22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time – Coming to Know Jesus

The poor invited to the feast, Jesus Mafa,
From Art in the Christian Tradition, a project of the Vanderbilt Divinity Library
Original source: http://www.librairie-emmanuel.fr

“Rather, when you hold a banquet,
invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind;
blessed indeed will you be because of their inability to repay you.
For you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.”
(Luke 14:13–14)

Fr. Smith’s Commentary on the Second Reading
Twenty-Second Sunday in Ordinary Time
Hebrews 12:18–19, 22–24a
August 28, 2022

The author of the Letter to the Hebrews set himself a delicate task. He wrote to educated Christians who were born Jews, thus Hebrews. They have become discouraged waiting for Jesus’ return to initiate the kingdom of God in its fullness. They are also now subject to the Roman law to offer sacrifice to the emperor from which Jews were exempted. The author needed to show them that Jesus was all powerful, would return, and that waiting for him was the best thing a Jew could do. We conclude today our examination of Chapter 12 with another reason for trusting in Jesus.

He will compare today the two covenants, one from Moses given on Mt. Sinai and the other with Jesus on Mt. Zion. He will emphasize the “approach.” This is a word he has used many times. To quote just one instance:

Let us therefore approach the throne of grace with boldness,
so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.
(Heb 4:16)

Approach means coming near to worship. Hebrew-born Christians do not approach Mt. Sinai, that is that they do not worship under the old covenant. They respect the old covenant and need to understand it to practice their faith, but they worship now through Jesus. It is also key that he says that you have approached Mt. Zion and are worshiping there now.

The author makes this clear by making seven observations with each mountain.

The approach to Mt. Sinai reflects the story of Moses in the desert from Exodus 19 and 20 and the corresponding sections of Deuteronomy.

You have not approached that which could be /touched/
and a blazing fire and gloomy /darkness/
and storm and a trumpet blast and a /voice/
speaking words such that those who heard begged
that no message be further addressed to them

(Heb 12:18–19)

Touched: The most basic and obvious. This is a physical place and all that will be observed is likewise physical. Mt. Zion is the new and spiritual Jerusalem

Blazing fire: The LORD does not reveal his true being but is present in fire.

Mount Sinai was completely enveloped in smoke,
because the LORD had come down upon it in fire.
The smoke rose from it as though from a kiln.

(Ex 19:18)

Gloom, darkness, and storm: These are further aspects of God’s presence on Mt. Sinai. They are all connected to the cloud and blazing fire and are added to intensify the sense of dread and terror.

On the morning of the third day there was thunder and lightning,
as well as a thick cloud on the mountain,
and a blast of a trumpet so loud
that all the people who were in the camp trembled.

(Ex 19:16)

Trumpet blast and voice – These were connected:

As the blast of the trumpet grew louder and louder,
Moses would speak and God would answer him in thunder

(Ex 19:18–19)

The effect was terrifying and received in awe and fear:

you speak to us, and we will listen;
but do not let God speak to us, or we will die.”
Moses said to the people, “Do not be afraid;
for God has come only to test you
and to put the fear of him upon you
so that you do not sin.”

(Ex 20:19–20)

This was a real and powerful experience of the LORD. It was not in any way to be disparaged but has been transformed by Jesus.

After two verses which are of a very technical nature and not used in our reading. The author writes.

No, you have approached
Mount Zion and the city of the living God,
the heavenly Jerusalem, and
countless angels in festal gathering,
and the assembly of the firstborn enrolled in heaven,
and God the judge of all,
and the spirits of the just made perfect,
and Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant,
and the sprinkled blood that speaks more eloquently than that of Abel.

(Heb 12:22–24)

This too has seven important phrases:

Mount Zion and the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem. Mt. Zion is the high point in Jerusalem where the temple is built. It is where God lives on earth

On the holy mount stands the city he founded;
the LORD loves the gates of Zion
more than all the dwellings of Jacob.

(Ps 87:1–2)

And it is where the kingdom will be centered, thus heavenly

Then the moon will be abashed,
and the sun ashamed;
for the LORD of hosts will reign
on Mount Zion and in Jerusalem,
and before his elders he will manifest his glory.

(Is 24:23)

Countless (literally, “myriads of”) angels in festal gathering. Angels are most often seen as God’s messengers, but they are also as here liturgical ministers leading the worship of the Lord in his court.

A thousand thousands served him,
and ten thousand times ten thousand stood attending him

(Da 7:10)

The assembly (ekklēsia, literally, “church”) of the firstborn enrolled in heaven. We approach—worship—the Lord as a community, the church, and have been enrolled that is accepted by the Lord in doing so. But all as first born. In the desert Moses consecrated the firstborn to God. (Ex 13:2) Remember Jesus in Luke must be bought back from the LORD. (Luke 2:23) We are now all first born and can all worship God as the chosen. We thus join the angels in the worship that all Jews would have seen as most authentic and important.

God the judge of all: Having been given firstborn status we are happy that the judge of all is the LORD.

The spirits of the just made perfect: This includes all the righteous. The author is clear that the “Clouds of witnesses” who died before the death and resurrection of Jesus were also perfected by him and would share the fate of the Saints.

All of these died in faith without having received the promises,
but from a distance they saw and greeted them.
They confessed that they were strangers and foreigners on the earth

(Heb 11:13)

Jesus Jesus is the mediator of the new covenant. Covenants are formed by shedding blood which Jesus has done for us. Because of this he is the place and means of worship. The author has been developing this from the beginning of the letter.

It was fitting that God,
for whom and through whom all things exist,
in bringing many children to glory,
should make the pioneer of their salvation
perfect through sufferings.

(Heb 2:10)

The sprinkled blood: In ritual sacrifice the animal must not only be slaughtered but the Blood shared with, sprinkled over, the people, The author has previously referred to this:

For when every commandment had been told to all the people
by Moses in accordance with the law,
he took the blood of calves and goats,
with water and scarlet wool and hyssop,
and sprinkled both the scroll itself
and all the people, saying,
“This is the blood of the covenant
that God has ordained for you.”

(Heb 9:19–20)

He contrasts this with the blood of Abel. Abel’s blood cried out for vengeance; Jesus’ blood brings reconciliation.

The chapter continues a few verses further but only clarified this insight. Although the author has written from and to a specific situation, which is not immediately compelling to us, his ultimate advice is still relevant. If we celebrate the sacrifice of the Mass with Jesus and our sisters and brothers with sincerity and conviction, in time, we will not believe that Jesus is LORD, we will know he is.