Tuesday of Week 2 of Ordinary Time – First Reading

Commentary on Hebrews 6:10-20

The source of all our security is in the oath God has made to all humankind and whose pledge is in Jesus our High Priest, who has gone before us and on our behalf.

The reading begins with words of encouragement to the Hebrews, who are having problems in remaining faithful to their Christian commitment. On the one hand, they are to realise that God is not unmindful of all the good things they have done, and the love they have shown in their service of their fellow Christians. This may include material help given to another church, perhaps the church in Jerusalem which was often in need.

At the same time, he urges them to maintain their former “earnestness”. Let them not become sluggish and half-hearted, but follow in the footsteps of those who have maintained their fidelity and shown patience in times of difficulty. Paul, in his letters, often encourages people to be “imitators”, to model themselves on outstanding Christians. He even suggests that they be imitators of himself.

The author then goes on to use the example of Abraham as one who believed in God’s promise to him and was not disappointed. God had sworn in his own name (for there was no other by whom he could swear an oath) that Abraham would be blessed and that his descendants would be great in number. They would be as numerous as grains of sand on the seashore and as stars in the heavens.

This promise seemed impossible of fulfilment when Abraham was asked to sacrifice his only legitimate son, Isaac. Only when, in a great act of trust in God, he proceeded to prepare his son for sacrifice, did God stay his hand. Abraham’s total submission in faith to God had been convincingly demonstrated. Later in the Letter, there is a much longer discussion of faith.

When human beings swear by an oath, they do so by someone greater than themselves and, in normal circumstances, an oath solemnly made is taken as a final guarantee. When God wanted to show that his promise to the heirs of Abraham was genuine, he too guaranteed it with an oath.

So the Hebrew Christians are protected by these two unassailable guarantees – God’s promise and his confirming oath. With such a backing, their hope in their future with God is made sure and firm. And it is made more sure by the backing of our High Priest, a backing which reaches right to God’s presence. This is all expressed in a Temple image:

We have an anchor… reaching right through beyond the veil where Jesus has entered before us and on our behalf, to become a high priest of the order of Melchizedek and for ever.

Actually, the anchor as a symbol of hope is not normally found in Scripture but was common in the culture of Greece and Rome as a symbol of stability. It became a symbol of hope in Christian iconography of the 2nd century AD.

The image is of the Jerusalem Temple, where the high priest once a year on the solemn Day of Atonement, penetrated beyond the veil or curtain of the Holy of Holies where God was believed to be present, and offered sacrifice on behalf of the people. Jesus, our High Priest and “forerunner on our behalf”, penetrates the veil of Heaven, where God dwells in inaccessible glory. There he intercedes on our behalf. The imagery here anticipates a much longer discussion of the tabernacle later in the Letter.

In our time, Jesus is still our High Priest. In every Eucharist, we celebrate and remember with thanksgiving the supreme offering he made of himself on our behalf. And we, too, are full of faith and hope that the promises made in the Gospel will become a reality in our own lives – provided we open ourselves fully to them.

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