Pastor’s Blog – 10/18/2015
- Job 38:1-7 (34-41)
- Psalm 104:1-9, 24, 35c
- Hebrews 5:1-10
- Mark 10:35-45
The greatest disease in the West today is not TB or leprosy; it is being unwanted, unloved, and uncared for. We can cure physical diseases with medicine, but the only cure for loneliness, despair, and hopelessness is love. There are many in the world who are dying for a piece of bread but there are many more dying for a little love. The poverty in the West is a different kind of poverty – it is not only a poverty of loneliness but also of spirituality. There’s a hunger for love, as there is a hunger for God.
The book of Hebrews is one that has been shrouded in mystery for quite a long time. As far as authorship is concerned even the earliest theologians were at a loss about who wrote this text. Origen is known to have said of it “as far as who wrote [Hebrews], only God knows.” What we can tell about the author is that they were someone who was close to Paul. This person wrote with a great amount of knowledge about Jewish religious costumes and they knew the sacred Hebrew writings very well.
The intended audience of Hebrews were the residents of modern day Israel/Palestine. The letter appears to be in part a warning to the folks back home that the temple is going to fall. From this bit of information we can know that the text was probably written in either 61-62 A.D. At this time the Roman/Jewish wars were underway. We know that the Roman Empire was the victor of these wars and the temple was indeed destroyed.
Among progressive theologians this text stirs a lot of unease about Judeo/Christian relations. Much of the theology contained here seems to point toward how much better the Christ figure (Christianity) is than the temple (Judaism). For Christians that is wonderful but for the Jewish folks that we know and love and have in our lives today that sort of thinking can come off as a bit pretentious. It can sound like we are saying that your temple is weak and earthly and our savior is better than your high priests. Christ lasts forever. Nah nah na boo boo!
However, if you think of the text in real time under the circumstances of the empire one can see a different story. Perhaps the text is simply attempting to grapple with yet another set back in Jewish history. These are a people that had overcome much adversity and trial in order to get to the land that is modern day Israel and Palestine. The author knows that the folks back home are about to, once again, face the wrath of another invading people that wants total control of their prized land. Perhaps the Judeo/Christian offers are simply welcoming in the Jewish people into a new temple, a temple that they think cannot be destroyed. Just as churches open their doors for folks that have no other place to go and welcome them in with open arms. Has this church not done the same?
One thing that I can not overlook is the tradition Hebrew terminology apparent in the text. Using the visual of high priest is something that the people of Israel and Palestine would relate. The Order of Melchizedek is an idea that comes from Torah. This term means King Righteousness and proclaims the notion of righteousness as king. The authors are clearly referring to the messianic age that is being ushered in by the teachings and wisdom of rabbi Joshua bar Joseph, the same man that we know as Jesus the Christ.
This corresponds with what we know about Christ from the story we speak in Advent every year. We know that Christ was the unsuspected king. Christ was a Jewish individual born in a manger with swine, a new low as far as Jewish custom is concerned. Christ is the poster boy for the lower income, marginalized folks of Jewish society. We know that Christ maintains the role of the unsuspected savior throughout the rest of his testimony in life.
In that same image we come to understand something then about what is righteous. Righteous is not aligned with the overly gaudy, high horsed member of the religious rites in their flashy temples of the time period. Rather it is with those that are fringe citizens; those living on the margins of society. In the Hebrews text, amidst its talk of the new high priest, we are confronted with this reality. We are asked to rethink our understanding of righteous and we are forced to challenge what we know about hierarchy. Instead of thinking in terms of a ruler that will stand tall, over the people like the temple, only to be brought down one day, we are asked to think in terms of ideas which last forever. We are asked to ponder the meaning of what is truly righteous behavior.
This is not so different from the radical reversal and not so far from real live examples in our own society. The United States for example is founded under the idea of movement within its political system. We were one of the first nations to cry death unto tyranny and instead advocate for a system in which leadership is changed every 4 to 8 years. This is a system in which we allow people with certain ideas to come in a take office and run government systems for a short period of time and then we reelect folks with knew ideas. Perhaps these new ideas are counter to the previous elected leadership and perhaps they are newly evolved ideas based upon previous experiences of the former leadership. It is system that seeks to decentralize power from any one person or group of people with similar interests.
Over time businesses have come to decentralize their business models taking hierarchy out of their basic functioning and favoring leadership boards that are spread out and multi-ethnic allowing for fluid cultural reflection in business practice and advertisement. You see companies like Google and Amazon and Facebook doing these things in particular, challenging the models of how we did business formerly. These are businesses that are allowing culture of ideas to flourish through increasingly diverse and flat leadership models that encourages decision makers across the globe rather than having one highly centralized board of leaders from one place making all the big policies. By allowing these ideas to flourish the company can better represent itself to on increasingly global market of people.
Another alignment with raising up idea in this way I see in reflection of the Jewish population. I cannot help but to notice that while Judaism may or may not have had a land to call its home over its troubled history, Judaism has always persisted. The same is true for Christianity. While empires (Constantine, the Holy Roman Empire, Alexandria, etc.) may have come and gone, Christianity has always persisted through the good times just as well as the bad. They can destroy our temples but they cannot take the joy, the ideas or the love shared in our bonds of faith.
In a time when so many folks are concerned over the numbers that the church is experiencing in the US population it is easy to get disheartened at the thought of the future of Christianity. Phyllus Tickle, however, gave us another perspective about this thinking. She observed that if the Catholic Church had been so concerned about the numbers during the Protestant reformation, rather than accepting the great challenges that were presented to its doctrines and teaching via the new influx of ideas, then they too would have died. But the Catholic Church has not died and therefore Protestant Christianity really has nothing to worry about so long as they can learn from the Catholic Church.
If one is to admit that they are apart of a dying denomination they are in fact to accept a pathology that has them acting like a dying denomination. However, if they remember that they are bond in the loving ideas, Truth, and eternal qualities presented in our Faith then they will find that they are in fact a living breathing denomination that is always at work and is always persisting. As a church of laity that is what we are called to do; to go out and share our faith with all that we meet. As laity we get to go places that are outside of our church bubble. We get to have coffee with folks throughout our week that do not have a faith center to call home. We find countless opportunities to share the love, the persistence, and Faith eternal that so many people are craving. We get to be the spiritual conduits for people that may simply not even know where to start but desperately need an encouraging remark to get them through the rest of their day. That is what the message in the Hebrews is about and, in all contextual consideration, that is what I believe the author is so desperately attempting to offer.