Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Homilies on Hebrews

Two years ago, when last the Letter to the Hebrews appeared in the daily lectionary, I prepared a series of homilies on this text. I thought you'd like to see them. What follows are two homilies, the first corresponds to the beginning of the letter -- but those readings got bumped by the Baptism of the Lord on Monday. The second homily, below, corresponds to today's readings. Let me know if this is worthwhile.

(Heb. 1:1-6; Ps. 97; Mark 1:14-20)
During the whole month of January,
we’ll be hearing from the Letter to the Hebrews.
That tells us the Church thinks this is important.

We’re not sure who wrote this Letter
(actually, scholars think it’s a homily…pretty long!).
Many associate it with St. Paul, but that was disputed,
even in the early church, and scholars—
who don’t agree that often—feel pretty strongly about this.
In any case, it’s beautifully crafted in elegant Greek.

It’s called “to the Hebrews” because it seems directed
to Jewish Christians; we remember
the first Christians were Jews, often Greek in culture.
The writer of this exhortation writes to people
who know both Scripture and Greek philosophy.

We start by hearing about the Son of God: who is he?
In a few days, we’ll begin hearing about
the priesthood of Jesus Christ—
and the power of his sacrifice; that’s the heart of this letter.

When the author—whoever he is—
exhorts us to persevere in faith,
we do so because we know who Jesus is:
Jesus is God’s full and final Word to humanity;
the Bible is complete with Jesus,
because there’s nothing more to be “said.”

You might have noticed
how well today’s Gospel fits with this:
Mark’s Gospel is the shortest of the four;
while many focus on the humanity of Jesus,
I think the brevity of Mark’s Gospel shows his
when Jesus speaks, things happen, lickety-split.
That’s a sign of divinity, as in Genesis:
God spoke, and light was made.

The crux of our faith always comes to this: Who is Jesus?
Our readings remind us
that it’s not a vague Jesus whom we follow.
Jesus is the fullness of God,
come in human flesh, to save the human race.
Did the Apostles get all that in an instant?
I doubt it; but they knew someone
utterly real and powerful was calling them,
and so they left all to follow him.

And we do the same.

* * *

(Heb. 2:5-12; Ps. 8; Mark 1:21-28)

Our first reading teaches us something very important:
it’s better to be human than to be an angel.
Now, in some ways, angels are superior—
angels know things we don’t;
angels have powers we lack.

And we hear that the Son of God made man
was made “for a little while lower than the angels.”
What does that mean?

Well, several things.
It reminds us of his humiliation on the Cross.
We recall that angels are God’s servants,
and God abased himself at the Cross
in a way even his servants don’t suffer.

But to say God went low is to say man was lifted high!
Recall the words the priest says at Mass,
when he adds the water to the wine:
“By the mystery of this water and wine,
may we come to share in the divinity of Christ
who humbled himself to share in our humanity.”

As so many Fathers of the Church have said:
“God became man so that men might become God”!
And that is not a privilege offered to the angels.

So let’s clear up something here:
when we die, we do not go to heaven to become angels!
God’s goal for us is to become fully human.
Heaven—for us—is to experience
the full glory of being human;
of being fully alive as flesh-and-blood.

And that’s why the Resurrection is important, too:
our final destiny is not to be disembodied spirits,
but to have our bodies back—new and improved—
united to our souls, and united fully to God.

That’s being fully human—fully alive in Christ!
Being an angel is great—but being human is better.
As St. John Chrysostom said,
we can “glory that the Son of God is bone of our bone,
and flesh of our flesh, a privilege not given to angels.”


Anonymous said...

Thank you!!!I know that doing this blog thing must entail a lot of extra work, on top of the many responsibilities you have already undertaken. But please know your labors are appreciated, and your thoughtful insights are a true source of grace for many of us.

Anonymous said...

I used to know a Benedictine monk who swore that the Letter to the Hebrews had been written by our Lady. I think he even announced that once in a homily!

It is a beautiful letter to preach on.

the Joneses said...

Sometime I want to just read the entire book as the homily. I think it would be a fresh way of looking at it.

Dn. Darren