‘For he had great possessions’, (detail)
George Frederic Watts, 1894, Tate Gallery
(About this Image)
Jesus, looking at him, loved him
and said to him,
“You are lacking in one thing.
Go, sell what you have,
and give to the poor
and you will have treasure in heaven;
then come, follow me.”
At that statement his face fell,
and he went away sad,
for he had many possessions.
Fr. Smith’s Commentary on the Second Reading
Twenty-Eighth Sunday in Ordinary Time
October 10, 2021
Last week we began our examination of the Letter to the Hebrews. The quality of its language reveals a highly educated person, his familiarity with Jewish scripture and folklore, a born Jew. The urgency of his address shows a concern that his readers are under some form of persecution and that many of them may return to Judaism. Today, he will remind them whose opinion ultimately matters.
He writes in very cultured Greek, but he employs very Jewish techniques. Last week’s section was an interpretation of Psalm 8. This week he again returns to the Psalms with the conclusion of a long and quite profound discussion of Psalm 95 most especially:
Do not harden your hearts, as at Meribah,
as on the day at Massah in the wilderness,
when your ancestors tested me,
and put me to the proof, though they had seen my work.
For forty years I loathed that generation
and said, “They are a people whose hearts go astray,
and they do not regard my ways.”
Therefore in my anger I swore,
“They shall not enter my rest.”
This Psalm refers to the time when although the LORD had freed them from slavery in Egypt, they rejected his rule almost immediately after their liberation. As they had just been the beneficiary of a great miracle, they showed themselves “hard of heart” that is unable to hear the word of God. The forty years refer to the time the Jewish people wandered in the desert. They do not receive their rest—entrance into the promised land—until all but two have died and the new generation has learned to hear the word.
The author of Hebrews takes another step. Rest is more than a geographical place or political reality but living in right relation with God.
At the beginning of his letter, he writes:
Long ago God spoke to our ancestors
in many and various ways by the prophets,
but in these last days he has spoken to us by a Son,
whom he appointed heir of all things,
through whom he also created the worlds.
He is the reflection of God’s glory
and the exact imprint of God’s very being,
and he sustains all things by his powerful word.
When he had made purification for sins,
he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high,
having become as much superior to angels
as the name he has inherited is more excellent than theirs.
This connection was once best obtained through Judaism—note reference to angels—but now it is through Jesus. He is more than the means of speaking the Word he is the word who indeed created the world.
The line immediately before today’s passage reads:
Therefore, let us strive to enter into that rest,
so that no one may fall after the same example of disobedience.
We begin today with “indeed”—therefore living a life of obedience which will bring us to God’s rest is possible through the Word of God who is Jesus.
For this author this is the fulfillment of the Jewish Scriptures:
Indeed, the word of God is living and effective,
sharper than any two-edged sword,
penetrating even between soul and spirit,
joints and marrow,
and able to discern reflections and thoughts of the heart.
It is living, here meaning at very least contemporary. Many times, the author will remind he people that they can hear the voice of God and choose him. For example:
Today, if you hear his voice,
do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion,
as on the day of testing in the wilderness
Again, from the Scriptures they knew what effective meant:
For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven,
and do not return there until they have watered the earth,
making it bring forth and sprout,
giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater,
11 so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth;
it shall not return to me empty,
but it shall accomplish that which I purpose,
and succeed in the thing for which I sent it.
Because a sword could eviscerate
it was a good symbol for getting at truth.
He made my mouth like a sharp sword,
in the shadow of his hand he hid me;
he made me a polished arrow,
in his quiver he hid me away.
Let the high praises of God be in their throats
and two-edged swords in their hands
Remember in Luke, Simeon says to Mary: “and you yourself a sword will pierce, so that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed.”
In the author’s anthropology, “soul” means that which is human and “Spirit” that which is connected to God. Joints and marrow are the deepest part of the body. Jesus, the word of God, goes to the very core of our being and reveals all.
The human heart can be a dark place, but we cannot hide from God and thus we cannot hide from Jesus:
The heart is devious above all else;
it is perverse—
who can understand it?
I the LORD test the mind
and search the heart,
to give to all according to their ways,
according to the fruit of their doings
O LORD, you have searched me and known me.
You know when I sit down and when I rise up;
you discern my thoughts from far away.
No creature is concealed from him,
but everything is naked and exposed
to the eyes of him
to whom we must render an account.
The Old Testament has many times when humans tried to escape from God, most famously:
They heard the sound of the LORD God
walking in the garden
at the time of the evening breeze,
and the man and his wife hid themselves
from the presence of the LORD God
among the trees of the garden.
Yet it is impossible. A line from 1st Enoch, a book that did not make it into the canon but would have been known to the author’s audience is on target:
Everything is naked and open before your sight,
and you see everything;
and there is nothing which can hide itself from you
(1 Enoch 1:5)
We need to remember that many of his readers might have been considering returning to Judaism. The author is telling them that it is Jesus to whom they will render an account and that he knows everything about them.
We might find this a terrifying thought, yet I find it comforting. He purified us of our sins by his death on the cross and this is love beyond our ability to understand. Here is the wonder: Jesus knows us completely and loves us totally.