Voices of Faith offers perspectives from religion columnists. This week’s question: What is of most interest in the Epistle to the Hebrews?
Faith fueled by grace
The Rev. Perry T. Sukstorf, Redeemer Lutheran Church: Many Christians are familiar with the Epistle to the Hebrews written to the Hebrew Christians in Rome. Especially its encouraging passages about our faith and the faith of those who have gone before us; that “great cloud of witnesses.”
But most probably skip over the first half of the letter. Big mistake!
As the letter begins we see that the recipients have slid back into their old ways. They have been living under the law and have forgotten their liberation from it by grace. And so “The Writer” (as we call the unnamed author of Hebrews) gives them a short scolding.
He basically calls them spiritual babies; having to be told and taught the basics over and over again when they should be well-versed and teaching the faith to others by now; living out their faith by example and deed rather than continually falling back into the ways of the past.
To show just how different faith in Jesus is from faith in Yahweh, he then goes to great lengths to show that Jesus is not like the Aaronic priesthood, a tribe of Israelites descended from Levi.
Rather, Jesus is like Melchizedek, one whom God called to be both high priest as well as king. None of the Levites were given such honor or responsibility. And, in fact, Jesus was from the tribe of Judah: the tribe of the kings.
It was because Jesus was so different as a high priest – he nobly sacrificed himself – that our faith is now so different. Because his sacrifice was perfect, as was he, we no longer need to bring a sacrifice to God and are freed from the demands of the law. And because he rose from the dead, we have a sure and certain hope of the Resurrection.
The Writer also calls his readers to lead upright and holy lives. Not because they are bound by law, but because they are set free from it. In fact, for “new covenant” believers “the law is only a shadow of the good things that are to come.” The life lived in faith fueled by grace is full of peace, service and joy. It is not focused on the past, its traditions or its sins, but looks forward to each day as an opportunity to love God and love each other.
Perhaps the church today might pay more attention to this letter and rediscover the joys of their faith?
Peace and justice
The Rev. Joe Nassal, Precious Blood Center in Liberty, Kan.: This mysterious figure of Melchizedek fascinates me, since the origin of priesthood is found in this royal figure whose name in Hebrew means “justice” or “righteousness,” and who was “the king of Salem,” a name that means “peace.”
Priesthood “according to the order of Melchizedek” reflects the quest for justice and the pursuit of peace.
He appears first in the book of Genesis (14:18), when he brings out “bread and wine” to honor Abraham. These elements of the Eucharist were staples of celebration to reflect gratitude to God.
Jesus would replicate this ritual of Melchizedek at the Last Supper, when he took bread, blessed and broke it and said, “This is my body.” And offering the cup of wine said, “This is my blood, the blood of the covenant.”
Melchizedek is a priest not from a particular tribe or lineage but is identified as “being a priest of the God Most High.” The letter to the Hebrews develops this theme, comparing Melchizedek with Aaron, whose priesthood was based on being a descendent of Abraham.
Being from God, Melchizedek foreshadows Jesus. The blessing he gives to Abraham is also significant because in ancient times a blessing was a profound gift that carried great weight.
One hopes they still do, not because of the holiness of the priest who gives the blessing, but because of Jesus “designated by God as a high priest according to the order of Melchizedek.”