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Wobbly faith – some early Christians thought Jesus might be an angel….

January 15, 2013

Christmas and Epiphany are now officially over, and It’s the first week in Ordinary Time for the Catholic Church. During the daily masses this week the first readings are all from the Letter to the Hebrews. I think they need a bit of explanation to make sense of what they’re about.

MONDAY             Hebrews 1:1-6

TUESDAY            Hebrew  2:5-12

WEDNESDAY   Hebrews 2:14-18

THURSDAY        Hebrews 3:7-14

FRIDAY                 Hebrews 4:1-5,11

The Letter to the Hebrews is unusual in that we don’t know for sure who wrote it or who it was written to. But, you may ask,  isn’t it Paul’s letter to the Hebrews?

Well no – the style and the words show that it is clearly not written by Saint Paul. Experts have worked out that the it was most likely written when the early Church was about 35 years old; written by someone who was well-educated Christian who had a Greek background and outlook, and who was certainly familiar with the writings of Saint Paul. And the Letter to the Hebrews was probably written for the benefit of a Christian community, maybe in Rome itself; a community that had suffered some persecution and was therefore in danger of abandoning the faith, but need to understand the importance of remaining true to the Faith, recognizing though that the persecution was likely to get worse.

But why might Jewish converts to Christianity have begun to doubt the truth of Christianity? Well, we have got to remember that the unique aspect of Jewish faith was what is called ‘monotheism’ – the realisation that there is only one God. Every day, Jews would pray (and still pray) the Shema, their creed if you like, “Hear, O Israel, the Lord is our God, the Lord is One.”

Yet Christians proclaimed that Jesus was God, the Son of the Father. And the new Church was also teaching that at baptism into Christianity the Holy Spirit – God – entered into your soul.  So can you see that for someone who was a Jewish Christian without an understanding of the Trinity of God – that God is one, with three aspects, Father, Son and Holy Spirit – the ‘Three in One’ who was God, without that understanding, new converts might begin to wobble in their faith, thinking that that were reverting back to worshipping multiple gods – a very serious sin. And they were beginning to be punished for this sin by being persecuted.

So it would seem that some of the people in the fledgling Christian community were trying to work out how Jesus could have achieved what He did – the miracles, the resurrection, by saying that Jesus wasn’t God but was an angel. And it is to answer these fears, the readings from Hebrews emphasise the DIVINITY of Jesus, that Jesus is NOT an angel.

The letter reminds the church group about the story of the nativity as witnessed by the shepherds – that when Jesus was born, the angels gathered to worship Him. In other words, Jesus is not an angel – because angels don’t worship angels. And it also reminds them of the words from Psalm 2 that were heard coming from heaven after Jesus was baptized in the River Jordan, the words that we ourselves heard last Sunday when the Church celebrated the Baptism of the Lord:

“You are my son, today I have become your father.” Hebrews reminds Christians that God has never said such a thing to an angel.

Hebrews makes it very clear that the Old Covenant, particularly the old Temple worship and sacrifices, has been replaced by a NEW covenant, the perfect sacrifice offered by the Great High Priest Jesus. In fact, in the Letter to the Hebrews we find the only analysis of the heavenly priesthood of Jesus found in the New Testament – because whoever the writer was, the Letter focuses on Jesus’ entrance into heaven rather than upon the resurrection.

This Year of Faith is in some ways an example of history repeating itself. The Church finds itself under pressure to conform to the fashionable, politically correct ways of so-called modern, liberal society. The price of remaining true to the Faith can be painful and threatening, and indeed it challenges some people’s faith. The response of the Church is similar to 2,000 years ago – just like the Letter to the Hebrews, our Holy Father writes to us, reminding us to pray and encouraging each of us to remain steadfast by learning more about our Faith.

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