Tuesday of week 1 of Ordinary Time – First Reading


Commentary on Heb 2:5-12

Today we continue the discussion about the nature of Jesus. It seems clear that those to whom the sermon is addressed are having problems squaring the humanity and the suffering of Jesus with his position as Sovereign Lord and Son of God.

The author replies by emphasising the dignity of human beings in our world. “God did not subject the coming world to angels” but rather to men, or rather, to one Man. He quotes from Psalm 8:

What is man (anthropos, ‘anqrwpos) that you are mindful of him,
or the son of man (huios anthropou, ‘uios ‘anqrwpou) that you care for him?
You have made him for a little while lower than the angels,
You have crowned him with glory and honour,
Subjecting all things under his feet. (see note)

The psalm contrasts God’s greatness with man’s relative insignificance but also stresses the superiority of humanity to the rest of creation, over which we were given stewardship.

The “son of man” originally was simply a way of speaking of humans in general but, in this context, there is clearly a reference to the Son of Man – Jesus Christ. Some think the term, frequently used in the Gospel, comes from this psalm.

Although the human is put on a lower level than the angels, yet it is to humanity that governance of our world has been entrusted, “In putting all things under him he made no exceptions.” God left nothing outside humanity’s control. However, “at present we are not able to see that all things are under him”. “Him” here seems ambiguous – it can refer to humanity in general or to Jesus in glory. The first Christians, despised and persecuted, were still waiting for the coming of God’s reign on earth. Although Christ has already entered his glory, his reign on earth has to continue in time till he has conquered all his enemies when we will share in his full and final triumph.

But, the Son, who in his incarnation was – with the rest of humanity – made lower than the angels, is now crowned in supreme glory and honour precisely because of his sufferings and death. It was through his undergoing this experience that salvation came to the rest of humanity. By the grace and gift of God he “tasted death” for all of us. Christ was glorified because he suffered and his triumph seals the redeeming value of his death and guarantees unending life for us.

The all-powerful God, who is the source of all that exists, has brought many of his children to glory. He did this by making his incarnate Son, the “pioneer” of our salvation, perfect through his suffering. What seemed to the ‘Hebrews’ a stumbling block in their acceptance of Jesus is in fact what makes him their Lord. By dying and fulfilling the will of God, Christ becomes the one perfect Saviour, responsible for the entry of human beings into the glory of God.

And it is this which brings Jesus and ourselves united together under one Father, so that Jesus, though our supreme Lord, is “not ashamed to call us brothers and sisters”. In support the author quotes from Psalm 22:

I will proclaim your name to my brothers and sisters,
In the midst of the congregation I will praise you (Ps 22:22).

What the author says here is something we have long become accustomed to accepting and yet it is indeed a deep mystery – namely, that the glory of God and our salvation should be brought about not just by God’s Son becoming one of us but that he should go through such terrible pain and humiliation. It was as John tells us in his gospel, “the uttermost proof of Jesus’ love” – and hence his Father’s – love for us (cf. John 13:1). So often, we see suffering as a punishment from God but, as so clear in this text, very often it is in fact a source of grace. It was this the ‘Hebrews’ of the Letter found difficult to grasp.

With faith we know that it was fitting that God should make Jesus “perfect through suffering”, consecrated by obedient suffering. Because he is perfected as high priest, Jesus is then able to consecrate his people. If Jesus is able to help human beings, it is because he has become one of us; we are his “brothers and sisters”.

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The pronouns are all actually masculine in the original Greek but the word for ‘man’ – anthropos – is  equivalent to the Latin homo. Both of these words indicate a human person, man or woman. And so  in the Nicene Creed we say of the Incarnation that Jesus ‘homo factus est‘ (literally, ‘was made  human’). The Latin word for a male is vir (and for a woman, mulier). The Creed is then saying that Jesus shared his humanity with both men and women.

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