Wednesday of Week 4 of Ordinary Time – First Reading

Commentary on Hebrews 12:4-7, 11-15

Today Hebrews has a very important lesson. It tells us how to look at the pains and sufferings that occur in our life. We should not be discouraged by such experiences nor should we take such things lightly.

The reading opens with the concluding verse of yesterday’s reading, where the author reminds the Hebrew Christians that in their struggle against sin, they have not yet been called on to shed their blood (as the martyrs did). The “struggle” evokes a boxing match or a military conflict.

He reminds them with an exhortation that is taken from the Book of Proverbs (3:11-12, quoting from the Greek Septuagint text), and in which they are addressed lovingly as “children”, but children who need correction.

Proverbs urges that any punishment that comes from the Lord should not be taken lightly. At the same time, one should not become despondent because of such punishment. The reason is clear:

The Lord disciplines those whom he loves; he chastises every child he recognises as his own.

Clearly, the Hebrews felt that their trials were a form of punishment or rejection by God. On the contrary, they are urged to endure their trials from God as a form of discipline or training.

They need to realise that the trials they are undergoing are because God is treating them as children whom he dearly loves. Are there any parents who do not discipline their children? Especially when those children are acting out of line? Not to discipline misbehaving children is to spoil them and guarantee they will not turn out well. It is not a sign of real love.

Of course, discipline at the time seems painful and may be resented but, later, it is appreciated because of its formative effects. “To those who have been trained by it, it bears fruit in peace and goodness.” So the Hebrew Christians are told to hold up their limp arms, steady their trembling knees and smooth out the path they tread. They are not to slump into a kind of despair and feeling of being abandoned. The phrase comes from Isaiah:

Strengthen the hands that are feeble, make firm the knees that are weak. (Is 35:3)

If they do accept the trials they are sent, “then the injured limb will not be sprained, it will grow strong again.” It is exercise, not passivity, that restores strength to damaged limbs.

God’s love is in fact present in every single experience, both good and bad. At the time, it can be difficult to see this but, later on, we may be able to see a real good in what happened e.g. a stint in hospital, the loss of a loved person. A serious sickness can help one to re-evaluate the quality and direction of one’s life. As Paul says:

Everything works together for those who love God.

The final lesson is wise advice:

Always be wanting peace with all people, and the holiness without which no one can ever see the Lord.

It is an echo of the Beatitude:

Blessed are the peacemakers; they shall be called children of God.

The reason for this is not just to have peace in one’s own life but to bring peace into the lives of others.

Be careful that no one is deprived of the loving grace of God and that no root of bitterness should begin to grow and make trouble; this can poison a whole community.

A peace-filled person can be a source of much strength to people in need of affirmation and support. We may not be able to avoid pain coming into our own lives but we should never be the source of pain in the lives of other people.

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