Lectionary Commentaries for November 1, 2015
Twenty-third Sunday after Pentecost

from WorkingPreacher.org


Commentary on Mark 12:28-34 

Emerson Powery

Nothing in Mark’s story prepared the reader for this conversation between Jesus and this Jerusalem scribe. Nothing!

Mark was a gifted storyteller and managed his narrative craftily. From the opening reference to a scribe (1:22) — during Jesus’ first public action — to the final position of this group mocking a dying Jesus (15:31), no reader could predict the story of this encounter in chapter 12. The scribes, as a character group in Mark’s story, were intimately involved in the conspiracy to kill Jesus. This impression, understandably, fills the minds of most readers of the Gospel narratives, making it difficult to hear any potentially neutral story about any member of this group.


Our story falls within a series of conversations between Jesus and various sectarian leaders residing in Jerusalem, which began in Mark 11:27. This was the final discussion initiated by one of these leaders, since “no one dared to ask him any question” after this encounter (cf. Mark 12:34).

The mention of a “dispute” (in 12:28) recalls the previous story, in which Jesus held a theological conversation with the Sadducees over the belief in the resurrection. The scribe of 12:28, apparently, shared Jesus position, so he must have been a scribe associated with the Pharisees (cf. Acts 23:7-8). Indeed, in Matthew’s parallel, the character was described as a lawyer from among the Pharisees (cf. Matthew 22:34).

Debates about Torah flood the Gospel narratives. What the scribe requested was as common as attending synagogue on the Sabbath. In this customary, first century discussion, Jesus drew on scriptural traditions, citing Deuteronomy 6:4-5 — traditionally called the Shema, the standard daily prayer — and Leviticus 19:18. “Love for neighbor” provided Jesus’ theological understanding that love for the other elucidates most clearly one’s love for God. The scribe agreed!

It is possible that neither Jew — Jesus nor the legal expert — could imagine one kind of love without the other. [In Luke’s parallel, Jesus told the parable of the “kind Samaritan,” in order to give more specific meaning to the term “neighbor.”]

Part of the shock of this story was the agreement of the Jerusalem scribe. [Matthew disregards this agreement altogether.] Throughout Mark’s Gospel, the scribes were always evaluating Jesus’ activities. They judged Jesus theologically, charging him with “blasphemy” because he forgave someone’s sins (2:7); they evaluated Jesus’ eating company (2:16); some Jerusalem scribes claim he had “Beelzebul” because of his exorcizing activity (3:22); they questioned his disciples’ hand-washing practices (7:1, 5); along with priests and elders, they probed into the origins of Jesus’ authority (11:27-28), which the general populace perceived to be distinctive from the scribes (cf. 1:22); along with Jerusalem priests, they wanted to kill Jesus because they were afraid of his popularity (11:18, 32; 14:1), eventually leading to their working with Judas to capture Jesus (14:43); they assembled at a “trial” before the high priest (14:53), and, the next morning, consulted with others to “hand” Jesus over to Pilate (15:1); near the end of the story, Mark’s final reference, they “mocked” Jesus on the cross: “he saved others; he cannot save himself” (15:31). Ultimately, in Mark’s Gospel, some of the scribes, along with other Jerusalem leaders, were responsible for his condemnation and death (cf. 10:33).

But this one, individual scribe decided to engage Jesus. Furthermore, the scribe took it one step further than Jesus, by adding that this kind of love was “more important than … sacrifices,” a conclusion, in this setting, that seemed to be an implicit temple critique (cf. Hosea 6:6).

Did this Jerusalem scribe have an anti-Temple bias (cf. Mark 12:33)? To be clear, Jesus did not advocate the ceasing of “offerings and sacrifices.” Rather, he believed in “love” (for God and for neighbor) as a priority over physical, religious sacrifices (but this was not an anti-sacrifice sentiment). Indeed, no Jew (or, non-Jew, for that matter) in the first-century could imagine religion without animal sacrifices. It is hard to imagine an anti-Temple scribe in Mark’s narrative, so it is better to assume otherwise.

We shouldn’t be shocked that other Jewish leaders, besides Jesus, believed in the correlation between loving God and loving neighbor. In fact, this individual scribe, in a collectivist society, probably represented many Jewish leaders who appreciated Jesus’ teaching. We find hints elsewhere in the Gospel narratives (cf. Luke 7:3-5).

Jesus positively acknowledged the scribe’s well-spoken assessment: you are “not far from the kingdom,” a rare moment for the prophet from Galilee. The scribe’s wise response (nounechos), however, was not sufficient for joining Jesus’ group. It wasn’t just about being wise; something more was needed. Exactly what was not so clear from the immediate story. We may safely assume that it had something to do with acts of justice, since Jesus will heavily criticize the scribal alliance for their pride and unjust ways shortly after this encounter (cf. Mark 12:38-40).

So, what then?

Love God; love neighbor. Jesus’ greatest words have influenced Christian tradition accordingly. But the context of this story has often been forgotten.

This was a story about an agreement — between Jesus, Mark’s lead protagonist, and a scribe, a group member of Jesus’ leading archenemies. And, this moment of harmony should make any contemporary reader pause. Matthew’s ancient parallel refused to portray Mark’s story without adding in that this scribe arrived to “test” Jesus. Many interpreters read Mark’s account in the same manner. The scribe simply wasn’t really interested in arriving at common ground. But Mark’s account depicted this Jerusalemite as a sincere scribe. Jesus and this scribe agreed!

Stories like this one, rare as they are within the Christian canon, must drive us to become more willing to open up to the other, including the faithful people within our own religious tradition and those without. With Jesus, at the least, may we be able to admit that these people of faith are also “not far from the kingdom.” Can we go beyond Jesus and discover in our fellow companions of faith people who are “in” the “kingdom,” that is, they, too, have religious commitments that allow them to share in God’s love for the world. For many of us in the contemporary world, love for our neighbor coincides with a respect of our neighbor’s belief system or lack thereof. By this respect for our neighbor, we carry out the mission of human dignity, which, in turn, represents a love for the God of Jesus.

First Reading

Commentary on Deuteronomy 6:1-9

Steed Davidson

Both the book of Deuteronomy and the Deuteronomic movement that followed the precepts of the book vigorously resisted plurality.

From the single shrine to the single priesthood, the desire to eradicate multiplicity and with it any room for theological innovation appears as a strong hallmark of Deuteronomy and its theological descendants. Naturally, this conventional view impacts the way the book is read and crucial, even though confusing words, are translated in the book. While ehad in v. 4 is a simple enough word to understand, exactly what it means in the context of chapter 6 has been the subject of vigorous debates. In a passage that suggests expressions of devotion to God through multiple means and multiple practices of affirming that devotion, the tendency to think of God as singular presents a curious sight.

Chapter six forms another step towards the eventual laying out of the promised “statutes and ordinances” in the book, delayed until chapter twelve. The next six chapters present various forms of motivations to obey these laws. The lectionary passage divides between the now conventional repetition of the necessity for obedience in vv. 1-3 and the start of an exhortation at v. 4. Since vv. 1-3 provide language already encountered in the book, the tendency to overlook these verses can be too real. Understanding that repetition, routine, and reprise are literary techniques — intentional or otherwise — in the book should help readers not gloss over these verses. The unexpected singular “commandment” at v. 1 raises questions as to which particular commandment qualifies as the summary of all the “statutes and ordinances”? Does this refer to the list in chapter five or the extensive tenets still to come beginning at chapter twelve? What relationship does the parenthetical “statutes and ordinances” have with “commandment”? At the outset the chapter offers up the tension between the one and the many. This tension sits in conversation with the gospel lection and the expectation that a single statement can encapsulate the myriad traits and requirements that form human community.

The first part of the passage offers readers surprises that move beyond single perspectives formed about the book. The language of vv. 1-3 recalls that already used in the book. In Deuteronomy 4:1 Moses is presented as teaching but at 5:1 the more intentionally divine charge to teach appears. The benefits of obedience: long life (5:16), and success (4:40; 5:16, 28-29), underscored by a fear of God (5:29), already mentioned in the book, appear in the chapter. On this occasion, the land as inheritance is vividly described as the “land flowing with milk and honey” for the first time in the book. This attractive description provides the vivid rhetorical appeal to the people to pursue the path of obedience. The routine admits to innovation and even that which appears one way opens up new possibilities.

As this seemingly routine aspect of the first part of the passage reveals surprises, so too the language of the second half seems repetitive and formulaic but offers more than anticipated. The imperative call to hear or obey that begins v. 4 hardly looks like the utterance of a single instance, rather this call repeats a formula of orthodoxy that defines God and the people. The formula seems to be less about forming the foundation for theological orthodoxy and more as the equation that draws God and people in a relationship. Both God and people stand on opposite sides of the equation navigated by love as the equal sign. This formula constitutes the community by naming the community as Israel that is called upon to hear/obey. In the Shema, God and people present and ask each other for commitments. The request to the people to love God will make further sense at Deuteronomy 7:7-8 but the divine initiative to love has already been spelled out in the various notices of divine redemption from Egypt (1:30; 4:20, 34-37; 5:6). How many times can this history be stated? How many ways can the love between God and Israel be expressed? Far from being a tiresome routine, the Shema repeats the fundamental assertion of the community’s identity and opens the door to multiple expressions of love.

The word ehad can be translated as either “alone” or “one.” The NRSV opts for “alone” while the NIV uses “one.” The debate here revolves around whether the statement makes a claim about God’s nature — singularity versus plurality — or whether the statement calls Israel to exclusive devotion in a single relationship. Evidence suggests the worship of multiple instantiations of God (YHWH) following local tastes and preferences. The argument for the use of the word “one” asserts that Deuteronomy advocates the elimination of localized deities in the move to centralize and control religious practices. Such a claim is consistent with Deuteronomy’s high level of intolerance for anything that strays away from ardent devotion to God (7:1-6; 13:6-11). Although this strong case exists for the translation “one,” the word “alone” shifts the concern of the passage away from the nature of God to the level of devotion required from the people. By insisting on “alone” the formula challenges the people to assert in clear and specific ways that God is their “one and only.” No other path, no other value, no other power, can substitute or require the same level of devotion that distracts, deters, or derails the people from the unique and closed relationship with the God who redeems from trouble.

Rather than opting for one translation over the other, the text allows for the multiplicity inherent in ambiguity. Either translation invites conversation about the two parties in the relationship. Traditional theological discourse prefers to focus attention on divine attributes and to do so from the perspective of demand as well as perfection. This wholly coherent and holy God requires this response. Asserting that God is “one” participates that coherent theology that makes strident demands. Yet theology can and should interrogate the divine not as already fixed or even knowable, but unknown and in the process of coming into being through relationships with humans. Readers who prefer “alone” may be open to this possibility but may well fall into the trap that the exclusive relationship takes place with an already coherent God.

Deuteronomy hosts anxieties around divine multiplicity and its theological impulse is to control. Do those anxieties exist at the same level in the book or even in earlier articulations of the now creedal form of v. 4? The fear of multiplicity may exist more with modern readers than the book of Deuteronomy. The prohibition against physical representations (4:16-18) or the veneration of celestial bodies (4:19) may on one level represent a tightening of practice to eliminate seductions of certain religious practices. Yet this prohibition enables a broader template upon which God can be painted. Not simply limited to the mundane or to the known, the nature of God can be imagined in countless ways. That Deuteronomy understands God as formless (4:15) enables the freedom to think of God as plurality beyond the single monochromatism required by conventional readings of ehad.

This passage encourages multiplicity in the love that the people express for God. This love can be expressed not with a single body part but rather with everything that characterizes human emotion. The emphasis on all in the list (Deuteronomy 6:5) expands the scope and challenges a level of devotion unseen in any other relationship. Though this passage in its use of love imitates the pattern in seen in treaty forms such as the Neo-Assyrian treaty obligations, the love required here takes on the practical aspect of realpolitik but goes beyond the mere transactions needed to get by. Instead the multiple expressions of love here presses for more than the ordinary. This love calls for deep intellectual assent, “all your heart,” the core of one’s beings, “all your soul,” and all of things that we put at the disposal of what is good for which we cannot find a clear name (the Hebrew falls back upon meod normally translated as “very” or “much,” “your muchness”?) “all your might.” No one thing suffices to express this love and devotion suggesting that the multiple expressions are suited to a God that transcends the neat categories that formulas seek to construct.

The love relationship between God and the people will be sustained by multiple practices. No one thing can fully sustain this deep connection. If exclusivity is the aim of this relationship, then its practices ensure its multiplication to include more participants. Resorting a mental act to practice this level of love will not sustain the relationship (v. 6). That other items are added to the list shows how loving only with the heart/mind is inadequate and maintaining it with only mental practices are inadequate for the relationship. Rather the recitation to children to ensure generational transmission, public witness, constant daily communication, and displays of affection form some of the mechanisms to sustain the equation of love between God and the people (vv. 7-8).

In its present form the Shema contributes to the orthodoxy of the book of Deuteronomy that prefers singular rather than multiple expressions of God. Countless love songs dedicated to the “one and only,” narrate the inadequacies of these relationships primarily due to the restrictive nature of the relationship. Shema describes a wild love that revels in multiplicity, thrives on diversity, and takes all that it can to keep it going. Such a love and lover can hardly be monochromatic or single or alone.

Alternate First Reading

Commentary on Ruth 1:1-18

Alphonetta Wines

People are often surprised to find that the words from Ruth 1:16b-17, often heard at weddings, are not about the joys of beginning a new life together.

Instead these words are an affirmation of Ruth’s commitment to her mother-in-law, Naomi, after a series of losses devastated their family. In other words, the context of these words is not the “best of times,” but the “worst of times.”

Famine sets the stage for difficulties encountered even before the story begins. In the opening scene, Elimelech, his wife Naomi, and their sons, Mahlon and Chilion, leave their Bethlehem home in search of food in Moab. This is an ironic unexpected reversal of fortune since Bethlehem means “house of bread.”

In contemporary language, Elimelech and his family were immigrants and/or refugees in a land not their own. Theirs would not have been an easy lot. Somehow they made it through. Before long, perhaps unexpectedly, Elimelech died, leaving Naomi and her two sons to make it on their own. Eventually, Mahlon and Chillion married local women, Orpah and Ruth. The family seems to have adjusted to their “new normal.” Then Mahlon and Chillion died. The losses were devastating.

For Naomi, it meant not only grieving the death of her husband, but also not once but twice, feeling the interminable loss of her sons. No parent expects to bury their children. Perhaps, an unanswerable “Why God, why?” question lingered in her soul compounding her bitterness.

Grief seems to have strengthened what were already strong connections between these women, left alone together who must find a way to meet their needs. Why else would there be such weeping when they realized that the three would become two and one? One can almost hear the three women weeping as they come to realize the new reality will separate them.

The news that there was bread in Judah must have been music to Naomi’s ears. She decides to go home, taking her daughters-in-law with her. Having started the journey together, it must have seemed odd to Orpah and Ruth that Naomi attempts to persuade them to return to home. Having experienced what it means to be an outsider/refugee/immigrant in Moab, perhaps Naomi wants to spare Orpah and Ruth a similar experience in Judah where they would be “too distant from her own kin to receive care and sustenance.”1

Wilda Gafney suggests that “Since the younger women are clearly not pregnant, they are of no use to Naomi, who tries to get rid of them.”2 Persuaded, Orpah decides to return to Moab. Ruth was undeterred. She would stay with Naomi and create a new life for herself in Judah. Her affirmation to live, die, and worship in Naomi’s homeland affirms her commitment.

At first glance this seems to be quaint little biblical story in which the main characters (Ruth, Naomi, Boaz) to do everything right. A look at the dynamics that lie behind the story reflect another dimension, making the friendship between Ruth and Naomi even more remarkable.

First, although not mentioned, there was much strife between Moab and Judah. Moreover, reference to Moab is a reminder that Moabites (and Ammonites) are part of Abraham’s extended family descended from the incestuous union of Lot and his daughters. Israel’s disdain for these extended family members can be seen in Deuteronomy 23:3 where Ammonites and Moabites were excluded from the assembly for ten generations. This religious and cultural norm did not deter their friendship.

Second, the placement of the book of Ruth immediately following the book of Judges, a book that ends with the night long gang rape of one woman and the communal abduction and rape of six hundred women, might provide the reader a welcome relief. A close read might make that relief short-lived, however.

Gafney explains, “The taking of the women in Ruth 1:4 is done with the same verb that describes the abduction and rape of the young girls in Shiloh in Judges 21:23”3 and “is a particular problem for English readers because it masks sexual and domestic violence.”4 Despite these circumstances, these two women found enough healing to forge a genuine friendship.

Third, “Ruth is multiply-marginalized, socially and sexually vulnerable.”5 Naomi is a menopausal woman thought useless for her child-bearing years are long past. For these two women, social location simply was not an issue.

Given that the book ends with a reference to Ruth as the great-grandmother of David, this is precisely the writer’s point. Despite cultural and religious norms to the contrary, Naomi and Ruth embraced each other. They made room for one another in their hearts. Neither lost their identity in the relationship. Naomi was an Ephrathite, Ruth was a Moabite. Although Ruth adopted Naomi’s faith, prior to her coming to Judah, she worshipped the gods of her people. Even that did not stop their friendship. Ruth and Naomi … Naomi and Ruth … theirs is a message the world needs to hear.


1 Jack Sasson, “Ruth,” in The Literary Guide to the Bible (Cambridge, MA: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1987), 323.

2 Wilda C. Gafney, “Ruth,” in The Peoples’ Bible Companion, ed. Curtiss Paul DeYoung et al (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2010), 127.

3 Ibid.

4 Gafney, “Ruth,” in The Africana Bible: Reading Israel’s Scriptures from Africa and the African Diaspora, ed. Hugh R. page, Jr. et al (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2010), 250.

5 Ibid, 251.


Commentary on Psalm 119:1-8

Mark Throntveit

Psalm 119, the first eight verses of which is the appointed psalm for this Sunday, is the big dog of the psalter.

But the gargantuan size of this massive prayer frequently casts a spell upon its would be interpreters that results in a flood of trivia:

  • Longest chapter of the Bible by verse count (176 verses)
  • Longest psalm (over 100 verses longer than Psalm 78)
  • Longest acrostic (series of lines/verses whose initial letters form a word, phrase, or — as here — the alphabet)

This last point is usually expanded to further describe Psalm 119 as comprising twenty-two eight-verse stanzas (one stanza for each letter of the Hebrew alphabet), in which each of the eight verses in a stanza begins with the same letter. The comprehensive nature of this aspect of the acrostic matrix is said to give readers a feeling of totality and completion, especially as realized in the colossal proportions of Psalm 119. This sense of totality is augmented by the recognition that all but four of the 176 lines of the poem contain at least one of eight regularly recurring synonyms for God’s law/teaching/instruction: “law” (torah); “promise” (imrah); “word” (dabar); “statutes” (huqqim); “ordinances” (mishpatim); “commandments” (mitsvot); “decrees” (edot); and “precepts” (piqqudim).

One wonders why the number 8 enjoys such prominence. The sages responsible for the wisdom literature were much enamored of numerology, but recent scholarship has questioned the previous assumption that the sages were ultimately responsible for this consummate “torah” psalm since the understanding of Torah in the psalm differs from that of the wisdom traditions and is much closer to that of Deuteronomy and the Deuteronomistic History. In Chinese thought, the number eight represents the totality of the universe. In mathematics, 8 is the first cubed number (2x2x2). Biblically speaking, the command to circumcise Jewish males on the eighth day of life, or recognizing the eighth day as the beginning of a new week or cycle after the Sabbath or rest on the seventh or final day of the previous week or cycle, seems more plausible.

So far, so good. One of the rants, to which my unfortunate students are frequently subjected, has to do with the dissing of the acrostic passages of the Old Testament in general and Psalm 119 in particular that seems to go hand in glove with the above comments. This disparagement is far too common in the commentaries and studies that deride the acrostics as rather simplistic, artificial, tedious, unimaginative, or merely derivative exercises whose main purpose was didactic, to teach students a reverence for Torah as they struggled to learn the alphabet. Such shortsighted approaches miss the inner riches that these psalms offer to those that take the time to read past the scaffolding provided by their acrostic architecture. This is especially true in our text, the “aleph” segment of Psalm 119, as I hope a close reading of the Hebrew, with particular attention paid to matters of structure and repetition will demonstrate.

In terms of repetition, the first thing one notices in the Hebrew text is the inclusio around verses 1-3 formed by the repetition of “walk” (haholakim verse 1; halaku verse 3) and “way” (derek verse 1; bederakayv v.3); and the inclusio framing verses 4-8 formed by the repetition of “keep” [NRSV: “observe”] (lishmor verse 4; eshmor verse 8) and “a whole bunch” [NRSV: “diligently” and “utterly”] (meod verse 4; ad meod verse 8). The division into two sections, verses 1-3 and 4-8, provided by the inclusios, is confirmed in verses 1-3, where Yahweh is referred to in the third person (“the lord,” “his,” “him”) and in verses 4-8 where Yahweh is addressed in the second person (“you,” “your”). Taking the psalmist’s announcement regarding Yahweh’s command to diligently keep the precepts of the Lord in verse four and his prayer that he remain faithful in verse 5 as a pivot yields a paneled structure of three general observations about those in relationship with Yahweh (verses 1-3) balanced by three personal statements of the psalmist’s faithfulness (verses 6-8a) and a “kicker” (verse 8b), to which we shall return. An ABCB’C’A’ pattern of repeated key words in verses 2-7 further binds the unit together and emphasizes the response to God’s commandments:

A “heart” (lev, verse 2)
   B “in his ways” (bidrakayv, verse 3)
      C “you have commanded” (tsivitah, verse 4)
   B’ “my ways” (dirakay, verse 5)
      C’ “your commandments” (mitsvoteka, verse 6)
A’ “heart” (levav, verse 7)

Simplistic, artificial, tedious, unimaginative, or merely derivative? On the contrary, one can discern a rather intricate arrangement, carefully worked out apart from the strictures imposed by the acrostic form, that presents a discernible message entirely appropriate for the first stanza of a monumental tribute to God’s instruction. After observing that those who walk in God’s ways are blessed/fortunate/happy, indeed (verses 1-3) the psalmist acknowledges, in a personal address to God, that this is so because God has commanded it (verse 4). Then, following a fervent prayer that he might be counted among those fortunate ones (verse 5), the psalmist promises to be that faithful person (verses 6-8a).

And yet, lest we think that such devotion to the law is easily acquired, or even possible through our conscious decision to be obedient, the psalmist concludes with a marvelously poignant prayer that lays bare the truth of the matter: “do not utterly abandon me!” (verse 8b). Like the father of the boy with an unclean spirit in Mark’s gospel who prayed “I believe … help my unbelief!” (Mark 9:24) true faith comes with the recognition that we are completely dependent upon God’s grace.

Second Reading

Commentary on Hebrews 9:11-14

Israel Kamudzandu

If today we can talk about any sort of exegetical and theological consensus when it comes to reading and interpreting Hebrews, it would be the superiority of Jesus Christ’s work, his blood, and his role and function within God’s economy of salvation.

All these theological themes are captured in one phrase, Jesus, “the eternal Heavenly Priest, according to the order of Melchizedek,” (Hebrews 7:1-9:28). Although the Western church has read, interpreted, preached, and taught this canonical book, I doubt whether they grasp the theological meaning and implications of the symbolism of Jesus’ blood. Yet, Christian practitioners from the Global South or Third World countries are quick to make theological connections with Hebrews’ symbolism because blood rituals are a common feature within their cultural worldview. Equally important to preachers and teachers of Hebrews is the fact that this canonical book is not a letter, but a pastoral sermon whose function is to exhort Christians who are caught between the demands of culture and the faith ethos of what they have become, namely, believers in Jesus Christ. In terms of its context, which is surely Jewish, Hebrews seeks to encourage and embolden Jewish Christians to remain faithful even in times of hardships, trials, and tribulation. Similarly, 21st century Christians around the world are summoned to contemporize the message of Hebrews, because, the preacher was not just exhorting and addressing ancient Christians but the message has relevance in the present context of every believer.

Also important for readers and interpreters of Hebrews to keep in mind is the notion that the message of this sermon makes a sustained theological argument from beginning to end, and the argument centers on the role of Jesus Christ and his relationship to the Jewish tradition. Therefore, in Hebrews 9:11, the homilist presents Jesus as the “high priest of good things.” The question remains, whose high priest is Jesus? And in what ways can Jews appreciate Christ as a priest in the context of the traditional Levitical priests? In order to appreciate the full meaning and theological force of Hebrews, this commentary calls on preachers to read the entire homily and then be able to interpret passages such as 9:11-14 within the canonical context of the entire Christian Testament and then in the context of Hebrews. While Hebrews is a sermon, we need also to read it as sacred Scripture because in it God continues to reveal His transforming word. The point I want to make is that we should always remind lay Christians that Hebrews like any other book of the Bible functions as the Holy Spirit’s instrument for guiding Christian practitioners into a deeper knowledge of God, Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit.

The preacher of Hebrews is well invested in the Jewish Scriptures because of the use of Old Testament language and symbols, especially the interpretation of Genesis 14:18-21 and Psalm 110:4. Symbolically, Jesus is a “High Priest according to the order of Melchizedek,” (Psalm 110:4). The verses of Hebrews 9:11-14 portray Jesus in heavenly language, that he is both a Priest and King not on earthly terms but on the basis of resurrection. Therefore, it is not descent from David that makes Jesus Priest and King, but his resurrection is a divine enthronement and his exaltation becomes the fulfillment of his priesthood that began with his death and resurrection (Hebrews 9:11-12). In one of the above paragraphs, I argued that Hebrews should be read as sacred Scripture because the message we hear is that of the living Christ who speaks words of power to God’s people, offering life where there is death and hope where there is despair. The question to be posed at this point has to do with the implications of this passage of Scripture to present-day Christian practitioners all over the World. The first implication is that Christians are summoned to a life of steadfast faith, because the blood of Jesus that was spilled and shed on the day of his death is still operative and available to all believers.

Throughout it all, Jesus Christ is an embodiment of the heavenly tabernacle, and in him all redemption is carried out. Thus he is more superior to any tabernacle made with human hands and can only be entered on the basis of faith. The blood of Jesus was not equal to that of animals as mentioned in verse 12, but Christ’s blood is more divinely efficient and has the power to clean all humanity from sin. In Christ’s blood and not in animal blood is real cleansing performed, and as such, Christians are summoned to have a well-defined horizon of the constitution of deep faith. In some manner, the preacher of Hebrews defines and illustrates faith in a much deeper way than James 2:14-26. In fact, readers and interpreters of Hebrews will be intrigued to find that the Apostle Paul shares a more developed meaning of faith with Hebrews. Paul’s definition and understanding of faith in Galatians 5:6 is similar to the way Hebrews presents faith to Christian believers who are going through trials, persecution, and tribulation.

“As a high priest of good things that have come,” Jesus Christ is an embodiment and an example of faithfulness, the faithfulness that God expected among the Children of Israel during their Exodus journey from Egypt to the promised land of Canaan. Preachers and teachers who have been trained in historical methods of interpreting the Bible are still asking historical, contextual, and textual aspects of the text and as such, they have not been able to equip Christians on the journey of faith. The Bible remains or is captive to historical inquiry, and that will not revitalize and revive the declining congregations in North America. This commentary seeks to challenge preachers and teachers to probe life-giving and transformative questions that will assist Christians on their journey of faith, spiritual, and theological formation. What is needed is to ask present day questions that lead and invite people to encounter God in Jesus Christ, which the preacher of Hebrews offers. This passage of Hebrews invites Christians to see God as the center of everything they do, and the secondary step is to allow Scripture to shape, mold, and form people into Christ’s image. In reading and interpreting this passage, preachers will notice the urgency of Christ as he invites them through the power of the “Spirit,” to enter into the Spirit’s role of conforming believers to the way and image of Jesus Christ.

Centrally, this passage of Hebrews is basically a summoning of God’s people to authentic faith, and as such, the redemption of people is not a result of performing cultural rituals/ceremonies. Rather, our redemption and salvation are through Jesus Christ’s great sacrifice. Whatever we have committed in life and whatever has tainted humanity’s conscience is made clean by the blood of Jesus. What is required of Christians is to have faith, and this faith is “the reality of things hoped for, the proof of things unseen,” (Hebrews 11:1). The power to serve God (Hebrews 9:14) is given to believers who exercise faith in the blood of Jesus.

The preacher’s message, especially in verse 14, raises questions of the nature of God and the way things are structured in the world, as well as the way people have been programed to view themselves in ethical, moral and legal ways. Such questions include the following:

  1. How does God deal with my past life of mistakes?
    2. Is it possible to be both a culturally oriented person and a Christian?
    3.   If thousands of Christians in the first 4-6 centuries of Christianity died for their faith, why does it take suffering for one to be a Christian?
    4.   Is Hebrews a book for North American Christians, and if so in what way is it relevant to issues of faith, formation, and spiritual development?
    5.   How do Christians in North America and those in countries such as Syria, Iraq, Nigeria, Vietnam, and parts of Africa read, interpret, and appropriate the message of Hebrews 9:11-14?
    6.   In what way does Hebrews summon Christian believers to authentic faith?
    7.   How can one remain faithful in seasons of abuse, torture, dehumanization, hunger, HIV/AIDS, and natural disasters?
    8.   Is Heaven a real place and if so, what does it look like and who is in charge of Heaven?

This passage of Hebrews summons Christians from all over the world to have no doubts about where to place their trust, faith and belief. Earthy tabernacles/churches should not be seen as the destination, but rather as portals to a much great heavenly, as well as eternal tabernacle. If everything should be viewed through Jesus, then, Hebrews calls on all Christians to see their life stories within the framework of what God did through Jesus Christ. That which God did was to offer Jesus, as the sacrificial lamb, and by so doing started the process of perfection for all believing humanity and the truth of that perfection will be realized when Christ the priest comes back on the Lord’s day.