THE LETTER TO THE HEBREWS

Lesson 14: Chapter 13

Christian Love in Service and Sacrifice;

The Final Blessing

 

Father of love and mercy,

We thank You Lord for the gift of Mother Church.  She guides and disciplines us, and nourishes us through the miracle of the Holy Eucharist as we travel the path to salvation through the temptations and snares of this world.  Protect us on our journey, Lord, that we may not be led astray by false doctrine and deceptive teachers.  Make us so sensitive to the truth of Your word that what is false will be easily discerned and what is truth will grasp hold of us and strengthen our faith.  Send Your Holy Spirit to guide us in our last lesson on the Letter to the Hebrew Christians of the early Church. May we remain faithful and steadfast, enduring suffering for the sake of the kingdom just as they persevered in their faith in the Gospel of Jesus Christ. We pray in the name of God the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

 

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Be brave and steadfast; have no fear or dread of them, for it is the LORD, your God, who marches with you; he will never fail you or forsake you." Deuteronomy 31:6

 

The LORD is with me; I am not afraid; what can mortals do against me?" Psalm 118:6

 

My child, day and night "you should remember him who preaches God's word to you," and honor him as you would the Lord.  For where the Lord's nature is discussed, there the Lord is.  Every day you should seek the company of saints to enjoy their refreshing conversation.  You must not start a schism but reconcile those at strife.  Didache 4.1.3

 

 

Scholars have long considered Hebrews chapter 13 problematic.  According to some scholars it does not contain the well thought-out and strategically developed themes of chapters 1-12.  Instead, some scholars contend, the final chapter presents a hodgepodge of theological reflections and ethical guidelines.  Many of these scholars have argued that all of chapter 13 is not part of the original address but was a late addition to the text that was sent out to the various faith communities of Africa, Asia Minor and Europe as an amendment to the original message, other scholars believe that only the last two verses were a later addition.  If this was a homily that was written down and later distributed to Christian communities, as Dr. Scott Hahn and some other Biblical scholars have speculated, it would be reasonable to assume that some additional closing remarks would have been thought necessary, but this is only speculation.  As to the structure of chapter 13, there are scholars, like Father James Swetnam who see this chapter as the logical and definitive conclusion to an address that began by proclaiming the superiority of the pre-incarnate Christ and ends with the risen and glorified Christ present in the liturgy of the Eucharist.

 

Much of this lesson has been inspired by the work of Father James Swetnam, S.J., who holds degrees in classical languages, philosophy, theology and Scripture and a doctoral degree from the University of Oxford.  He has been a scholar of the Pontifical Biblical Institute in Rome since 1962 where he has held numerous positions including vice rector and dean of the Biblical faculty. Father James Swetnam, in his article "A Liturgical Approach to Hebrews 13" [Letter and Spirit volume 2, 2006; pages 159-173], argues that Hebrews 13 can only be fully understood if it is studied in the light of early Christian liturgy.  He explores the close connection between the "sacrifice of praise" mentioned in Hebrews 13:15 and the Old Covenant's communion sacrifice known as the "peace" or "thank" offering, in Hebrew the toda, the sacrifice of thanks offered to God for delivering the believer from a life-threatening event.  It is the only sacrifice other than the Passover sacrifice that is eaten by the offerer and his friends and family, but instead of being eaten in the offerer's home this particular Old Covenant sacrifice is eaten in the liturgical setting of the sanctuary of the Holy Place in the Temple. Fr. Swetnam identifies a unique link in the liturgical pattern in Hebrews chapter 13 that is similar to the structure of the Latin Rite Mass.  Father Swetnam's approach to Hebrews chapter 13 deepens our understanding of the Old Covenant roots of the Eucharistic sacrifice in which Catholic Christians consume the sacrificial offering of Jesus Christ in the liturgical setting of the Sanctuary. 

 

Father Swetnam divides Hebrews chapter 13 into two sections:

  1. Hebrews 13:1-21: main body of the passage
  2. Hebrews 13:22-25: additional closing remarks

 

In his article Father Swetnam studies Hebrews 13:1-21 from 3 perspectives:

1.      Viewed in terms of the structure of the passage

2.      Viewed from the perspective of the Old Covenant communion sacrifice known in Hebrews as the toda, or "thank" offering

3.      Viewed in context of the sacrifice of the Mass

 

As far as structure is concerned, Father Swetnam divides the main body of the chapter, Hebrews 13:1-21, into five sections:

  1. Hebrews 13:1-5: series of admonitions addressed to right Christian conduct
  2. Hebrews 13:5b-6: two citations from Old Testament Scripture
  3. Hebrews 13:7-17: main body of the passage addressing the necessity of obedience to Christians leaders
  4. Hebrews 13:18-19: the author's appeal for prayer for Church leaders and for himself
  5. Hebrews 13:20-21: the closing blessing

 

I have included the last three verses of 12:27-29 which serves as transition to this section of the address as well a conclusion to the discussion in chapter 12.

 

Please read Hebrews 12:27-13:8: A Call to Brotherly Love in Worship and Service

12:27 Therefore, we who are receiving the unshakable kingdom should have gratitude, with which we should offer worship pleasing to God in reverence and awe.  28 For our God is a consuming fire.  13:1 Let mutual love continue.  Do not neglect hospitality, for through it some have unknowingly entertained angels.   3 Be mindful of prisoners as if sharing their imprisonment, and of the ill-treated as of yourselves, for you also are in the body.  4 Let marriage be honored among all and the marriage bed be kept undefiled, for God will judge the immoral and adulterers.  5 Let your life be free from love of money but be content with what you have, for he has said, "I will never forsake you or abandon you."  6 Thus we may say with confidence: "The Lord is my helper, [and] I will not be afraid.  What can anyone do to me?" 

The "unshakable kingdom" of Hebrews 12:27 marks the climax of God's promises to the covenant people.  The inspired writer of Hebrews affirms that it is God's promise that His covenant people are to receive the honor and dominion mentioned in Hebrews 2:5-10, bringing many children to glory in the heavenly city whose architect is God [Hebrews 11:10; 12:22-24].  This is the "unshakable kingdom" where the heirs of Christ will receive their eternal inheritance [Hebrews 1:14; 2:5; 6:12, 17; 9:15; 11:8].

 

Question: According to Hebrews 12:27b, how should the "heirs" receive this gift?

Answer: With gratitude as we offer worship to God with reverence and awe.  Reverence and awe are the counterbalance of our gratitude since God is both full of divine grace and full of divine justice, which is, when necessary, expressed in judgment and punishment.  Christians who have become inheritors of the eternal kingdom should not just be grateful but should "have grace" which commits us to lives of holiness and justice, we should strive to live in grace and holiness as the inspired writer urged his audience in Hebrews 12:15: See to it that no one be deprived of the grace of God... for without living in a state of grace no one can offer worship pleasing to God in reverence and awe [Hebrews 12:28b].

 

Question: Look up the definitions of the words "awe" and "reverence."  What is the meaning of each word?

Answer: The New Webster Dictionary defines:

  1. "awe": Dread or a great fear; fear mingled with admiration or reverence; reverential fear; feeling inspired by something sublime.

 

  1. "reverence": A feeling of deep respect and esteem mingled with affection; awe combined with respect; veneration; an obeisance; reverend character; a reverend personage; a common title of the clergy, used with the pronouns, his, your, etc.  To regard with reverence.

 

Question: How would you define the word "reverence" as it pertains to your relationship with God?  How do you define the word "awe" as it pertains to God?  See Hebrews 10:31 and 11:7 for a frame of reference in a Biblical application of the necessity of responding to God with reverence and awe.

Answer:   Reverence is the godly fear of the Almighty that led Noah in obedience to the will of God to build the Ark, while awe is an uneasy, but spiritually healthy fear which accompanies the knowledge of God's power to give life as well as to deliver deserved punishment to sinners in fiery judgment [see Psalm 4:4-5; 33:8].

 

To observe both awe and reverence in offering worship to God the Almighty in no way negates our appreciation of His divine love for us but it does place us in a position of appreciating of the awesomeness of truly who and what God is in His relationship to us and to the cosmos.  Those who approach His holy altar and do not bow, or genuflect if Christ is present in the Tabernacle, or who chat loudly in His presence to others, or forget to show Him honor and respect upon leaving the Sanctuary, are not obviously aware of who He is and what He power He holds over our lives and all creation.  God is our loving heavenly Father but He is not a permissive parent and to form assumptions as to who and what He is according to our own inclinations and understanding is both dangerous and foolish.

 

It is interesting that the passage in Hebrews 12:29 which describes God as a "consuming fire" is framed by warnings of judgment in 12:2-28 and a call to love in 13:1.  The expression "consuming fire" in Hebrews 12:29 is the same expression which was used when warning the Old covenant people not to abandon the obligations of the Sinai Covenant and in promising that God would protect Israel by destroying her enemies in Deuteronomy 4:24 and 9:3 respectively.  Centuries later when Israel fell into apostasy God warned the covenant people through the prophets like Isaiah and Ezekiel that His fiery wrath would descend upon them to purify them of their collective sins.  These warnings came both prior to the destruction of the Northern Kingdom in 722BC and prior to the destruction of the Southern Kingdom and Jerusalem in 587/6BC. In the Book of Lamentations the terrible results of God's judgment are recorded and described as the outpouring of God's fiery wrath:

 

 

Just as in former days it is the fiery wrath of God that the inspired writer of Hebrews warns will destroy the disobedient sinner.  The God of mercy and judgment of the Old Covenant is the same unchanging God of mercy and judgment in the New:

 

 

But God's love is also a fierce fiery love.  It is His purifying fiery love that cleanses the repentant sinner on the Day of Judgment in 1 Corinthians 3:11-15:

 

Hebrews 13:1-5 is a list of admonitions urging right Christian conduct:  The right conduct of liturgical worship lauded in Hebrews 12:27 should carry beyond the assembly of the faithful on the Lord's Day and should be lived every day of the week among the brothers and sisters of the covenant community and beyond into the ranks of estranged the human family.

Question: What do you find listed as actions of righteous Christian conduct in Hebrews 13:1-5a?

Answer:

 

13:1 Let mutual love continue: The Greek word philadelphia can also be translated as "brotherly love."  This Greek word is formed from the word phileo, meaning fraternal or familial love and the word adelphos, meaning "brother-from-the-womb."  "Brotherly love" or "love of the brethren" is probably a more accurate translation since this phrase is not referring to a feeling of affection but to a bond of love like the bond between brothers and sisters within a family.  Christians are brothers and sisters in the faith, united in the blood of Jesus Christ and, through Christian baptism, siblings in the family of God.  The inspired writer is, therefore, speaking of the bond of covenant love within the Christians community.

 

Do not neglect hospitality, for through it some have unknowingly entertained angels.  

Question: The command not to neglect hospitality refers indirectly to what Old Testament event(s) in which a kind host entertained angels unawares?

Answer: The inspired writer is probably referring to Genesis 18:1-18 when Abraham and Sarah entertained three angelic visitors.  Lot entertained two the same visitors in his home in Genesis 19:1-14.  In both cases the angelic visitors provided information that affected the future of their hosts. This example is given to encourage Christians to have the courage to extend hospitality to brothers and sisters in the faith who are in need of shelter and food.  When Christians traveled, especially missionaries, they had to depend upon the kindness of fellow Christians in the communities they visited [see Acts 21:16; Romans 12:13; 16:1-2, 23; 1 Peter 4:9; 3 John 5-8].  But according to Jesus' command to offer love to our brothers and sisters in the human family, Christians were expected to extend hospitality to those outside the covenantal bond as Abraham and Lot extended hospitality to complete strangers.   

 

13:3Be mindful of prisoners as if sharing their imprisonment and of the ill-treated as of yourselves, for you also are in the body.

Most commentators agree that the inspired writer is referring to Christians who have been imprisoned because of their faith in Jesus Christ.  St. Paul was imprisoned at least 7 times.  In Acts of Apostles we have many accounts of disciples of Jesus Christ being imprisoned or ill-treated because of their professed faith.  In addition to beatings and imprisonment, Christians were witnessing to their faith in Jesus Christ with their lives.  St. Justin Martyr [m. circa 155AD] called the blood of Christians martyrs the seeds of Christian faith.  At the time this address was being delivered the deacon St. Stephen [circa 35AD], the Apostle James Zebedee [circa 42AD], and James Bishop of Jerusalem [sometime between 62-67AD] had already been executed [see Acts 4:1-3; 5:17-20; 6:9-15, 54-60; 8:3; 12:1-5; 16:19-24; 17:19-34; 24:27; etc].  In Paul's case some of his friends not only visited him in prison but some even willingly shared his imprisonment [Acts 23:23-26, 32; 28:14-31; 2 Corinthians 11:9; Philippians 1:1, 12-13; Colossians 4:7-14, 18; 2 Timothy 1:16-18; Philemon 1, 10, 23-24].

 

Question: When did the inspired writer of Hebrews mention Christians in prison and those who suffer for faith in Jesus Christ earlier in the address?

Answer: In Hebrews 10:32-39 he spoke of those Christians who were suffering and how his audience endured a great contest of suffering.  At times you were publicly exposed to abuse and affliction; at other times you associated yourselves with those so treated.  You even joined in the sufferings of those in prison and joyfully accepted the confiscation of your property, knowing that you had a better and lasting possession [Hebrews 10:23-36]Then in Hebrews 10:37 the inspired writer quoted from Isaiah 26:20 and Habakkuk 2:4 [2:4 LXX]'passages which prophesied the coming judgment of the Old Covenant people, putting those prophecies in the context of Judea and Jerusalem's imminent  judgment for which the Jewish-Christians needed to be vigilant to recognize the signs, as Jesus warned in Matthew 24:4-25.

 

Question: In Matthew 25:31-46 Jesus addressed the future judgment of the nations and discussed the necessity of giving aid to those in need of mercy and love by using these same examples.  Where in the Matthew 25 passage do you find these same examples of Christian charity that are in Hebrews 13:1-5?

Answer: In Matthew 25:35-36 Jesus speaks of those who were hungry and thirsty who received food and drink, of hospitality offered a stranger, and a prisoner who was visited in prison.  He also speaks of caring for those who are ill.

 

Question: In what very personal way does Jesus apply such acts of Christian charity?  What is the reward for generously offering charity to those in need of help and what is the punishment for refusing to offer mercy to those in need of love and mercy?  See Matthew 25:37-46.

Answer: Jesus said: Amen, I say to you, whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me.  Those who are righteous and cared for those in need will inherit the kingdom of heaven but those who willfully neglected those in need will go the eternal punishment.

 

Question: What parable which Jesus taught in the Gospel of Luke would also apply to God's judgment of those who are materially wealthy but ignore those who are suffering and in need of the basics of life? See Luke 16:19-31.

Answer: In the parable of "Lazarus and the Rich Man", the poor man, Lazarus is ignored by the rich man who passes by him daily, oblivious to the needs of the destitute and ill man.  After death and judgment each man received justice in Sheol [Abraham's bosom] where the rich man was punished for his sins of selfishness and ingratitude and the poor man received justice and merit for his earthly suffering.  In the Old Covenant, before the Passion and Resurrection of the Son of God, both punishment and reward were temporal, but in the New Covenant, as Jesus taught in Matthew chapter 25, reward and punishment are eternal.  See CCC# 633.

 

and the ill-treated as of yourselves, for you also are in the body.

Jesus "golden rule" of treating others as you yourself wish to be treated [Matthew 7:12] and His law of love that summed up the 10 Commandments [Matthew 22:37-39; Mark 12:30-31] applies to these rules for right Christian living in Hebrews 13:1-5.  In Romans 12:9-13:10, St. Paul writes of the Christian obligation to live the law of love as Jesus commanded when He told us to love our neighbor as we love ourselves, and then St. Paul sums up his teaching with the words: Love does no evil to the neighbor; hence, love is the fulfillment of the law.

 

However, there is also a deeper meaning to the words for you also are in the body.

Jesus came as a man to identify with those who suffer, sharing their physical circumstances in order to deliver them from the sins and sufferings of the world [see Hebrews 2:14-15].  The inspired writer also gave other examples from Israel's historical past, as in Moses who chose to reject his secure life as a prince of Egypt to suffer with his people [Hebrews 11:25-26], which the inspired writer uses as an inspiration for Christians to be willing to sacrifice safety and security to identify with other Christians who suffer when they profess Christ as Lord and Savior.  If we are indeed part of the Body of Christ, we must act like we are one people, united in one Body, sharing each other's afflictions and triumphs [see Romans 12:4-5; 1 Corinthians 12:12-27].

 

Question: What do each of these aspects of right Christian living in Hebrews 13:1-3 have in common and how do they relate to Jesus' two greatest commandments?

Answer: Each of these aspects of right Christian living concern the right attitude toward others and reflect the two commands to love in which Jesus summed up the whole of the Old Covenant Law: to love God with all ones heart, soul, mind, and strength and to love one's neighbor as oneself.  If we are to love both God and our fellow man with all we are than are we not to serve both God and our brothers and sisters in the human family with the same devotion through the outpouring of genuine love, hospitality, and mercy towards those who suffer?

 

13:4: Let marriage be honored among all and the marriage bed be kept undefiled, for God will judge the immoral and adulterers.

Dr. Koester notes that the Greek in this opening phrase Let marriage be honored among all, can be understood to mean "among all people," or "at all times" or, "in all circumstances" [Koester, page 558]. According to Scripture and Church teaching, Christians are to remain chaste outside of marriage and chaste within the covenantal bond of marriage. Restrictions against sexual immorality are referenced before the Sinai Covenant in passages like Genesis 49:4 where Jacob firstborn son Rueben is dispossessed for defiling his father's marriage bed when he engaged in adultery with his father's concubine. Later when the covenant was formed with Israel under Old Covenant law such practices required sever condemnation and punishment for the violators [Leviticus 20:10, Deuteronomy 22:20-22; Wisdom 14:24]'the punishment for adultery was the death penalty.  This maintenance of the sanctity of marriage is also affirmed in New Covenant Law [Matthew 5:27-32; 19:1-18; Mark 7:21-22; 10:9-12; Luke 16:18; 18:20; 1 Corinthians 7:10-14], and God will harshly judge the adulterer who defiles the marriage bed [1 Corinthians 5:1-13; 6:9-11; Ephesians 5:5; 1 Timothy 1:10; Jude 7; Revelation 21:8; 22:15].

 

Question: What does Genesis 2:24 tell us about the institution of marriage?  What does Jesus teach about marriage in Matthew 19:1-9 which confirms Genesis 2:24?

Answer: Marriage between and man and a woman is an integral part of God's plan for humanity [see CCC# 2362-64; 2367]. 

 

According to Hebrews 13:4 marriage is not only good but it is holy.  The inspired writer speaks of the purity of the marriage bed with the same sort of language used for worship, the sacred versus the profane.  The Temple is holy and clean'everything outside the Temple is profane and unclean.  In Christian baptism, we become living Temples of the Holy Spirit and are commanded to keep our bodily temples holy and undefiled [1 Corinthians 3:16-17; 6:19; 2 Corinthians 6:16-7:1; Ephesians 2:20-22].

 

The Church, the Bride of Christ is also holy and pure.  The covenantal union between Christ and His Church is expressed in terms of the sacramental union of matrimony.  It is the obligation of the Christian to observe Godly purity in the Sacrament of Matrimony, for matrimony is the visual image of Christ's relationship with the Church.  Just as Christ's relationship is pure and undefiled in His covenantal union with His Bride so much Christian marriage reflect the same state of holiness. For the baptized person's commitment to chastity outside and inside marriage and marriage as a human pattern for Christ's relationship with the Church see CCC# 1639-42; 2348-2350; 2364-65.

 

Question: What is the warning in Scripture if one does not keep one's marriage bed undefiled?  See Hebrews 13:4b and St. Paul's list of mortal sins in Galatians 5:19-21.

Answer: Those who deliberately do such things knowing that these sins deeply offend God and refuse to repent and seek forgiveness in the Sacrament of Reconciliation will be judged for their sins and are in danger of losing their salvation. 

 

Question: What is the wider context of this warning against sexual infidelity?  See Hebrews 10:29-31.

Answer: Just as God will judge those who have apostatized from their marital obligations rather than pursuing holiness through covenant faithfulness and commitment so too will God judge those of have apostatized from their New Covenant commitment to faithfulness in the sacramental union between Christ the Bridegroom and the Church as His Bride. To seek after other religions after having received the Sacraments of Baptism and Confirmation is to, in essence, be guilty of the sin of adultery: Hebrews10:26-27: If we sin deliberately after receiving knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains sacrifice for sins but a fearful prospect of judgment and a flaming fire that is going to consume the adversaries.  That is unless one repents and returns to God through the Sacrament of Reconciliation.

 

13:5 Let your life be free from love of money but be content with what you have

Question: What did Paul write about money in 1 Timothy 6:9-10?

Answer: The inspired writer warns: Those who want to be rich are falling into temptation and into a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires, which plunge them into ruin and destruction.  For the love of money is the root of all evils, and some people in their desire for it have strayed from the faith and have pierced themselves with many pains.

Question: How does Paul tell us to avoid the lure of the seducing desire for material wealth?  See 1 Timothy 6:11-19.

Answer: The rich should use their wealth, which is a gift from God, to do good works and to share God's bounty.  All believers should not be caught up in the pursuit of material wealth but should be caught up in the pursuit of righteousness in order to possess the greatest of treasures, which is eternal life in the Kingdom of heaven [Matthew 13:44-46].

 

Question: What does St. Paul say about plenty and scarcity of goods in Philippians 4:10-13 and what example did the inspired writer give his audience in Hebrews 11:26?

Answer: Paul urges Christians to follow his example and to cast all cares and concerns upon God who in His mercy will provide. Paul has learned to prosper in scarcity and in plenty through trusting God with his life.  The inspired writer of Hebrews used Moses as such an example of trust when Moses abandoned the wealth of Egypt.  In the same way Christians facing persecution for their faith and the possible loss of material wealth should look to God for their support and trust in Him while identifying with other Christian brothers and sisters in their suffering and in helping them financially when possible.  One cannot take one's material wealth to the grave but one can multiply spiritual treasures eternally by gifts given in acts of righteousness and charity.

 

Question: To be discontented with what one has can lead to another deadly sin.  What is that sin which is listed in the 10 Commandments?

Answer: The sin of coveting what belongs to someone else, in this case, to covet someone's wealth.

 

The basis for resisting these temptations is in following the teachings of the Old Testament quotations which encourage trust in God's plan for one's life.  

Hebrews 13:5b: for he has said, is the introduction to the two Old Testament Scripture citations:

  1. "I will never forsake you or abandon you" is a reference to Deuteronomy 31:6: Be brave and steadfast; have no fear or dread of them, for it is the LORD, your God, who marches with you; he will never fail your or forsake you. It is a statement of God's faithfulness which is repeated to Joshua in Joshua 1:5: No one can withstand you while you live.  I will be with you as I was with Moses: I will not leave you nor forsake you. [this phrase is similar to the promise made to Jacob in Genesis 28:15 and David's assurance to Solomon that God is will Him in 1 Chronicles 28:20].

 

13:6  Thus we may say with confidence:

  1. "The Lord is my helper, [and] I will not be afraid. What can anyone do to me?"  This is a quote from Psalm 118:6: The LORD is with me; I am not afraid; what can mortals do against me?

 

Question: In the phrase for he has said which introduces the first Scripture reference, who is speaking?

Answer: God is speaking.

Question: To whom is God speaking?

Answer: Father Swetnam points out, The language of v. 5b is intriguing.  God is presented as speaking to an individual.  The individual, in the context of Hebrews, would seem to be Christ understood as the new Joshua who is leading the new people of God into God's definitive rest. [A Liturgical Approach to Hebrews 13, page 161].

 

Let's examine the Old Testament Scriptural citations in context:

Question: What is the context of the quotation from Hebrews found in Deuteronomy 31:6 and Joshua 1:5?  Read Numbers 13:1; 14:38; Deuteronomy 1:1-3; and Deuteronomy 31:1-8 and Joshua 1:1-9.

Answer: The Book of Deuteronomy contains the record of the children of Israel just prior to taking possession of the Promised Land.  Moses delivers his last homily to the people of the covenant reminding them of their covenant obligations which will result in blessings and what will happen if they fail in covenant obedience, divine wrath and judgment.  These warnings take place after a 40 year period of testing in the wilderness.  With the new generation the promises of the Sinai Covenant are about to be put in place.  This passage recounts the commissioning of Joshua as the leader of the covenant people.  Moses tells the Joshua that God will lead him in his mission to take the children of Israel into the Promised Land and he must not fear the Canaanite enemies, because God will never fail your or forsake you.  God has promised victory.

 

Question: How does this historical event parallel what is happening to the generation the inspired writer is addressing?  See Hebrews 9:8-9.

Answer: In Mark 9:19 and Acts 2:40 both Jesus and St. Peter refer to their generation of Old Covenant believers as a "faithless" or "perverse" generation.  These are the same words in which God described the first generation of the Old Covenant people in Numbers 14:27.  In Matthew 23:33-36 Jesus' says that all the sins of the past generations of Old Covenant people will fall upon this current generation living in the time of the inspired writer.  The time from Jesus' Resurrection and Ascension in 30AD to the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple in 70AD is a 40 years period in which the first generation who heard the Gospel of salvation had the opportunity to embrace faith in Jesus as Messiah and Lord and to come to embrace the promises of the New Covenant. 

 

In Hebrews 9:8-12 the inspired writer said that the Temple is only a symbol of the present time and must pass away before the way into the New Covenant is complete.  Like Moses' homily, it is possible that this address is being delivered just prior to the destruction of the Temple in 70AD when the new generation of the new Israel, led by the new Jeshua [Yehoshua], Jesus of Nazareth, will take possession of the New and eternal Covenant, leading the children of the new Israel into the Promised Land of Heaven, for the old Israel and the old covenant has passed/is passing away and "today" Jesus, the new Joshua is leading the people of God into God's rest:  Now if Joshua had given them rest, he would not have spoken afterwards of another day. Therefore, a Sabbath rest still remains for the people of God.  And whoever enters into God's rest, rests from his won works as God did from his. Therefore, let us strive to enter into that rest, so that no one may fall after the same example of disobedience.  Hebrews 5:8-11. [see CCC# 877].

 

Question: The next Old Testament citation is introduced with the phrase: Thus we may say with confidence.  Who is the "we" who speaks with confidence knowing that God will never leave nor forsake them?

Answer: Father Swetnam also makes an interesting observation concerning the introductory phrase Thus we may say with confidence and the quotation from Psalm 118:6 in Hebrews 13:6.  He writes: Verse 6 contains a citation from Psalm 118:6.  It is in the singular number, and should thus be best taken as the response of the individual addressed in v.5b, Christ.  Christ responds to the word of God, but in the name of the entire community.  This is to be inferred from the introduction to the citation in the first part of the verse, "hence we should take courage and say."  The words of the psalm, cited as they are in response to the more particularized context of the citation in v.5b, have the effect of generalizing and radicalizing the attitude of both Christ and the Christians so that they are without fear in any context. [A Liturgical Approach to Hebrews 13, page 162].

 

Question: What is the context of Psalm 118:6? Psalms 113-118 are called the Hallel psalms and are sung during the Feast of Tabernacles, the last of the feasts in the annual Old Covenant liturgical calendar and during the week of the Feast of the Passover, the first of the seven feasts in the liturgical calendar.  Psalms 113-118 were always sung on the first night of Passover week at the sacrificial meal of the Feast of Unleavened Bread when the Passover lambs are eaten.  Jesus and the disciples sang these psalms on the night of the Last Supper.  Read the entire Psalm 118.  What divisions do you observe in the Psalm and what significant verses do you see that pertain to the Messiah and His sacrifice?

Answer:  This psalm was part of the Temple liturgy offered as a hymn of thanksgiving as the king and the people process into the Temple precincts and is divided into 7 parts.

 

 

In Psalm 118:22-25 the grateful people sing: The stone the builders rejected has become the cornerstone [quoted by Jesus and applied to Himself in Matthew 21:42 and Luke 21:17].  By the LORD has this been done; it is wonderful in our eyes.  This is the day the LORD has made; let us rejoice in it and be glad.  LORD, grant salvation [Hosanna]! LORD, grant good fortune!  The inspired writers of the New Testament interpreted these verses as referring to the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ in Matthew 21:42; Acts 4:11; Romans 9:33 and 1 Peter 2:7.  The ritual cry of Psalm 118:25, LORD, grant salvation (or save us we ask)!  in Hebrew is "Hosanna!"  This cry of the people was recorded in the Gospel accounts of Jesus entering Jerusalem on Palm Sunday in Matthew 21:9; Mark 11:9-10.  This cry is followed by the priestly blessing in Psalm 118:26-27 which begins: Blessed is he who comes in the name of the LORD [see Matthew 21:9; Luke 19:38].  Jesus is He who comes in the name of the LORD and so long as the New Covenant people remain faithful there is nothing anyone can do to them in this life that will make any difference.  It is eternity that matters. 

 

In Matthew 23:37-39 Jesus quotes Psalm 118:26 when He prophesizes the destruction of Jerusalem: Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how many times I yearned to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her young under he wings, but you were unwilling!  Behold, your house [the Temple] will be abandoned, desolate.  I tell you, you will not see me again until you say, "Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord."  These are the word the faithful cry out in the Sanctus, the acclamation of the Triune God:  Holy, holy, holy Lord, God of power and might, heaven and earth are full of your glory.  Hosanna in the highest, blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord. Hosanna in the highest.  This holy hymn contains three praises and two petitions.

Three praises:

  1. We praise the holiness, dominion and power of the Triune God
  2. We praise His glory which is reflected through out all creation
  3. We praise Christ when we say: Blessed is he who comes in the name of the LORD." At which time we invited Him to come into our souls and to possess us when we offer ourselves in sacrifice to Him and as a result receive Him Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity in the Most Holy Eucharist.  It is our "yes" which mirrors His mother's fiat at the Annunciation.

Two Petitions:

  1. "Hosanna in the highest" is said first asking for our salvation and is addressed to God
  2. "Hosanna in the highest" is repeated, addressed to Christ our Savior and Lord.

In the celebration of the Mass this hymn of praise and adoration comes just before the Institution Narrative and the Consecration when Christ become present on the altar, Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity.

 

Question: What is the inspired writer's point in quoting these Old Testament passages?

Answer: Jesus is the new Joshua who will lead God's children into the Promised Land of heaven. He is the Messiah promised in Psalm 118 who comes in the name of Yahweh [LORD in all capital letters indicates the literal translation is YHWH].  In the coming judgment against the unbelieving Jews who did not accept Jesus as the Messiah, God will not exempt the faithful from temporal suffering just as He did not exempt Moses from suffering and the children of Israel in the Exodus experience, nor did He exempt the other heroes and heroines of the faith listed in chapter 11, nor the faithful remnant of the Old Covenant who endured the destruction of Jerusalem in 587/6BC nor will He except the Christians from possible suffering in the coming end of the age of the Sinai Covenant and the destruction of the Temple in 70AD.  After all, He did not exempt His own Son or His Son's human mother from temporal suffering. Why should Christians expect to be spared possible suffering in times of crisis? But God does promise that temporal suffering will only purify their souls and that He will bring them through that suffering and will reward their faithfulness with the gift of eternal salvation and everlasting life [Hebrews 2:20; 5:7-10]'something the temporal world and the Old Covenant cannot offer. The wicked of this world have no power over God's children.

 

Please read Hebrews 13:7-17: Christian Obedience and Acceptable Sacrifice

7 Remember your leaders who spoke the word of God to you.  Consider the outcome of their way of life and imitate their faith.  8 Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever. 9 Do not be carried away by all kinds of strange teaching.  It is good to have our hearts strengthened by grace and not by foods, which do not benefit those who live by them.  10 We have an altar from which those who serve the tabernacle have no right to eat. 11 The bodies of the animals whose blood the high priest brings into the sanctuary as a sin offering are burned outside the camp12 Therefore, Jesus also suffered outside the gate, to consecrate the people by his own blood.  13 Let us then go to him outside the camp, bearing the reproach that he bore.  14 For here we have no lasting city, but we seek the one that is to come.  15 Through him [then] let us continually offer God a sacrifice of praise, that is, the fruit of lips that confess his name.  16 Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have; God is pleased by sacrifices of that kind.  17 Obey your leaders and defer to them, for they keep watch over you and will have to give an account, that they may fulfill their task with joy and not with sorrow, for that would be of no advantage to you. 

 

It is interesting that this entire section from Hebrews 13:7 to 13:17 is bracketed by the appeal to obey the Christian hierarchy and to submit to their leadership:

 

There is another significant repetition.  Repetition in Scripture is like underlining and it always points to something more significant than what is indicated in the words of the passage.

Question: What other word repetition do you notice?

Answer: The word "outside" is repeated three times in three successive verses in the phrases:

  1. "outside the camp" in 13:11
  2. "outside the gate" in 13:12
  3. "outside the camp" in 13:13

 

Question: To what are these three phrases linked? See Hebrews 13:12.

Answer: The repeated phrases in 13:11-13 are all related to Christ's sacrificial death:  Therefore, Jesus also suffered outside the gate, to consecrate the people by his own blood.   His sacrificial death, on the altar of the Cross was "outside" the city of Jerusalem, the "camp" of God and "outside" the gates of the city walls, where the people could read the plaque upon which Pilate had commanded be written "Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews" because Jesus was crucified "near the city" as reported in John 19:20'so near the crowds along the wall could read the plaque.

 

Hebrews 13:7-8: Remember your leaders who spoke the word of God to you.  Consider the outcome of their way of life and imitate their faith.  8 Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever.

The inspired writer urges his audience to remember their Christian leaders and their example of faithful obedience and trust in God that they set for the community.  He urges them to "consider the outcome of their way of life" and to "imitate their faith."  The question is what exactly was the "outcome" of their lives?  Did they suffer and die for faith in Jesus Christ and the New Covenant? 

 

Question: The leaders in 13:7 are not identified by name but how are they identified?

Answer: They are identified as those "who spoke the word of God" to the people.  Their message of the Gospel of salvation is the center from which the community's Christian life has been lived liturgically in communion with God and in communion with each other, it is the message of salvation that has made their lives fruitful spiritually.

 

Many Biblical scholars believe the call to consider the "outcome" of their leader's lives suggests that these leaders are already dead.  We have already mentioned that by this time the deacon St. Stephen, the Apostle St. James Zebedee [brother of St. John the Apostle], and perhaps the bishop of Jerusalem St. James the kinsman of Jesus, have already died for their faith in Jesus Christ.  Other apostles have also probably died if this address is after 64AD when the Roman persecution of Christians had begun throughout the Roman Empire.  If so it is not only their lives that bear imitation but their deaths.  Remember that in Hebrews 11:4 the inspired writer said: In your struggle against sin you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding blood.  The example of the lives and deaths of their leaders will prepare the Christian community for the "yet" that is coming.

 

Question: What is the significance of the statement in Hebrews 13:8:  Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever, if their leaders have indeed suffered death for faith in Jesus Christ?

Answer: The declaration of Jesus' constancy in the eternal "now" of past, present, and future is introduced by mentioning "God's word" and their leader's "faith": Remember your leaders who spoke the word of God to you.  Consider the outcome of their way of life and imitate their faith.  The martyrdom of their leaders has continuing value, not just temporary value in the witness to faith in the moment of their deaths. Jesus Christ is eternal, their leaders may have left this material and temporal world but because Christ is eternal they also have the promise of eternity. The words and acts which should be imitated continue beyond their earthly lives.

 

The faithfulness and endurance of Christian leaders who spoke the words of God is contrasted with false teachers and "strange teaching."

Question: What does St. Peter warn concerning those Christians who develop their own heretical doctrines and distort the truth of the Gospel of salvation in 2 Peter 2:1-21?

Answer: These false teachers will:

  1. Introduce destructive heresies
  2. Deny the atoning work of Jesus Christ on the Cross which will cost them their salvation
  3. The truth of the Gospel will be ridiculed because of their sinfulness
  4. They will exploit the faithful with lies in order to satisfy their greed
  5. They revile the holy things they do not understand
  6. They promote sinful behavior as natural, healthy behavior
  7. They seduce unstable or unlearned people
  8. Their hearts are full of greed
  9. Their promises are empty like waterless springs
  10. They promise freedom but they are slaves of corruption

 

Question: What argument does St. Peter give concerning the just punishment of false teachers?

Answer: If God didn't spare the fallen angels, or those who perished in the time of Noah, or the sinful cities of Sodom and Gomorrah why would He spare those who lead people away from the gift of salvation?

Question: What does St. Peter say would have been better for the false Christian teachers that the inspired writer also mentioned in Hebrews 6:4-6 and 10:26-31?

Answer: It would have been better had these false teachers never known the Gospel of salvation with all its obligations than to have apostatized from the true faith, their judgment will be harsher because they knew the truth and rejected it and unless they repent and return to the true Church, there is no salvation for them only judgment.

 

Hebrews 13: 9-10: Do not be carried away by all kinds of strange teaching.  It is good to have our hearts strengthened by grace and not by foods, which do not benefit those who live by them.  10 We have an altar from which those who serve the tabernacle have no right to eat. 

Hebrews 9b identifies the false teachers as Jewish-Christians who have apostatized back to the Old Covenant faith in which they consume the animal sacrifices offered up on the Temple altar instead of the sacrifice of Jesus Christ presented to the faithful from the altar of the Eucharistic sacrifice.  The word "foods" in 13:9b is linked to the word "teachings" in 13:9a and to the word "altar" in 13:10

 

Question: What link is the inspired writer making between "strange teaching" and "foods that do not benefit those who live by them"?

Answer: In linking "strange teaching" to "foods which do not benefit" the inspired writer urges his audience that they should avoid false teachings that affirm the validity of the Old Covenant which does not benefit those who live by them just as they should avoid the sacrificial "foods" and the other Levitical food requirements of the Old Covenant that do not benefit those who live by them because such "foods" like such "teachings" do not feed the soul or offer eternal blessings. 

 

Question: What is the meaning of the statement in verses 9b-10?  Who are those who serve the tabernacle or "tent"?  How are Christian hearts strengthened by grace and not by "foods" of the Old Covenant?

Answer:  Those who serve the "tent" are the Levitical priests in the Temple who serve in the rites of the Old Sinai Covenant.  The hearts strengthened by grace, not by foods refers to the Eucharistic sacrifice contrasted with the animals sacrificed on the altar of the Temple in Jerusalem and consumed as food as prescribed by Old Covenant Liturgical Law.  Priests ate the sin sacrifices and the people ate the communion sacrifices and certain feast sacrifices.    The priests perform the sacrifices and consume certain sacrifices and/or part of the sacrifices that other faithful Israelites could not eat according to the Law of the Sinai Covenant.  However, there is a new altar of sacrifice, an eternal one which is the cross of our Lord.  From this altar came the true expiation.  This altar is one and the same as early Christian altars and the modern Catholic altars of today, the altars on which the Liturgy of the Eucharist, also known as the breaking of the Bread, was and is celebrated since the Resurrection of our Lord.  For it is in the divine liturgy, specifically the Liturgy of the Eucharist, in which the apex of human history, indeed the apex of all creation, is made present!

 

The word "foods" in Hebrews 13:9 definitely takes on a sacrificial character when linked to verses 10-11?a which refers to the sacrificial altar and the bodies of animals.

Question: What exactly does the inspired writer mean when he says these "foods" from the Temple altar do not benefit those who live by them?

 Answer: To consume the animals offered in sacrifice under the old law as food cannot benefit the people spiritually because no animal sacrifice was perfect enough to expiate sins, but only to cover sin, it could not restore full communion with God.  Animal sacrifice could not open the gates of heaven to man but instead was a preparation for the true sacrifice that expiates sins once and for all, the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world, opens the gates of heaven, and removes separation/barriers between God and man.  This separation is removed by the entire Christ event, not just at Calvary.  In the Incarnation there is the miracle of the hypostatic union, a unity between God and man in the man-God Jesus of Nazareth, a union of the divine with the created [through Mary's DNA] that never existed prior this event.  The hypostatic union is the first sign and actuality of the re-unification of God and man which will effect [bring about] the promised redemption of mankind. The gates of heaven are opened at the baptism of the God Incarnate [CCC 536], but it is the Last Supper which is the cause of Christ in us and us in Him through the consuming of His flesh and blood.  Through God's grace sin is removed through His perfect sacrifice completed at the altar of the Cross.  The in-gathering of Israel begins at His descent into prison [Sheol] to preach the Gospel of salvation and to lead the spirits, waiting there throughout the ages, into heaven [1 Peter 3:18-22].  The gates of heaven are held open by His presence in heaven through the Ascension for it is there that He prepares a place for us.  This is the true benefit, not obtained for us by the consumption of animal sacrifice but made possible by the Christ event and obtained through our consumption of the flesh and blood of the Lamb of God, a provision of God's grace through His perfect sacrifice and the miracle of Transubstantiation--transforming of what is created and natural into what is supernatural.  For God and all creation, including mankind, are united through the hypostatic union, redeemed through Calvary, and individually unified by consumption of the Transubstantiated communion sacrifice which is our "food" for spiritual nourishment'something the old covenant animal sacrifices only prefigured.

 

Question: What is the significance of the verse 10: We have an altar from which those who serve the tabernacle have no right to eat?

Answer: It is the sacrifice that is provided to us by the Holy Spirit in the miracle of Transubstantiation and which, taken off the altar of the Christians, cannot be consumed by the Levitical priests for they place their trust in animal sacrifice and not the sacrifice of Christ.  Without discerning in His sacrifice the presence of His body and blood they have not right to eat and cannot partake of the "food" of the Christian altar.

 

Question: What did St. Paul write concerning those who partake of the Eucharistic sacrifice without discerning the Body and the Blood and those who receive Christ in a state of sin?  See 1 Corinthians 11:27-34?

Answer: They eat and drink to their own damnation. If the Eucharist was not a genuine sacrifice of the living resurrected Christ but was only a symbol, why would Paul make such a hash pronouncement concerning those who receive Christ unworthily or without belief in His Real Presence?

 

Father Swetnam sees a direct link in this passage between the Old Covenant communion sacrifice eaten by each offerer in a communal sacrificial meal known as the "peace offering" or the toda, "thanksgiving" sacrifice, and the Christian "thanksgiving" communion sacrifice, known by the Greek work for "thanksgiving", eucharistia, our Eucharist offered up on the Christian altars across the face of the earth.  The toda sacrifice was consumed by the offer and his friends and family as a sacrifice of praise and thanks to God for rescuing the offerer from some life threatening event. The sacrifice could be offered after the event or in anticipation of such an event.  The Most Holy Eucharist is the Christian toda offered in thanks and praise for God's gift of salvation which will "save the life" [spiritually] of the believer, will preserve him from eternal death, and will grant him and others who remain faithful to the end, the gift of eternal life as Jesus promised in John 6:53-56.

 

Old Testament passages concerning the ritual of the toda communion sacrifice:

 

 

 

In the toda communion sacrifice the victim for sacrifice is offered to God along with unleavened wheat cakes [mixed with oil] and a libation of wine.  In the Eucharist, we offer unleavened wheat cakes and a libation of wine which become the victim, Jesus Christ, present on the altar through the miracle of transubstantiation.

 

In Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger's (Pope Benedict XVI) book Feast of Faith he quotes from the work of German scholar H. Gese from his book Zur biblischen Theologie [Munich 1977] concerning origin of the Lord's Supper and its connection to the Old Covenant toda communion sacrifice: "The toda is not restricted to a bloody sacrifice of flesh but also embraces the unbloody offering of bread; toda is the only form of sacrifice which is concerned with unleavened bread.  Thus in the context of toda, bread and wine acquire a special significance; the one becomes part of the sacrifice itself, the other plays a constitutive role in proclamation" [Gese, page 119].  Pope Benedict continues on pages 57-58 quoting from Gese: "The Lord's Supper is the toda of the Risen One"(122).  "In the old toda the man who had experienced deliverance provided a sacrificial animal as a sacrifice for himself and the community.  However, the Risen Lord has given himself; the sacrifice is his sacrifice, his physical, earthly existence, offered up for us....  Because of its sacredness as a sacrifice, the food of the sacred meal represented by the sacrificial bread is the body of Jesus...  The bread does not signify the body of Jesus in a metaphorical sense; in its very nature, as the substance of the meal eaten in the toda sacrifice, it is the sacrifice of Jesus" (123). Ratzinger continues: The toda of Jesus vindicates the rabbinic dictum: "In the coming (Messianic) time, all sacrifices will cease except the toda sacrifice.  This will never cease in all eternity.  All (religious) song will cease too, but the songs of toda will never cease in all eternity" (quoted from Gese, 122). Feast of Faith, pages 51-58.

 

Hebrews 13:11-12:  The bodies of the animals whose blood the high priest brings into the sanctuary as a sin offering are burned outside the camp12 Therefore, Jesus also suffered outside the gate, to consecrate the people by his own blood. 

Verses 11&12 further illustrate the inspired writer's intention to present Jesus as the sin sacrifice for the redemption of all for mankind.  He was sacrificed in the same manner that all other sin sacrifices were performed. He was selected by a priest [Caiaphas] as the perfect victim of sacrifice.  But unlike the other sacrifices which were a shadow of the good to come and which needed to be continually offered, Christ is the final sacrifice which redeems all past, present, and future, a singular event with a perpetual consequence that reaches throughout all time.  (See Hebrews 10:1-4, 10)  It is that event, existing outside the bounds of time, which we enter when God transubstantiates our communion sacrifice.  At that point we witness firsthand the redemption of creation from God's point of view from all the depths, lengths, and expanses of time.

 

In the reference to "outside the camp" in 13:11, the inspired writer of Hebrews is referring once again to the sacrificial ritual during the Feast of Atonement and is linking that annual communal sin sacrifice to Jesus' one perfect sacrifice.  He has alluded to this particular annual holy day in Hebrews 6:19; 9:7; and 10:3-4.  As you may remember from our discussion of the Feast of Atonement in Lesson Six, unlike the other sacrifices offered in the Temple and those offered on other annual holy days, the three animals sacrificed on the Feast of Atonement are not burned on the great Bronze Altar of Sacrifice in the Temple courtyard, nor does the priest eat this particular sin sacrifice as he did other sin sacrifices.  Instead the animals are consumed entirely by fire outside the walls of the city while the blood of the animals is sprinkled on the Bronze Altar, on the Golden Altar of Incense, and on the Ark of the Covenant.

Question: What comparison is made between the ritual of sacrifice on this feast day and the sacrifice of Jesus of Nazareth?

Answer: Jesus also "suffered outside the gate" or the camp that is Jerusalem, offered up entirely on the altar of the Cross for the collective sins of mankind just as the animals offered as a communal sin sacrifice for the old covenant people.  The blood of the sacrificed animals was sprinkled on the altars to expiate for the sins of the people just as Jesus' blood was shed on the altar of the Cross to expiate for the sins of mankind.

 

Hebrews 13:13 calls for Christians to go to him "outside the camp" 13 Let us then go to him outside the camp, bearing he reproach that he bore.

In the Exodus journey the people camped around the Sanctuary.  Wherever the Sanctuary was located that site was the "camp of God."  When the Temple was established in Jerusalem, Jerusalem became the "camp of God."

Question:  What does the inspired writer mean when he tells Christians that they must go to him outside the camp, bearing the reproach that he bore?

Answer: The celebration of the sacrifice is no longer confined to Jerusalem, Christians are commanded by Jesus in Matthew 28:19-20 to go to the ends of the earth baptizing in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  Christians, in imitation of Christ, in the spread of the Gospel of Jesus Christ must go, bearing he reproach that he bore to spread the message of eternal life, taking up our individual crosses and following Him.

 

14 For here we have no lasting city, but we seek the one that is to come.  15 Through him [then] let us continually offer God a sacrifice of praise, that is, the fruit of lips that confess his name.  16 Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have; God is pleased by sacrifices of that kind.  17 Obey your leaders and defer to them, for they keep watch over you and will have to give an account, that they may fulfill their task with joy and not with sorrow, for that would be of no advantage to you. 

Question: What city has been the most important city on earth to Jews and was also important to Jewish-Christians in the first century of Christianity?  What city is the inspired writer referring to?

Answer: Jerusalem.  Jewish-Christians should not be focused on the earthly Jerusalem but on the heavenly Jerusalem [Hebrews 12:22-24] in which they are citizens.  St. Augustine summed up the doctrine in which the citizens of the New Jerusalem come to participate in Christ's sacrifice which we celebrate in the Eucharist: This wholly redeemed city, the assembly and society of the saints, is offered to God as a universal sacrifice by the high priest who in the form of a slave went so far as to offer himself for us in his Passion, to make us the Body of so great a head...Such is the sacrifice of Christians: "we who are many are one Body in Christ."  The Church continues to reproduce this sacrifice in the sacrament of the altar so well-known to believers wherein it is evident to them that in what she offers she herself is offered. Augustine, De civitate Dei, 10.6

 

13: 15 Through him [then] let us continually offer God a sacrifice of praise, that is, the fruit of lips that confess his name.  A sacrifice of praise could be understood [for the Old Covenant people] as a communion sacrifice of an animal and also a verbal offering of praise to God as in Psalm 50:14, 23; 51:15-17; 69:30-31; and 107:22.  Christians offer an unbloody sacrifice in the on-going sacrifice of the Lamb of God but also a sacrifice of themselves and a sacrifice of praise from their lips to God in worship which the faithful unite to Christ's sacrifice.  This is praise that is the fruit of lips that confess his name in receiving Christ in the toda sacrifice of the Eucharist.  The expression "fruit of lips" is used in Hosea 14:2 [14:3 in LXX] for the praise that comes from the lips of man when God removed his sins.  In this case, it is a response to the sanctification that comes from Jesus' death and resurrection and the life that comes from consuming Jesus' Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity in the Eucharist, through which venial sins are forgiven [CCC 893; 1393-94; 1524; 1846] and which preserves the faithful from future mortal sins [CCC# 1395] . 

 

 

Question: What does it mean to "confess His name"?

Answer: It means to profess belief in Jesus Christ' in everything He taught and everything He professed to be.  St. Peter said in Acts 2:38: Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit; and also in Acts 4:12: There is no salvation through anyone else, nor is there any other name under heaven given to the human race by which we are to be saved.

 

16 Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have; God is pleased by sacrifices of that kind.  17 Obey your leaders and defer to them, for they keep watch over you and will have to give an account, that they may fulfill their task with joy and not with sorrow, for that would be of no advantage to you. 

Here is another mention of sacrifice in the sacrifice of self in doing good works, followed by a command to be obedient the leaders of the community.  The Christian authors of the first catechism, known as the Didache and which was written sometime between 50 and 120AD advised: My child, day and night "you should remember him who preaches God's word to you," and honor him as you would the Lord.  For where the Lord's nature is discussed, there the Lord is.  Every day you should seek the company of saints to enjoy their refreshing conversation.  You must not start a schism but reconcile those at strife.  Didache 4.1.3

 

Question: The inspired writer has two commands concerning the Church leadership.  What are they?  How are these two ways of submission different?  Why are Christians to be obedient in this way and how should we perform our acts of obedience?

Answer: Christians are commanded to "obey" and to "defer". To obey is to take direction from leaders but to defer means even if you disagree for some reason that you yield to the wisdom the hierarchy of the Church.  The Church is responsible for the health of our souls.  We need to trust in her wisdom to make the right decisions because those who serve her in positions of leadership will be held accountable for the decisions they make. We are to respond in joyful obedience, this is a "good work" that pleases God.

 

Please read Hebrews 13:18-21: Final Exhortation and Request for Prayer

18 Pray for us, for we are confident that we have a clear conscience, wishing to act rightly in every respect.  19 I especially ask for your prayers that I may be restored to you very soon.  20 May the God of peace, who brought up from the dead the great shepherd of the sheep by the blood of the eternal covenant, Jesus our Lord, 21 furnish you with all that is good, that you may do his will.  May he carry out in you what is pleasing to him through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory forever [and ever]. Amen.

Question: What is the inspired writer's request of his audience?

Answer: The inspired writer, in his closing remarks, petitions his audience to pray for the leaders of the Church collective and for him personally.   It is his hope that their prayers will allow him to return to them soon.  This intention can be understood in two ways:

1.      He is with them now and will be leaving but hopes to return soon

2.      He is absent from them and hopes to come to them soon.

 

He in turn offers up a prayer for them, petitioning God to furnish them with all they need to remain faithful and to live to fulfill God's will for their lives.  These last two verses contain both a benediction [Hebrews 13:20-21a] and a doxology [Hebrews 13:21b]. 

Question: What is the difference?

Answer: A benediction is the act of evoking a blessing from the Lord [from the Latin benediction = bene, well and volens/ volentis = to will or to wish].   A doxology is a short prayer [or hymn] giving glory to God [from the Greek doxologia, = a praising; from doxa, praise, glory, and lego, to speak].

 

Question: In his prayer for them what two great events does he refer to in salvation history?  See Hebrews 13:20.

Answer: The Resurrection of Jesus Christ and the New Covenant established in the blood of He who is both eternal Lamb and eternal Shepherd/High Priest.

 

20 May the God of peace, who brought up from the dead the great shepherd of the sheep by the blood of the eternal covenant, Jesus our Lord, 21 furnish you with all that is good, that you may do his will.  This benediction resembles St. Paul's benedictions in Romans 15:33; 16:20; 2 Corinthians 13:11; Philippians 4:9; 1 Thessalonians 5:23.  "Peace" does not necessarily refer to an absence of strife for the Christian but to the outcome of living God's plan for their lives.  In Romans 16:20 St. Paul writes in his benediction: ..the God of peace will quickly crush Satan under your feet. The grace of our Lord Jesus be with you.  And in the covenant formation with Phinehas in Numbers 25:6-13, the young high priest kills a covenant violator and God makes a "covenant of peace" with him.  Peace is the result of the victory through conflict with evil, not the absence of conflict.  The benediction is that God will bring peace to the souls of the faithful who work to fulfill God's plan for their lives by submitting to His will.

 

It is difficult to know if these verses end the theological teaching of the letter.  Father Swetnam supports the position that this section is an original part of the whole discourse since the sacrificial death of Jesus is the center focus of chapter 13 and to close the letter with a reference to His sacrificial death seems to complete the main theme of the chapter.  Then too, in mentioning Jesus role as the "Great Shepherd" or priest of the "sheep" the people of the New Covenant who offers His "blood of the eternal covenant" ties in with the central theme of the entire letter, Jesus role as eternal High Priest of the eternal Covenant eternally offering His sacrifice in the heavenly Sanctuary.

 

The "Amen" at the end of verse 21 is a fitting conclusion to the discourse.  Amen is a Hebrew word that is an acrostic formed from the first letters of three Hebrew words:  "El meleck Ne'eman" which means "God is a trustworthy king" [Talmud; Shabbat 1196].  Coupled with the imagery of Jesus as the Shepherd-priest of the heavenly Sanctuary the acrostic "amen" now points to His other role, which was also major theme of the letter, Jesus the Davidic heir, the Priest-King of the heavenly Sanctuary.

 

Hebrews 13:22-23: Postscript: Blessing and Greetings

22 Brothers, I ask you to bear with this message of encouragement, for I have written to you rather briefly.  23 I must let you know that our brother Timothy has been set free.  If he comes soon, I shall see you together with him.  24 Greetings to all your leaders and to all the holy ones.  Those from Italy send you greetings.  25 Grace be with all of you.

 

The letter itself does not seem brief, especially when compared to Paul's other letters most of which, with the exception of the Letter to the Romans, are shorter; however, he may be referring to this inscription, which is brief.  The phrase "Brothers I ask you" also translated "I urge you brothers" appears in several of St. Paul's letters [see Romans 15:30; 16:17; 1 Corinthians 16:15] in which he issues an appeal to those who are reading, or being read, his letter.  He asks those who receive his message or parakelesis/ exhortation to be encouraged by its message.  The term paraklesis was used for Christian preaching both in public [see 1 Thessalonians 2:3] and within the congregation [see 2 Corinthians 1:3-7], and as an admonition [see Acts 15:31].  Such exhortations were intended to encourage the faithful to persevere in time of trial and to remain faithful. 

 

Question: In Hebrews 13:23 he refers to St. Timothy. Who was Timothy and what was his association with St. Paul?

Answer: Timothy was Paul's younger missionary associate.  He was a native of Lystra and the son of a Greek father and a Jewish-Christian mother named Eunice and a Jewish- Christian grandmother named Lois.  Timothy joined Paul on his second missionary journey when Paul passed through Lystra.  Timothy was sent on a mission to Macedonia with Erastus prior to Paul's third missionary journey in Acts 19:22 but joined Paul and returned with him at the end of the third missionary effort [Acts 20:4].  St. Paul was very fond of this younger brother in the faith and mentions him frequently in his letters [2 Corinthians 1:1; Philippians 1:1; Colossians 1:1; 1 Thessalonians 1:1; 2 Thessalonians 1:1; Philemon 1; and in Romans 16:21]. Paul entrusted Timothy with several important missions.  Timothy was sent to Corinth to deal with the problems facing that faith community [1 Corinthians 4:17], and was an important part of the missionary effort there [2 Corinthians 1:19].  He was also sent by Paul to Thessalonica to investigate the conditions of the Christians living there [1 Thessalonians 3:2, 6].  It is obvious that Timothy was prepared to suffer for his faith.  He is mentioned as a companion in Paul's imprisonments and this letter includes the welcomed news that Timothy has been released from prison and will, the inspired writer hopes, soon be joining him, at which time they both plan a visit to the community who has received the letter.  This mention of Timothy is another piece of evidence which links this letter to the great St. Paul.  Timothy was and intimate and trusted spiritual son and is mentioned more than any other person in Paul's letters.

 

Hebrews 13:24 24 Greetings to all your leaders and to all the holy ones.  Those from Italy send you greetings.  25 Grace be with all of you.

The inspired writer greets the leaders, the priests of the community and all the faithful.  "Those from Italy" can be taken two ways:

  1. referring to Roman Christians who are traveling with the inspired writer.
  2. referring to Roman Christians who are still in Italy but who asked in another letter to be remembered to those they know in the congregation.

 

St. Paul had a number of Roman Christians who were his companions; among them Saints Aquila and Priscilla who had befriended Paul and who settled in Corinth and St. Clement, the Roman Christian who befriended Paul when he was imprisoned in Rome and who is believed to be the Clement who became the 4th Pope after St. Peter [Philippians 4:3].

 

Grace be with all of you is a common closing for Paul's letters [Philippians 4:23; Colossians 4:18; 1 Thessalonians 5:28; 2 Thessalonians 3:18; 1 Timothy 6:21; 2 Timothy 4:22; Titus 3:15].

 

The Letter of Hebrews and the Canon of the Roman Mass

 

In Father Swetnam's article "A Liturgical Approach to Hebrews," he makes several insightful connections between the structure of Hebrews chapter 13, the mention of the "sacrifice of praise" in 13:15 and the liturgy of the "sacrifice of praise" –sacrificium laudis found in the Roman Mass.  It is a term, Fr. Swetnam points out, which occurs in the remembrance of the living: Remember, Lord, your people.  Remember all of us gathered here before you.  You know how firmly we believe in you and dedicate ourselves to you. We offer you this sacrifice of praise for ourselves and those who are dear to us.  We pray to you, our living and true God, for our well-being and redemption. [Daily Roman Missal].

 

Fr. Swetnam writes: The use of the phrase "sacrifice of praise" in the heart of the Latin Rite Mass would seem to indicate that the Mass was considered such a sacrifice. [..].  For the structure of chapter 13.... seems to mirror the basic structure of the Latin Rite Mass: He then provides an outline of the similarities between Hebrews chapter 13 and the structure of the Mass which I have reformatted in this chart:

 

Verses 1-5a

Mirror the examination of conscience which is part of the beginning of every Latin Mass

Verses 5b-6

Mirror the second main part of the Mass, the readings from Scripture

Verses 7-17

Mirror the central, sacrificial part of the Mass

Verses 18-19

Mirror the "Remembrance of the Living" in which the phrase sacrificium laudis occurs, as cited above

Verses 20-21

Mirror the final blessing given by the priest at each Mass

Swetnam, page 178-9

 

There is a problem with Fr. Swetnam's outline, however, because of verses 18-19 does not include the phrase "sacrifice of praise", that phrase appears in verse 15.  His theory has merit but perhaps this is a better depiction of the link between chapter 13 and the Mass:

 

Hebrews Chapter 13

The Mass

Verses 1-5a: Appeal to examine Christian walk of faith

The examination of conscience in the Penitential rite

Verses 5b-6: Scripture quotations

Liturgy of the Word

Verses 7-9a: Moral admonitions

The homily

Verses 9b-19:  The "food", the sacrifice of Christ, the blood, the altar, the "sacrifice of praise"

Liturgy of the Eucharist: the sacrifice; Remembrance of the Living [phrase "sacrifice of praise"]

Verses 20-21:Benediction and blessing

Concluding rites: benediction and blessing

Michal Hunt, Copyright © 2007 Agape Bible Study. Permissions All Rights Reserved.

 

It is possible that the inspired writer intentionally structured Hebrews chapter 13 to reflect the structure of the Eucharistic celebration of the risen Savior in the early Church.  For a description of the celebration of the Eucharist in the 2nd century AD see the end of this lesson.

 

For Catholics to merely say that Jesus is "made present" in the sacrifice of the Most Holy Eucharist seems an inadequate description of the supernatural event that takes place on every Catholic altar across the face of the earth every hour of every day.  In that sacred event the offering of the Body and Blood of our Lord in the Last Supper, the sacrifice of Calvary, and also the miracle of Transubstantiation taking place on altars in every Catholic Church when what began as gifts of bread and wine become the Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity of our Savior and Lord, converge into one event which is not bound by time but is instead perpetuated as an eternal "now." 

 

It is almost impossible for the human mind to grasp the concept that the Consecration during the Eucharistic liturgy today is the same Consecration that occurs at every other divine Eucharistic event from 30AD to somewhere in the world at this very second.  It is the same divine "food" of the glorified risen Christ on every Catholic altar as the first Consecration at the Last Supper when Jesus our High Priest held Himself in His own hands and offered His Body and Blood to His disciples, and it is the same whole and complete sacrificial Lamb of God obtained for us by Christ's willing surrender on the altar of the Cross that is continually offered in the eternal Sanctuary in heaven [Hebrews 8:3; 9:12; Revelation 5:6].  This is the sacrificial Body and Blood of our Lord that was offered for us on Calvary which is somehow mystically but substantially present to us today, because Christ's sacrificial death was a once and for all, out-of-time and space event.  His self-sacrifice is eternally offered to redeem all men and women, those who patiently waited for what was promised but not received prior to the Incarnation [Hebrews 11:39-40; 1 Peter 1:10-12; 3:18-20], those who willingly received Christ's Gospel of salvation during His three year ministry, and those to whom the gift of salvation has been offered since His Ascension as He continues His service as High Priest of the new covenantal order offering His sacrifice in the heavenly Sanctuary.  What seemed to be a singular historical event is instead a reality outside the existence of time and space as we know it, with God there is no past, present, and future [Hebrews 13:8].  The event of the self-immolation of God the Son becomes a reality perpetually present as time itself is saturated with the precious Blood of the event which transforms mankind, and all creation, including the span of human events which we call "time," making His sacrifice contemporary in every human generation. 

 

But was the radical impact of the Christ event ever revealed or imagined by the chosen people of the Old Covenant?   The answer is yes. God through His holy prophets and through the rituals of the Sinai Covenant prepared His covenant family for this climatic event.  Jewish oral tradition even foretold the transformation of the multiple ritual bloody animal sacrifices of the Old Covenant in the prophecy that all sacrifices of the Sinai Covenant would cease and only the communion sacrifice of bread and wine in the toda sacrifice would remain when the promised Messiah came [Feast of Faith, Ratzinger, page 58; Leviticus 3:1-17; 7:11-15 (in some translations 7:1-5); 19:5-8; 22:21-30; Numbers 15:7-10]. This prophecy was fulfilled in Jesus the Messiah who removed all need for animal sacrifice as a remedy for sin by His victory over sin and death on the altar of the Cross.  And so as mandated by God the Father through Scripture, covenant formation and tradition, with the perfect remedy for sin administered by the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world [John 1:29], the New Covenant people of God through the power of Christian baptism administered by the Church established by Jesus Christ, can experience redemption through the power of the blood of Jesus Christ and enter into the communion sacrifice of the New Covenant people of God, an unbloody sacrifice which is "a sacrifice of praise" in thanks and remembrance of what God has done for His covenant children through Christ Jesus.  In giving thanks we offer our gifts of bread and wine and God the Father in turn sends forth His Spirit to enact the miracle of Transubstantiation [CCC# 1376], bringing past, present, and future into focus like a triple lens on the Christ event at Calvary.  In that eternal moment God the Holy Spirit transforms our communion sacrifice, our toda, into the one perfect and complete sacrifice offered for the sins of mankind at the hill of Golgotha, that we may consume the perfect Sacrificial Lamb and receive the promise of eternal life [John 6:53-56; Luke 22:19-20].   In that moment the faithful across the face of the earth unite the sacrifice of their lives to Christ [Romans 12:1] and receive Him Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity in the Eucharistic experience.  To receive Christ as our "food" and be delivered from sin and death is a deliverance that was prefigured on the night of the first Passover in Egypt, when the blood of the sacrificed lamb redeemed the firstborn of Israel.  As death "passed over" them so too, through the precious blood of Christ, does the consequences of death wrought by sin "pass over" each man, woman, and child who is redeemed by the blood of the Lamb.  Thus the Sacrifice that seems two thousand years past is "made present" to us through the divine mystery and miracle of transubstantiation. 

 

When we receive the Eucharistic bread and wine which has become the glorified Body and Blood of the Savior, we the faithful are no longer inside time but we momentarily enter an existence without time.  The division between heaven and earth becomes blurred when the voices of angels and saints join with our voices in singing the Sanctus, the acclamation of praise to the Triune God [Isaiah 6:3; Revelation 4:8]'and as we process forward to receive communion, like St. John in Revelation chapters 4-6, we find ourselves standing in the presence of the Living God, in the midst of the heavenly liturgy, bearing witness to the victory of Jesus Christ in whom time as we know it is contained within His redeeming unbloody sacrifice.  Hallelujah!  Amen!

Michal Hunt, on the Feast of St. Athanasius, May 2007

 

Question for group discussion:

Circa 155AD St. Justin Martyr described the celebration of the Eucharist in a letter to the Roman Emperor Antonius Pius.  Compare St. Justin's description of the Mass with the celebration today; what elements do you recognize?

On the day we call the day of the sun, all who dwell in the city or country gather in the same place.  The memoirs of the apostles and the writings of the prophets are read, as much as time permits.  When the reader has finished, he who presides over those gathered admonishes and challenges them to imitate these beautiful things.  Then we all rise together and offer prayers for ourselves and for all others, wherever they may be, so that we may be found righteous by our life and actions, and faithful to the commandments, so as to obtain eternal salvation.  When the prayers are concluded we exchange the kiss.  Then someone brings bread and a cup of water and wine mixed together to him who presides over the brethren.  He takes them and offers praise and glory to the Father of the universe, through the name of the Son and of the Holy Spirit and for a considerable time he gives thanks (in Greek: eucharistian) that we have been judged worthy of these gifts.  When he has concluded the prayers and thanksgivings, all present give voice to an acclamation by saying: "Amen."  When he who presides has given thanks and the people have responded, those whom we call deacons give to those present the "eucharisted" bread, wine and water and take them to those who are absent. [CCC# 1345].

 

Catechism references for this lesson:

Hebrews 13:3

2447*

13:15

1330

13:4

1639-42; 2348-2350; 2364-65

13:17

1269

13:10

1182*

13:20

632*

13:14

2796*

 

 

 

Resources used in this lesson:

  1. The Navarre Bible: Hebrews, Four Courts Press, 1991.
  2. Commentary on the Epistle to the Hebrews, Thomas Aquinas, St. Augustine's Press, South Bend, Indiana 2006
  3. Hebrews, St. John Chrysostom, Nicene and Post Nicene Fathers, first series, Hendrickson Publishers, 1995.
  4. Kinship by Covenant: A Biblical Theological Study of Covenant Types and Texts in the Old and New Testaments, Dr. Scott Hahn
  5. The Anchor Bible Commentary: To the Hebrews, George Wesley Buchanan, Doubleday, New York, 1972.
  6. The Anchor Bible Commentary: Hebrews, Craig R. Koester, Doubleday, New York, 2001.
  7. Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture: Hebrews, [from the Panarion by Bishop Epiphanius of Salamis; on Melchizedek, pages 98-100], InterVarsity Press
  8. Feast of Faith, Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger
  9. The Catechism of the Catholic Church
  10. Catholic Dictionary
  11. Church History, Father Laux
  12. Our Priest is Christ: The Doctrine of the Epistle to the Hebrews, Fr. Alfred Vanhoye
  13. The Works of Josephus, Flavius Josephus
  14. The Works of Philo of Alexandria
  15. Letter and Spirit, Volume 2; "A Liturgical Approach to Hebrews", Father James Swetnam, S.J., pages 157-173; St. Paul Center for Biblical Theology, 2006.

Michal Hunt, Copyright © 2008 Agape Bible Study. Permissions All Rights Reserved.