Tuesday of Week 4 of Ordinary Time – First Reading

Commentary on Hebrews 12:1-4

More words of encouragement today for the Hebrew Christians to whom this letter addressed, urging them to remain faithful to their Christian calling and not to be tempted to fall back to the old ways.

First, the author reminds them of the “great cloud” of witnesses to the faith. He is referring to that impressive list of Old Testament heroes mentioned in the previous chapter, some of whom we saw in the readings of the past two days. The Greek term for “witnesses” (martyres) gives us our English-language word for “martyr”.

The imagery here suggests an athletic contest in a great amphitheatre. But the witnesses in this case are not mere spectators but inspiring examples. They bear witness (as “martyrs”) to the power of faith and God’s faithfulness.

These Hebrews should follow in their footsteps and lay aside every obstacle, especially sin which can be so difficult to shake off. Instead, let them “run with perseverance the race” that is set before them.

Paul in his First Letter to the Corinthians uses a similar image:

Run in such a way that you may win the prize… I do not run aimlessly nor do I box as though beating the air. (1 Cor 9:24,26)

Again, to the Philippians, this is precisely what the author is telling his readers to do:

I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. (Phil 4:7)

We may say, too, that Christian life is pictured as a long-distance race rather than a short sprint. Some Hebrew Christians were tempted to drop out of the contest because of persecution and obstacles to the practice of their faith. Perhaps they among those pestered by the ‘Judaisers’ Paul speaks about in the Letter to the Galatians.

As their model, they are to look to Jesus, the “pioneer and perfecter” of their faith. He both leads the way in showing how to lead a life of faith and, through his death, at the same time gives the strength and grace for them fully to develop their own faith.

Just as a runner concentrates on the finishing line, we should concentrate on Jesus, the goal and objective of our faith (Phil 3:13-14). Jesus is both the start and the end of the race. He is also the supreme witness who has already run the race and overcome.

Jesus set a marvelous example. In order to reach the unending joy and happiness which was offered to him, he underwent the appalling pain of the cross and the despised terrible shame of such a death, hanging naked in a public place as a criminal. Because of this, he now sits at the right hand of the throne of God. If they (and we) follow in his footsteps, they (and we), too, can be with Jesus sharing the same glory.

And, whenever they are tempted to give up or lose heart, let them remember “him who endured such hostility against himself from sinners”, from sinners like them – and us.

Finally, he reminds them that, unlike their Master and Lord Jesus and many other martyrs, they have not yet been asked to shed their blood in their living out of the Gospel. They may have been persecuted and even lost their possessions, but they have not had to die for their faith.

The whole passage can be applied word for word to our own situation.

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