Sharing in a Heavenly Calling

(written several years ago as part of my first in depth study of Hebrews)

Drawing near to God is what we all seek, in some measure. In our post-modern era, there are those who think they alone can connect to God, through personal thought and prayer, and that this is all that is needed for a spiritual life, but others of us feel the call to the community that God has given us, that He founded for us, and we know we must have someone we can rely on, who is “trustworthy” to intercede for us, who teaches us and prepares the way for us to have this connection to God and “his house”.(1)  We understand that this call will require faith that transcends beyond thought to action and responsibility, and the one to take us there, this ‘one’, must fulfill the greatest requirements ever placed on those called to mediate, lead and guide God’s people home to Him .

31hNxcXTnRL._AC_UL320_SR208,320_Albert Vanhoye in his work Our Priest is Christ points to this need with the question and an answer:

How can we enter into contact with God? How can we live in union with him?  In short, how can we have a religious life marked by the sign of authenticity.  The answer is that in order to draw near to God we must offer him true worship and there can be no genuine worship without a priest worthy of this name.(2 p.23)

Vanhoye points to the ultimate trustworthiness of Christ, that Christ can fulfill this role, in one measure, by his acceptance by God, which all high priests, in the ancient traditions, had to have in order to mediate for their people. “by whom is this first condition better fulfilled than by Christ enthroned at the right hand of God.(3 p.24)  It is Jesus who can only fill this role of High Priest completely, and his ‘worthiness’ is demonstrated in his faithfulness described in the Epistle to the Hebrews, by its inspired author who identifies Jesus clearly as “the apostle and high priest of our confession”(4)

Jesus-High-Priest

Yet, in following with Old Testament instruction, Jesus did not fit the prescribed requirement of priests in that he did not come from the tribe of Levi.  Vanhoye addresses this by looking beyond the superficial requirements to the role that had to be fulfilled and to scripture that recalled the priest-king Melchizedek, and in doing so, as noted above, repeatedly discovers that Jesus Christ more perfectly fulfills these requirements better than any those who have come before, he becomes the conduit between humanity and God, the Father, by his solidarity with us; his humanity and his divinity, both complete, lacking in nothing, except sin, brings us together with God. (5 p.26)

Juliana Casey, in her New Testament Message: Hebrews work, Screen Shot 2016-04-28 at 1.15.53 PMconnects to this same call to be a part of God’s house by relating back to the passage in the Epistle of the Hebrews that harkens to the passage in The Book of Numbers in the Old Testament, entrusting Moses with his people (house) and proclaiming Moses greater than the angels, much as the Epistle’s author proves Christ’s supremacy over the angels in his opening passages.  Jesus, here, eclipses Moses, by being seated at the right hand of the Father, and as our Epistle author notes:

he is worthy of more “glory” than Moses, as the founder of a house has more “honor” than the house itself.  Every house is founded by someone, but the founder of all is God. Moses was “faithful in all his house” as a “servant” to testify to what would be spoken, but Christ was faithful as a son placed over his house.(6) 

Casey considers ‘fidelity’ to be the key factor in this worthiness, for Christ is faithful ‘as a son’ while Moses was ‘a servant’.  She further connects this imperative fidelity as critical to our own membership in this household. (7 p.15)

Vanhoye, too, makes some of these same connections to Moses in his more in-depth work Old Testament Priests and the New Priest, but he questions other scholars who settle for the translation to ‘fidelity’ or faithfulness, for the Greek word ‘pistos’ found in the original or oldest known texts.  For Vanhoye, the deeper the study the more the conclusion brings to the forefront, that this meaning is much more the ‘worthiness of trust’, not faithfulness.  Numbers 12:6-8 reveals a servant to God to whom speaks to directly, “face-to-face, not in enigmas” and Vanhoye connects this passage to the author of the Epistle to the Hebrews intent (3:1-6) to demonstrate Moses’ authority because “he intends to make a similar point concerning Jesus. His concern is to affirm the priestly authority of the glorified Christ.” (8 p.97) Moses as the predecessor and example in a small way, which Christ completes and expands in an unlimited way, establishes Jesus as the high priest “who transmits the definitive word of God and who has the right to [our] unreserved allegiance.” (9 p.97)

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Vanhoye continues on in his analysis of Hebrews, specifically looking to understand the concept of the house founded by God, noting that the author of the Epistle takes his audience from understanding that Moses was a servant to the house, and Christ is ‘over’ the house of God, to comprehending that the house is also of Christ, and that it is beyond the physical sanctuary the Hebrews, his audience, have understood in their religious traditions.  This house, is the community of believers with Christ over and ‘in’ them, building the Kingdom of God in their midst as long as they hold faithfully to the teachings and call of Jesus. (10 p.103-104) This theme “bars the way to individualist conceptions of faith.  It shows that the allegiance of faith has, of necessity, two dimensions: it puts the believer in a personal relationship with God through the mediation of Christ … [and] … brings him into a ‘house’ that is to say, into a community animated by [that] faith. The two dimensions cannot be separated from one another.”(11)

Claiming this house as our own draws us close to God in a way individual thought and prayer could never accomplish, making us a part of God’s Kingdom powerfully connected to Christ through him directly and through our fellow believers.  If it were not for Jesus, in his place as High Priest, serving us as mediator and connection to God, we could never know the power and grace that this home accords to all those who enter.  It is clear from the first verse of chapter three of the Epistle to the Hebrews, that the author is reminding his listeners to heed the call:

Therefore, holy “brothers,” sharing in a heavenly calling, reflect on Jesus, the apostle and high priest of our confession”(12)

 

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Footnotes:

1 Hebrews 3:6, New American Bible, The Catholic Study Bible, Senior, Donald and Collins, John J. editors. New York, NY: Oxford Univ. Press, 1990. Print.
2 Vanhoye, Albert Cardinal, Our Priest is Christ. The Doctrine of the Epistle to the Hebrews. Pontifical Biblical Institute; Rome. 1977.
3 Ibid.
4 Hebrews 3:1, New American Bible, The Catholic Study Bible, Senior, Donald and Collins, John J. editors. New York, NY: Oxford Univ. Press, 1990. Print.
5 (Paraphrased) Vanhoye, Albert Cardinal, Our Priest is Christ. The Doctrine of the Epistle to the Hebrews. Pontifical Biblical Institute; Rome. 1977.
6 Hebrews 3:3-6,New American Bible, The Catholic Study Bible, Senior, Donald and Collins, John J. editors. New York, NY: Oxford Univ. Press, 1990. Print.
7 (Paraphrased) Casey, Juliana, I.H.M., Hebrews (New Testament Message 18); Michael Glazier Inc.; Wilmington, DE. 1980
8 Old Testament Priests and the New Testament Priest. According to the New Testament. St. Bede’s Publications; Petersham, MA. 1986
9 Ibid.
10 Ibid.
11 Old Testament Priests and the New Testament Priest. According to the New Testament. St. Bede’s Publications; Petersham, MA. 1986
12 Hebrews 3:1,New American Bible, The Catholic Study Bible, Senior, Donald and Collins, John J. editors. New York, NY: Oxford Univ. Press, 1990. Print
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