honor and glory.

Now each of these affirmations has been subject to voluminous theological discussion.  It would be easy to get lost in any of them and never quite find our way out!  And that’s where the questions of the real-life, day-to-day meaning of these affirmations brings us up short.
The “so what?” question is always a good one to ask ourselves.

The author of Hebrews runs into it by way of his theological exposition of the greatness and superiority of Jesus Christ.  In the course of extolling Christ by proclaiming his superiority to the angels, the author adduces Christ’s sovereignty over the world to come (God’s new creation) in 2:5ff.  Humanity, according to Psalm 8 (which the author quotes) is vested with such sovereignty by God himself. 

To anyone who cares to look of the window, however, it seems evident that everything is not under humanity’s sovereign control (2:8).  But we do see Jesus (2:9)!  He’s the one human being who already experiences this sovereignty due to his death, that death which alone was, as the great Puritan theologian John Owen put it, “the death of death.”  Thus, he is all that the author has professed him to be in the earlier part of our reading – all that theological stuff.

Yet here, amid this running theological exposition the author has unavoidably displayed the integral connection between life and thought that ought to be present in any genuine theology.  If humanity is supposed to be in control of God’s creation, and manifestly they (we) are not, how does this great and superior Jesus help us?  And the author concludes that he does so precisely as the one, the only human being, who has already taken on and defeated God’s enemies, the one described in 1:1-4.  Because of the death of this One, we can be sure that the promise of Psalm 8 will be fulfilled.  Amid the chaos and brokenness of our lives and the world we live in, we do see Jesus, and thus we have hope.

And hope, which is “faith in the future tense,” which faith the author later describes as “the reality of what we hope for, the proof of what we don’t see” (11:1), enables us to live and act now on the basis of what we know to be the case in Christ even amid the current disarray and confusion of things. 

-In him, because he is who the writer of Hebrews says he is, our hope is well-founded. 

-In him, because he is who the writer of Hebrews says he is, we can cpnfidently act in accord with what we know to be true even if such behavior cuts across the grain of what the world considers wise and truthful.

-In him, then, theology and ethics come to together in ways that reinforce each other and that, sundered (as so often happens today), dissolve truth into “truthiness” (play games with ideas) and abandon our action to what happens to most powerfully influence us at any given time.

So, it might just turn out to be true that to live the lives we hope to lead we may have to invest a bit of (admittedly hard) thought to discover the real life connections between what we believe, who we believe in, and how we live.  Thinking about God turns out to be vital to faithful living.  The author of Hebrews knows and demonstrates this.
 
Do we know it?  And will we demonstrate it?  Much depends on it.

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