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Posts Tagged ‘Hebrews’

It is difficult, in these mangled days, to focus. One lives distracted and, therefore, enslaved to the mundane blur that swirls on all sides without pause.

Yet not all have lived this way, and not all must.

These all died in faith, not having received the things promised, but having seen them and greeted them from afar, and having acknowledged that they were strangers and exiles on the earth. For people who speak thus make it clear that they are seeking a homeland. If they had been thinking of that land from which they had gone out, they would have had opportunity to return. But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared for them a city. (Hebrews 11:13–16 ESV)

I come uneasily to this company of exiles, for I love this soil, this place, this fecund rooting.

Yet, as a follower of Jesus, I must admit to an exile’s fate, must embrace the stranger’s reality, must grit my teeth and acknowledge with a dozen bad hymns that ‘this world is not my home’.

The trudging heroes of the  New Testament’s Letter to the Hebrews honed a desire for a better country. If the text calls it ‘a heavenly one’, we must resist pictures of static bliss, of puffy clouds and blonde angels, of escape from physicality to pure spirit. This cannot be the Letter’s intent.

Rather, a city.

An urban scene with lodgings and events and roads and activities and people engaged in tasks both earnest and playful. Yet it is not this world’s city, for its basic principle, its way is governed by another ethos, by a different rule.

Yet I live here, in this well-known world, with its expectations and its compromised joys, its bent callings, its dented product. I have, unlike those ancient heroes, little desire for another city, little hope of being welcomed into that God-city if access is based on the intensity of my longing. I am too much of this one, too little predisposed by glimpses of the other to desire it above all else.

O City-Builder, have mercy on these myopic eyes. Help me see beyond these shadowed streets to brighter ones prepared for those who walk here as strangers, aliens, as limping sojourners passing through.

Bring us home, especially me, a straggler in this mobile company of hopers.

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The writer of the New Testament ‘letter’—it is hardly just that—to the Hebrews does what attentive readers of sacred literature instinctively do: he fills in the blanks.

The enigmatic figure of Melchizedek deserves a Guinness Book of World Records category all his own. One would have to define it as ‘most suggestive figure about whom the least is said’. This odd king-priest meets the patriarch Abraham on his way back from a spasm of righteous warfare and receives a tithe of the man’s spoils. Then he’s gone from the record, as quickly and with as little comment as he entered it.

The consequence is that the tradition records widespread speculation regarding his whereabouts, his significance, and what other stunts he might have pulled that landed on the biblical cutting-room floor. Hebrews is one voice in that tradition, a contemplation of Jesus’ priestly role in the light of Melchizedek’s superbly mysterious precedent. (more…)

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The writer to the Hebrew finds himself and his compatriots—citizenship is not marginal detail for him—momentarily caught between two worlds. This one, that is to say the undeniable environment in which we move about and suffer an intermittently painful quotient of distress, is a mere shadow of the one for which we long and to which we are destined. It is not unreal, yet it is less real than the enduring world whose gates we aspire to enter when we have served out our vocation in this landscape of shadows and perplexing mystery. (more…)

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The subtext that winds its way through much of biblical instruction and leavens it so that it rises not as something ludicrous but rather nourishing is that our Maker has a larger purpose in mind than we are normally capable of perceiving for ourselves. This is no easy truth, nor one whose veracity can be assessed by a minute or two of reflection. (more…)

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Because of its tenacious insistence that Jesus was fully human—as we are—the New Testament permits itself some daring assessments of the this man completed his God-given assignment. The priestly metaphor that becomes quite common in the book of Hebrews flows easily into this stream, for the priests Israel knew where, quintessentially, specially placed human beings assisting other human beings who lacked the same vocation. (more…)

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The biblical tradition is rightly jealous of the incomparability of Yahweh. Nothing gets the dander of, say, a prophet like Isaiah, as the notion that other gods are made of the same stuff as Yahweh. ‘Made’, in fact, is the operative term. Yahweh is the unmade Maker. The Hebrew Bible does not deny that other powers, even majestic ones, inhabit what one might call heavenly places beside Yahweh. In fact, the matter is fairly taken for granted. (more…)

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The New Testament ‘book of Hebrews’ places one layer of allusion and quotation upon another, creating a dense matrix of historical echos and interpretative nuance as it contemplates the Jesus Thing. At the animating core of this document lies the conviction that God’s actions in history and especially in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus display a remarkable continuity over the course of time. Events recorded in the New Testament are astonishing but not entirely surprising. That is, they might never have been predicted; yet, once realized in space and time, they should be understood as compatible with what has gone before. (more…)

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