Subj: HEBREWS 4:14-16; 5:7-9: FRIDAY'S 2ND READING FOR REFLECTION
Date: 4/1/99 4:22:31 AM Pacific Standard Time
From: email@example.com (Manuel Tuazon)
Ad Majorem Dei Gloriam (To the Greater Glory of God)
For: Friday, April 2, 1999
From: Hebrews 4:14-16; 5:7-9
Our Confidence is Based on Christ's Priesthood
 Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the
heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession.
 For we have not a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our
weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are,
yet without sinning.  Let us then with confidence draw near to the
throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in
time of need.
Christ Has Been Made High Priest by God the Father
 In the days of his flesh, Jesus offered up prayers and
supplications, with loud cries and tears, to him who was able to save
him from death, and he was heard for his godly fear.  Although he
was a Son, he learned obedience through what he suffered;  and
being made perfect he became the source of eternal salvation to all who
obey him,  being designated by God a high priest after the order of
14-16. The text now reverts to its main theme (cf. 2:17), that is, the
priesthood of Christ. It highlights the dignity of the new high
priest, who has passed through the heavens; and His mercy, too, for He
sympathizes with our weaknesses. We have, therefore, every reason to
approach Him with confidence. "The believers were at that time in a
storm of temptation; that is why the Apostle is consoling them, saying
that our High Priest not only knows, as God, the weaknesses of our
nature: as man, He has also experienced the sufferings that affect us,
although He was free from sin. Since He knows our weaknesses so well,
He can give us the help we need, and when He comes to judge us, He will
take that weakness into account in His sentence" ("Interpretatio Ep.
Ad Haebreos, ad loc.").
We should respond to the Lord's goodness by staying true to our
profession of faith. The confession or profession of faith referred to
here is not simply an external declaration: external confession is
necessary but there must also be commitment and a spirit of fidelity.
A Christian needs to live up to all the demands of his calling; he
should be single-minded and free from doubts.
15. "If we should some time find ourselves sorely tempted by our
enemies, it will greatly help us to remember that we have on our side a
high priest who is most compassionate, for He chose to experience all
kinds of temptation" ("St. Pius V Catechism", IV, 15, 14). In order to
understand and help a sinner to get over his falls and cope with
temptation, one does not oneself need to have experience of being
tempted; in fact, only one who does not sin knows the full force of
temptation, because the sinner gives in prior to resisting to the end.
Christ never yielded to temptation. He therefore experienced much more
than we do (because we are often defeated by temptation) the full rigor
and violence of those temptations which He chose to undergo as man at
particular points in His life. Our Lord, then, allowed Himself to be
tempted, in order to set us an example and prevent us from ever losing
confidence in our ability to resist temptation with the help of grace
(cf. notes on Matthew 4:1-11 and paragraph).
"There is no man", St. Jerome comments, "who can resist all tests
except He who, made in our likeness, has experienced everything but
sin" ("Comm. In Ioannam", II, 46). Christ's sinlessness, often affirmed
in Sacred Scripture (Romans 8:3; 2 Corinthians 5:21; John 8:46; 1 Peter
1:19; 2:21-24), follows logically from His being God and from His human
integrity and holiness. At the same time Christ's weakness, which He
chose to experience out of love for us, is a kind of invitation from
God to pray for strength to resist sin. "Let us adore Christ who
emptied Himself to assume the condition of a slave. He was tempted in
every way that we are, but did not sin. Let us turn in prayer to Him,
saying, 'You took on our human weakness. Be the eyes of the blind, the
strength of the weak, the friend of the lonely'" ("Liturgy of the
Hours", Christmas Day, Evening Prayer I).
16. The "throne" is the symbol of Christ's authority; He is King of the
living and the dead. But here it speaks of a "throne of grace":
through the salvation worked by Christ, the compassionate Priest and
Intercessor, God's throne has become a judgment seat from which mercy
flows. Christ has initiated for mankind a time of forgiveness and
sanctification in which He does not yet manifest His position as
Sovereign Judge. Christ's priesthood did not cease to operate with His
death; it continues in Heaven, where He forever pleads on our behalf,
and therefore we should have confident recourse to Him.
"What security should be ours in considering the mercy of the Lord!
'He has but to cry for redress, and I, the Ever-Merciful, will listen
to him' (Exodus 22:27). It is an invitation, a promise that He will
not fail to fulfill. 'Let us then with confidence draw near to the
throne of grace, and we may receive mercy and find grace to help in
time of need'. The enemies of our sanctification will be rendered
powerless if the mercy of God goes before us. And if through our own
fault and human weakness we should fall, the Lord comes to our aid and
raises us up" ([Blessed] J. Escriva, "Christ Is Passing By", 7).
7-9. This brief summary of Christ's life stresses his perfect obedience
to the Father's will, his intense prayer and his sufferings and
redemptive death. As in the hymn to Christ in Philippians 2:6-11, the
point is made that Christ set his power aside and, despite his being
the only-begotten Son of God, out of obedience chose to die on the
cross. His death was a true self-offering expressed in that "loud
voice" when he cried out to the Father just before he died, "into thy
hands I commit my spirit" (Lk 23:46). But although Jesus' obedience was
most obvious on Calvary, it was a constant feature of "the days of his
flesh": he obeyed Mary and Joseph, seeing in them the authority of the
heavenly Father; he was obedient to political and religious
authorities; and he always obeyed the Father, identifying himself with
him to such a degree that he could say, "I have glorified thee on
earth, having accomplished the work which thou gavest me to do [...].
All mine are thine and thine are mine" (Jn 17:4, 10).
The passage also points to Jesus prayer, the high point of which
occurred in Gethsemane on the eve of his passion. The reference to
"loud cries and supplications" recalls the Gospel account of his
suffering: "And being in an agony he prayed more earnestly; and his
sweat became like great drops of blood falling down upon the ground"
Hebrews 5:7-9 is probably referring not so much to his prayer in the
Garden, still less to any prayer of Christ asking to be delivered from
death, but to our Lord's constant prayer for the salvation of mankind.
"When the Apostle speaks of these supplications and cries of Jesus," St
John Chrysostom comments, "he does not mean prayers which he made on
his own behalf but prayers for those who would later believe in him.
And, due to the fact that the Jews did not yet have the elevated
concept of Christ that they ought to have had, St Paul says that 'he
was heard', just as the Lord himself told his disciples, to console
them, 'If you loved me, you would have rejoiced, because I go to the
Father; for the Father is greater than I' [...]. Such was the respect
and reverence shown by the Son, that God the Father could not but take
note and heed his Son and his prayers" ("Hom. on Heb", 11).
7. "In the days of his flesh", a reference to the Incarnation. "Flesh"
is synonymous with mortal life; this is a reference to Christ's human
nature--as in the prologue to St John's Gospel (elf. Jn 1:14) and many
other places (Heb 2:14; Gal 2:20; Phil 1:22-24; 1 Pet 4:1-2) including
where mention is made of Jesus being a servant and capable of suffering
(cf. Phil 2:8; Mt 20:27-28). Jesus' human nature "in the days of his
flesh" is quite different from his divine nature and also from his
human nature after its glorification (cf. 1 Cor 15:50). "It must be
said that the word 'flesh' is occasionally used to refer to the
weakness of the flesh, as it says in 1 Cor 15:50: 'flesh and blood
cannot inherit the kingdom of God'. Christ had a weak and mortal flesh.
Therefore it says in the text, 'In the days of his flesh', referring to
when he was living in a flesh which seemed to be like sinful flesh, but
which was sinless" (St Thomas Aquinas, "Commentary on Heb", 5, 1). So,
this text underlines our Lord's being both Victim and Priest.
"Prayers and supplications": very fitting in a priest. The two words
mean much the same; together they are a form of words which used to be
employed in petitions to the king or some important official. The
plural tells us that there were lots of these petitions. The writer
seems to have in mind the picture of the Redeemer who "going a little
farther fell on his face and prayed, 'My Father, if it be possible, let
this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as thou wilt"
(Mt 26:39). St Thomas comments on this description of Christ's prayer
as follows: "His action was indeed one of offering prayers and
supplications, that is, a spiritual sacrifice: that was what Christ
offered. It speaks of prayers in the sense of petitions because 'The
prayer of a righteous man has great power' (Jas 5:16); and it speaks of
supplications to emphasize the humility of the one who is praying, who
falls on his knees, as we see happening in the case of him who 'fell on
his face and prayed' (Mt 26:39)" ("Commentary on Heb", 5, 1).
To emphasize the force of Christ's prayer, the writer adds, "with loud
cries and tears". According to rabbinical teaching, there were three
degrees of prayer, each stronger than the last--supplications, cries
and tears. Christian tradition has always been touched by the humanity
of the Redeemer as revealed in the way he prays. "Everything that is
being said here may be summed up in one word--humility: that stops the
mouths of those who blaspheme against Christ's divinity saying that it
is completely inappropriate for a God to act like this. For, on the
contrary, the Godhead laid it down that [Christ's] human nature should
suffer all this, in order to show us the extreme to which he truly
became incarnate and assumed a human nature, and to show us that the
mystery of salvation was accomplished in a real and not an apparent or
fictitious manner" (Theodoret of Cyrus, "Interpretatio Ep. ad Haebreos,
ad loc."). Christ's prayer, moreover, teaches us that prayer must 1) be
fervent and 2) involve interior pain. "Christ had both [fervor and
pain], for the Apostle by mentioning 'tears' intends to show the
interior groaning of him who weeps in this way [...]. But he did not
weep on his own account: he wept for us, who receive the fruit of his
passion" (St Thomas, "Commentary on Heb., ad loc.").
"He was heard for his godly fear." St John Chrysostom's commentary is
very apposite: "'He gave himself up for our sins', he says in Gal 1:4;
and elsewhere (cf. 1 Tim 2:6) he adds, 'He gave himself as a ransom for
all'. What does he mean by this? Do you not see that he is speaking
with humility of himself, because of his mortal flesh? And,
nevertheless, because he is the Son, it says that he was heard for his
godly fear" ("Hom. on Heb.", 8). It is like a loving contention between
Father and Son. The Son wins the Father's admiration, so generous is
And yet Christ's prayer did not seem to be heeded, for his Father God
did not save him from ignominious death--the cup he had to drink--nor
were all the Jews, for whom he prayed, converted. But it was only
apparently so: in fact Christ's prayer was heard. It is true that, like
every one, the idea of dying was repugnant to him, because he had a
natural instinct to live; but, on the other hand, he wished to die
through a deliberate and rational act of his will, hence in the course
of the prayer, he said, "not my will, but thine, be done" (Lk 22:42).
Similarly Christ wanted to save all mankind--but he wanted them to
accept salvation freely (cf. "Commentary on Heb., ad loc.").
8. In Christ there are two perfect and complete natures and therefore
two different levels of knowledge--divine knowledge and human
knowledge. Christ's human knowledge includes 1 ) the knowledge that the
blessed in heaven have, that is, the knowledge that comes form direct
vision of the divine essence; 2) the knowledge with which God endowed
man before original sin (infused knowledge); and 3) the knowledge which
man acquires through experience. This last-mentioned knowledge could
and in fact did increase (cf. Lk 2:52) in Christ's case. Christ's
painful experience of the passion, for example, increased this last
type of knowledge, which is why the verse says that Christ learned
obedience through suffering. There was a Greek proverb which said,
"Sufferings are lessons." Christ's teaching and example raise this
positive view of suffering onto the supernatural level. "In 'suffering
there is concealed' a particular 'power that draws a person interiorly
close to Christ', a special grace [...]. A result of such a conversion
is not only that the individual discovers the salvific meaning of
suffering but above all that he becomes a completely new person. He
discovers a new dimension, as it were, 'of his entire life and
vocation'" (John Paul II, "Salvifici Doloris", 26).
In our Lord's case, his experience of suffering was connected with his
generosity in obedience. He freely chose to obey even unto death (cf.
Heb 10:5-9; Rom 5:19; Phil 2:8), consciously atoning for the first sin,
a sin of disobedience. "In his suffering, sins are canceled out
precisely because he alone as the only-begotten Son could take them
upon himself, accept them 'with that love for the Father which
overcomes' the evil of every sin; in a certain sense he annihilates
this evil in the spiritual space of the relationship between God and
humanity, and fills this space with good" ("Salvifici Doloris", 17).
Christ "learned obedience" not in the sense that this virtue developed
in him, for his human nature was perfect in its holiness, but in the
sense that he put into operation the infused virtue his human soul
already possessed. "Christ knew what obedience was from all eternity,
but he learned obedience in practice through the severities he
underwent particularly in his passion and death" (St Thomas Aquinas,
"Commentary on Heb., ad loc.").
Christ's example of obedience is something we should copy. A Christian
writer of the fifth century, Diadochus of Photike, wrote: "The Lord
loved (obedience) because it was the way to bring about man's salvation
and he obeyed his Father unto the cross and unto death; however, his
obedience did not in any sense diminish his majesty. And so, having--by
his obedience--dissolved man's disobedience, he chose to lead to
blessed and immortal life those who followed the way of obedience"
("Chapters on Spiritual Perfection", 41).
9. Obviously Christ as God could not increase in perfection. Nor could
his sacred humanity become any holier, for from the moment of his
Incarnation he received the fullness of grace, that is, he had the
maximum degree of holiness a man could have. In this connection Thomas
Aquinas points out that Christ had union (that is, the personal union
to the Son of God gratuitously bestowed on human nature): clearly this
grace is infinite as the person of the Word is infinite. The other
grace is habitual grace which, although it is received in a limited
human nature, is yet infinite in its perfection because grace was
conferred on Christ as the universal source of the justification of
human nature (cf. "Summa Theologiae", III, q. 7, a. 11). In what sense,
then, could Christ be "made perfect"? St Thomas provides the answer:
Christ, through his passion, achieved a special glory--the
impassibility and glorification of his body. Moreover, he attained the
same perfections as we shall participate in when we are raised from the
dead in glory, those of us who believe in him (cf. "Commentary on Heb.,
ad loc."). For this reason our Redeemer could exclaim before his death,
"It is finished" (Jn
19:30)--referring not only to his own sacrifice but also to the fact
that he had completely accomplished the redeeming atonement. Christ
triumphed on the cross and attained perfection for himself and for
others. In Hebrews the same verb is used for what is translated into
English as "to be made perfect" and "to finish". Christ, moreover, by
obeying and becoming a perfect victim, truly pleasing to the Father, is
more perfectly positioned to perfect others. "Obedience" is essentially
docility to what God asks of us and readiness to listen to him (cf. Rom
1:5; 16:26; 2 Cor 10:5; Heb 4:3). Christ's obedience is a source of
salvation for us; if we imitate him we will truly form one body with
him and he will be able to pass on to us the fullness of his grace.
"Now, when you find it hard to obey, remember your Lord: 'factus
obediens usque ad mortem, mortem autem crucis": obedient even to
accepting death, death on a cross!'" (J. Escriva, "The Way", 628).
Source: "The Navarre Bible: Text and Commentaries". Biblical text
taken from the Revised Standard Version and New Vulgate. Commentaries
made by members of the Faculty of Theology of the University of
Navarre, Spain. Published by Four Courts Press, Kill Lane, Blackrock,
Co. Dublin, Ireland. Printed in Hungary.
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