Thursday of week 3 of Ordinary Time – First Reading


Commentary on Heb 10:19-25

We pick up today where we left off yesterday but there is a more practical turn to today’s reading.  There is a call to persevere in our following of Christ and our living out of the Gospel message.

The passage has been summarised as follows:

Practical consequences from these reflections on the priesthood and sacrifice of Christ should make it clear that Christians may now have direct and confident access to God through the person of Jesus (19-20), who rules God’s house as high priest (21).  They should approach God with sincerity and faith, in the knowledge that through baptism their sins have been remitted (22), remind themselves of the hope they expressed in Christ at that event (23).  They are to encourage one another to Christian love and activity (24), not refusing, no matter what the reason, to participate in the community’s assembly, especially in view of the parousia (25). (New American Bible)

Once again we are reminded that, through Jesus, we have special access to God.  The symbols used are taken from the Temple rituals but applied to Christ.

“We have confidence to enter the sanctuary by the blood of Jesus.”  The sanctuary is the very presence of God and not just some man-made structure and we enter by the blood of Jesus and not the blood of animals as in the old dispensation.

We enter by “the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain (that is, through his flesh)”.  Jesus is the Way and, in the Acts of the Apostles, the Christians are called “followers of the Way”.  The high priest of old used to enter into the presence of Yahweh by passing through the curtain or veil protecting the Holy of Holies.  He alone could enter and then only once a year.  All of the baptised, however, can now pass continually into the presence of God through the blood of Jesus, our perfect and only High Priest, which has permanently removed the barrier of sin.

Symbolically, at the moment of Jesus’ death, the veil separating the Holy Place from the Holy of Holies was “torn in two from top to bottom” (Mark 15:38).  God’s presence had moved from the sacrifices of the Temple to the sacrifice offered on the Cross.  (Another reason for the ‘Hebrews’ not to go back to the old dispensation.)

There now follow five exhortations of a practical nature:

  1. “Let us draw near to God.”
  2. “Let us hold unswervingly to hope.”
  3. “Let us consider how we can encourage each other.”
  4. “Let us not give up gathering together.”
  5. “Let us encourage one another.”

The author now urges the ‘Hebrews’ (and us) as they enter into the presence of God to be “sincere in heart and filled with faith” and their hearts “sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and bodies washed with pure water” – surely a reference to the water of Baptism.  In the old dispensation there was an external sprinkling of water and a cleansing of the body before entering the sanctuary.  For us, it must be a cleansing of the inner being, of our thoughts, attitudes, intentions so that they are totally in harmony with God and committed to following the Gospel.   There is an echo here of a passage from the prophet Ezekiel: “I will sprinkle clean water upon you to cleanse you from all your impurities, and from all your idols I will cleanse you.  I will give you a new heart and place a new spirit within you, taking from your bodies your stony hearts and giving you natural hearts” (Ezek 36:25-26).

We are told to remain steadfast in our hope that God will take care of us because we have confidence in the fidelity of our God to his promises.

Finally, in the reading, we are to be vigilant in our relationships with our brothers and sisters.  We are to provoke each other not to anger or hostility but to love and good deeds.  As part of this, we must not neglect attending the gatherings of the community (the Eucharist?), as some apparently were doing.  The Greek term here suggests abandoning the community and not just a physical absence.  Instead, we are to be a constant encouragement to each other, especially as we see the approach of the “Day” (the parousia) of Jesus’ final coming.

There is matter here for us to reflect on – our faith and hope in God, our commitment to Jesus and his Gospel and, especially, on how that affects our relationships with both our fellow Christians and all the people who impinge directly or indirectly on our lives.

Let us learn to appreciate and value our Eucharistic gatherings which are not just the observance of some regulation but a real coming together of people who share the same vision and who wish to support each other in giving an effective witness to the vision of life Jesus has left to us.

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