Monday of Week 1 of Ordinary Time – First Reading

Commentary on Hebrews 1:1-6

Today we begin reading from the Letter to the Hebrews. Although grouped with the Pauline letters, it was clearly not written by him. The style is very different, and it has the best Greek in the New Testament. The identity of the author can only be a matter of speculation. It is written more as a sermon than a letter, but does seem to have been sent to a distant congregation, possibly in Rome. It seems to have been written some time after 65 AD and perhaps around the time of the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 AD.  

Because of extensive quoting from the Old Testament, the words are taken as addressed to Jewish Christians. The community addressed may have suffered persecution, and there are signs of a falling away from the Church. Hence, the letter emphasises strongly the role of Christ as the Way to God, a Way endorsed even by the Old Testament. There is the emphasis on faith and on Christ as the only High Priest.

The Letter opens with a magnificent statement of the role of Christ in the plan of God. In the past, God had spoken to his people in many different ways through the prophets. ‘Prophets’ here means all who spoke in the name of God, and would include some of the patriarchs, such as Abraham, Moses and Joshua, some of the kings, especially David, and other leaders, as well as others considered prophets.

Now “in these last days” God has spoken through his Son. The early Christians believed that the coming of Christ was a precursor of the final days and that all things would soon come to an end. As time passed, this conviction grew weaker, and this can already be seen in later writings of the New Testament.

This Son is the “heir of all things” and, through him, we too become heirs to all God’s promises made to us through Christ. He is in a totally different category from any of his predecessors, being not just a messenger but the very Son of God. Through Him also were all the “worlds” created.

In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God…All things came into being through him.

“Worlds” in the plural may refer to this world and the world to come or to the many heavenly realms through which Christ ascended (Heb 4:14; 9:11).

The role of Christ is then beautifully described. “He is the reflection of God’s glory and the exact imprint of God’s very being.” In these two sentences we have the sophia (wisdom) and logos (word) metaphors. The wisdom is totally shared between Father and Son but the Son as Logos is made in some way distinct from the Father.

Jesus as Word is the manifestation, in human form, of our God. Jesus communicates, not just through what he says, but through his action, through his whole being. When we see Jesus and hear Jesus, we see God and we hear God. When Jesus speaks, it is God who speaks; when Jesus acts, it is God who acts. And yet, because of his humanity, in Jesus we see God only, as it were, in a clouded mirror. He is the Way we follow to the fullness of union with God, something not to be experienced fully in this life.

“He sustains all by his powerful word.” He is the Wisdom of God. Jesus’ word is not just something spoken; it is a creative word, a making word. Through the Word all things were made. On a lower level, our words too can be creative – whether it be through speech that galvanises people into action, or through the ‘word’ of a visual artist or a great musician.

“When he had made the purification of sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high.” This purification was done through Jesus’ suffering and dying on the Cross. Jesus “emptied” himself as a manifestation of God’s unchanging love for us, even though we were in sin and because we were in sin.

He sits now at the right hand of the Father, sharing fully in his power and glory as Son, and far exceeding the angels in status and dignity. He has a “name” far more excellent than theirs. That name is “Son”, an ‘un-created’ Son who has been with the Father from all eternity.

God also highly exalted him
and gave him the name
that is above every other name
so that at the name of Jesus
every knee should bend
in heaven and on earth and under the earth
(Phil 2:9-10)

The reading today concludes with a series of scriptural verses. These come mostly from royal psalms and illustrate Jesus’ supreme status as an equal with the Father, far surpassing that of the angels. The once-humiliated and crucified Jesus has been declared God’s Son, and this name shows his superiority to the angels.

The reason for the author’s insistence on that superiority is, among other things, that in some Jewish traditions angels were seen as mediators of the Old Testament (see Acts 7:53; Gal 3:19). Jesus’ superiority to the angels also emphasises the superiority of the New Covenant to the old because of the heavenly priesthood of Jesus.

Today is an occasion for us to express our deep thanks to God for the gift of Jesus his Son. Because of him, we have a better understanding of how we are to live our lives and how to foster and deepen God’s image in us. We do this by our assimilating our human way of living to that of Jesus who is the Way.

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