Lectionary Commentaries for October 10, 2021
Twentieth Sunday after Pentecost

from WorkingPreacher.org


Commentary on Mark 10:17-31

Luis Menéndez-Antuña

We read here one of the most radical teachings we can find in the Gospel. “Radical” is a word that tends to be used frequently in progressive and liberal theological settings, sometimes with a meaning similar to “prophetic.” By its own nature, however, “radical”  has a rather restrictive meaning. In some cases, it has come to designate a lack of realistic vision or a counterproductive approach in political venues. It is not uncommon to hear the epithet “radical” used to discredit political opponents for their uncompromising stances. “The radical left” or “the radical right” are expressions meant to smear political, theological, or cultural understandings about political programs. Radical, in such usage, equates to extremism and bias. 

The word’s etymology takes us in a different direction. It is a good reminder that although origin does not equate to current usage, we miss something vital if we let contemporary cultural wars swallow original meaning. As it happens, “radical” comes from radix, radicis and refers to the roots of a plant, a problem, the grounding assumptions of an argument. Subsequently, to say that the teaching in this Gospel, as I suggest, is “radical” is to hint at the idea that the narrative tackles a grounding problem, it touches a root problem. Since the passage in question broaches the topic of discipleship, the epithet “radical” refers to what constitutes the essence of Christian belonging and identity. 

Ethical claims on the pericope have circled around the nature of the “plus” that Jesus, here characterized as a teacher, implies in his response to the inquisitive character. Does Jesus’ response go beyond what the Law established, or does it instead add a new rule that grounds the essence of the Christian life? 

From the narrative world of Mark, we know that the closest disciples had left everything behind (10:28) and that “everything” includes house and household, family, and belongings (10:29). Mark is the evangelist who offers a non-descript characterization of the man approaching him. Whereas Luke characterizes him as a ruler, Matthew portrays him as a young man. Except for the fact that this anonymous character reveres Jesus as a teacher, that he seems to be a wealthy and pious observant of the Law, readers can hardly intimate this character’s essential traits. 

It is almost as if the Gospel has constructed his anonymity as a template to complexify Jesus’ teachings. Furthermore, the wealthy man serves as a contrasting character that puts to the test what elements integrate ideal discipleship. Anonymity functions as a literary device that invites potential communities of interpreters to think, visualize, and imagine the ultimate Gospel’s demands. 

In this essay, I would like to focus on two unexplored dimensions of Christian belonging. The first dimension, which I consider political in nature, relates to the topic of enslavement. The second one, better understood in its ethical consequences, affects the construction of personal identity. Both aspects are interrelated, and the pericope suggests that the political crisis causes the personal one. 

It usually goes unnoticed that such a wealthy man (10:22) would likely be the owner of urban and rural properties. We do not know whether such wealth came from an inherited position or trading goods. However, by all first-century wealth standards, it is most likely that he would own slaves to take care of his properties, manage his household, or perform several tasks in his financial enterprises. Jesus’ injunction to sell all of his belongings would consequently include enslaved people. Similarly, Jesus’ request to donate the ensuing earnings to the poor would positively impact the lower ranks of the social order where many slaves resided. 

The suggestion that Jesus’ teaching would have led the enquirer to cease to be an enslaver does not imply that Jesus’ teachings and early formulations around it are anti-slavery. On the contrary, if this man were to sell his slaves, they would have been incorporated into another household. Furthermore, the New Testament and particularly the gospels have several passages where enslavement, if not explicitly condoned, is not openly criticized. Jesus’ response suggests, however, that the identity distilled from owning other people and belongings (here put on the same level) is incompatible with following him as a disciple. 

The second dimension, ethical in nature, is reflected in how the Gospel depicts the man’s reaction after the teaching. Mark describes the man’s reaction with the word stugnasas usually translated as “shocked,” “surprised,” or “in sorrow” (10:22). Such a translation evokes a feeling, a state of mind, a mood even. 

Although the original word does not make it into the range of moral defects that we encounter in the coetaneous Greco-Roman sources, its meaning goes beyond a temporary range of emotions. For instance, when comparing Demosthenes and Cicero, Plutarch refers to the first showing “bitterness and sullenness” (4, 210). In “Lament for Adonis,” Bion refers to King Acheron as “grim and cruel” (510, line 52). Both authors use stugnasas to describe a moral disposition rather than a temporary mood. If we understand the wealthy man’s reaction in terms of morality (virtue) rather than psychology (mood), one could infer that Jesus’ teaching creates a crisis of character. In other words, Jesus’ teaching, rather than creating a temporary emotion, reveals the durable disposition of a man unable to release his belongings (slaves included).

First Reading

Commentary on Amos 5:6-7, 10-15

Lisa Wolfe

In this passage, Amos preaches that ancient Israelite leaders incurred the wrath of the LORD because “you trample on the poor” (5:11). During that time, the 8th century BCE, the Assyrian Empire threatened the Northern Kingdom, and this southern prophet linked that to divine punishment for their mistreatment of the vulnerable.

The opening verse of this passage indicates the weightiness of what will follow: Seeking the LORD gives Israel its very life. The same sentiment also appeared in 5:4 and will return in verse 14. That emphasis on life—also a highlight in the Torah (Deuteronomy 30:19-20)—here stands over and against the phrases that point to punishment and destruction (5:6, 8-9, 11). 

The poetic structures in this section help us to understand Amos’ message. Notice how certain words correspond to one another in the Hebrew poetic form parallelism. These linked terms highlight the prophet’s main points. 

“The house of Joseph” (5:6, 15) encompasses two northern tribes as a way of indicating Amos’ overall audience. In 5:6 this phrase parallels “Bethel,” a northern historic worship site that also appears in 5:5 along with Gilgal and Beersheba. Amos does not have kind words for these locations! In 4:4 the context suggests the problem was not with the shrines so much as the incongruence between acts of worship and care for those most at risk. 

The synonymous pair “justice”//“righteousness” in 5:7 appears in both the prophetic literature and the wisdom literature so frequently that one word connotes the other. Ensuring an equitable society has everything to do with right living, and vice versa. “Wormwood” is a bitter-tasting plant, so the metaphor refers to spoiling justice.While 5:8-9 are not included in the lectionary reading, it would be a pity to miss their beautiful creation imagery, which strikingly joins with descriptions of destroying the powerful. While some scholars consider these verses an insertion because they include new material and stray from the focus on mistreating the poor, they nonetheless invoke the same powerful deity who is intent on eliminating cruelty in the rest of the passage. Similar hymn-like fragments also occur in Amos 4:13 and 9:5-6. 

 “The gate” in verses 10, 12 and 15 refers to the city gate, an entry point that was a central gathering area in any ancient walled city.1 The parallel terms “reproves”//“speaks the truth” in 5:10 underscore the value of uncovering falsehood. Here this refers to one function of ancient city gates, their role as courthouse. Elders would meet as a judicial council to settle disputes brought by residents. We see this in Ruth 4:1-12, where Boaz consults with elders at the city gate about whether he or a nearer kinsman should receive Naomi’s property and become Ruth’s husband. In this and other such situations, elders and others who gathered at the city gate act as witnesses and jury for the resolution.

In 5:11a, the poetry provides a synonymous parallel about taking advantage of the poor by taxing their crops: “levies of grain.” The following lines unpleasantly surprise Amos’ prosperous audience. This time using antithetical parallelism, the prophet paints a picture of destroyed wealth: lavish homes and vineyards that they will never enjoy. As each line builds on the last, Amos’ accusations of unjustly taking from others (5:10-11a) reverses into fitting punishment: Now the wealthy will have their possessions taken from them (5:11b).2 

The indictments resume in 5:12, where again Amos refers to the city gate, now with a different purpose than in verse 10. This was also where those in need could seek assistance, comparable to a contemporary state social services agency where someone could go to request help with housing or food. For instance, in Job 29:7-17, Job recalls his days as a righteous judge in the gate who cared for the vulnerable. Here, Amos rails against those leaders who “push aside” community members seeking assistance; he condemns those whose judgements could be bought. Interestingly, the parallel terms “righteous”//“needy” in 5:12 points to the inherent worth of those who lack life’s basics. 

In 5:13 we finally reach a “therefore,” and it apparently advocates silence—a surprising conclusion, coming from an outspoken prophet. This reads as a side-comment cautioning us to consider the best path amid evil, whether holding our tongues, or speaking out despite possible risk. Donald Gowan suggests another interpretation based on an alternate translation of “prudent”: The “prosperous” will be “silent” because they will be “dead”!3 In that case, the verse would continue the condemnation of the powerful and wealthy that began in 5:11-12. 

The poetry in 5:14-15 centers around the pairs “good”//“evil” in both verses—they are repeated and reversed in verse 15. This arranges the issues of the previous verses into dualistic categories using imagery that includes a third reference to the city gate, triple-underlining that symbol of justice and its value to God. Amos pushes his audience to what seems a simplistic solution: “seek good and not evil”// “hate evil and love good.” The details of the previous verses spelled out what that means: good equals justice and righteousness (5:7, 15) and uncovering the truth (10). Evil equals taxing the poor (11), taking bribes, and rejecting the needy (12). The punishment is destruction (5:6b, 9 and 11b), and the reward is life (6a, 14). The closing line reminds us that prophetic speech is not foretelling. The people can change and avert the punishments, if only a “remnant” of them. Who will “love good” and “hate evil” in response to this “gracious” God?

In case the contemporary connections are not immediately obvious, this passage should raise questions about economic inequities, tax structures for the poor versus rich, provision for the neediest in our communities, and leaders who provide care or ignore these situations. Will we heed Amos’ warnings any better than his original audience did?



  1. See the description and photo of the Hazor Gate on Bible Odyssey http://bibleodyssey.org/en/tools/image-gallery/d/divided-monarchy-hazor-gate.
  2. Daniel J. Simundson, Abingdon Old Testament Commentaries Hosea, Joel, Amos, Obadiah, Jonah, Micah: Minor Prophets (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2005)
  3. “Amos” in NIB 7:390.

Alternate First Reading

Commentary on Job 23:1-9, 16-17

Henry T.C. Sun

Last week we looked at the larger canonical context of the book of Job and the larger literary context for Job 1-2. The larger canonical context was Job’s dispute with Deuteronomic orthodoxy and its simplistic theology of retribution. The larger literary context was that Job 1-2:42 functions as the narrative framework for the theological conversation in chapters 3-41.

Chapter 23, then, is a long way into that conversation. So what happened in chapters 3-22?

In chapter 3, Job laments of his birth (because someone never born would not be experiencing what Job is going through). Job’s lament affirms “that his despair is total; only his righteous character forbids taking his own life.”1

In chapters 4-14, Job and his friends have at it in Round 1 (Round 2 includes  chapters 15-23 and is mostly more of the same), with this important qualification:  “all four characters remain committed to a mechanistic worldview (that is those who act righteously can expect good things to happen and those who fail to act righteously can expect calamity).”2 

This ideology leads Job’s three friends to assert that Job’s sufferings are because  he must have sinned, and that if he would only admit, confess, and repent of that sin, all would be restored (for example, 4:7-11; 8:2-7, 20-22; 15:17-25; 18:5-21).

But this shared ideology leads Job in a different direction, namely that God has established the rules for how the universe runs and when those rules go wrong, then it is God who must be held accountable (see Job 9-10; 13; and 16).  

Nor should Job’s response surprise us. Criticism of anyone’s rules can be leveled at the unjust nature of the rules themselves or the capricious nature of how they are enforced. (Ask your friendly neighborhood middle school teacher about that!) Job cannot call his mechanistic worldview into question, so he has no other rational alternative than to call the one enforcing the rules to be held accountable.

In this context, then, Job 23 brings the second cycle of speeches to an end. Job lays forth his “legal” case for a hearing before Yahweh. Following the introduction in verse 1, Job begins his lament with the words, “Today also my complaint is bitter; his hand is heavy despite my groaning” (verse 2).  

Be aware of two textual/translational issues in this verse. Is Job’s complaint “bitter” (NRSV, NIV, and NJPS) or “rebellion” (NASB)? And is it “his hand” (NRSV, NIV, and NASB) or “my hand” that is heavy (NJPS [my strength])?  The standard commentaries3 can provide guidance for both of these issues.

Fortunately, verses 3-7 do not present similar difficulties. In these verses, Job laments his inability to lay his case out before God. They are all governed by the Hebrew idiom mi-yitten,4 which the NIV translates helpfully as “If only…” Job wants, desperately, a hearing before Yahweh.  

Job’s desperate cry for a hearing is completely understandable. Imagine coming to work one day only to be greeted by security guards who tell you that you have 10 minutes to clean out your workspace and vacate the premises. Wouldn’t you want to know why? And wouldn’t you want to talk to your supervisor or HR department to plead your case?5  

That’s the emotional content of this paragraph: something bad has happened and I want to speak to the person in charge because I know I haven’t done anything wrong, much less anything to deserve what I’m getting. Verse 7 (“I should be acquitted forever by my judge”) seems to reflect Job’s hope that if he were able to lay out his case before Yahweh, he would be acquitted.6

But Job is disappointed. He can’t argue his case before Yahweh because Yahweh is nowhere to be found. Verses 8-9 read like a reversal of Psalm 139, which affirms the psalmist’s belief that escaping the presence of God is impossible (“Where can I go from your spirit? Or where can I flee from your presence?,” 139:7). Job 23:8-9, in contrast, lament that Yahweh “is not there… I cannot perceive him… I cannot behold him… I cannot see him” (see also Psalm 22:1-2; Isaiah 45:15).

Verses 16-17 bring our reading to a close. While verse 17 is “very obscure” (NJB) and “very difficult” (NET), there are no similar problems with verse 16, which places the responsibility for Job’s situation squarely on Yahweh:  “God has made my heart faint; the Almighty has terrified me” (emphasis added).

And there our reading ends.

Is anything resolved?  Nope.

Any new or brilliant theological insight to be considered? None whatsoever.

There’s just Job’s frustration and anxiety around his desire to plead his case before Yahweh without being able to do so.

So what’s the point of the passage for today?

One of the things I navigate worst of all is transitional time; anthropologists call this “liminal space.” What makes liminal space hard for me is that while I am in this space, I see no exit from it. For me, liminal space was the most stressful between jobs. I was laid off from a job as a Corporate Mortgage Underwriter in September 2007 and did not find a full-time job until August 2008, a year later.

That year was excruciating.

And I imagine that it must have been similar to what Job was going through. He wanted a hearing but didn’t have one. I wanted a job but couldn’t find one. He was convinced of his innocence, but didn’t have the chance to prove it. I was convinced that I could still contribute to society, but wasn’t given the chance to show it.

In this sense, Job provides the canonical counterpoint to scriptural exhortations like “Do not worry about anything” (Philippians 4:6), “Cast all your anxiety on him, because he cares for you” (1 Peter 5:7), or even “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, or about your body, what you will wear” (Matthew 6:25, Luke 12:22).

Worry and anxiety born from uncertainty are the very essence of liminal space. Job gives us permission to navigate those spaces as we experience them, as we wait for the liminal space to clear, and as we see a resolution to uncertainty in our future without the guilt that a simplistic reading of these exhortations will create.

And it reminds us that the spouting of platitudes, no matter how well-intended  and no matter how theologically orthodox, is usually not the most appropriate response to someone struggling in their own liminal space.

In this sense, Job’s friends are anti-heroes because they model how NOT to respond when someone is struggling, no matter what liminal space they may be occupying at the moment.



  1. John F. Hartley, “Job” (International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, revised edition [Grand Rapids:  Eerdmans, 1982) 2:1068.
  2. W. Dennis Tucker, Jr. https://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=3793), accessed 21 March 2020
  3. E.g., David J.A. Clines, “Job 21-37” (Word Biblical Commentary 18A [Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2006), 574-75, 593.
  4. See GKC 476-77 (§151.1).  Jouon-Muraoka, A Grammar of Biblical Hebrew (Rome:  Editrice Pontificio Istituto Biblico, 1991) 2:616 (§163d) translate, “Oh that I knew!
  5. “[The] awareness of simply being heard … is already an experience of deliverance,” Gerald J. Janzen, Job (Interpretation; Louisville:  John Knox, 1985), 166.
  6. E.g., Habel, The Book of Job (OTL; Philadelphia:  Westminster Press, 1985), 349; Clines, “Job 21-37,” 596.


Commentary on Psalm 90:12-17

J. Clinton McCann, Jr.

Psalm 90 has often been categorized as a wisdom psalm, which, like the book of Ecclesiastes (see 3:19-20; 7:2), is very much in touch with human finitude and the brevity of human life (see also Psalms 39:4-6; 49:10-12, 16-20).1

While this interpretive approach is helpful, it has often overlooked the facts that Psalm 90 is consistently addressed to God, that it is the only psalm attributed to Moses, and that it opens Book IV of the Psalter.

These facts do not imply that Moses is the author of Psalm 90, but rather that the editors of the Psalter invite readers to hear Psalm 90 as a prayer offered by Moses on behalf of the people in response to the crisis of exile that is articulated in the concluding psalm of Book III (see Psalm 89:38-51). For instance, the plea for God to “Turn” (verse 13) recalls Moses’ request for God to “Turn” in Exodus 32:12 (note also that “compassion” in verse 13 represents the same Hebrew root as “change your mind” in Exodus 32:12). In short, as Moses interceded for the people in the face of God’s anger over their creation of the golden calf (Exodus 32:1-6), so Psalm 90 portrays Moses as intercessor in the face of God’s anger expressed in verses 7-11.

These two interpretive approaches are not mutually exclusive; and in fact, they can even be seen as complementary. In any case, Psalm 90 features the concept of time (see words or phrases related to time in verses 1, 2, 4, 5, 6, 9, 10, 12, 14, 15, 16); and one of the most startling aspects of Moses’ life is that, in effect, he ran out of time—that is, he died before entering the land of promise, because God was angry with him (Deuteronomy 3:26). So, who better than Moses to offer a prayer about time, or more specifically, about the discouraging reality that our human lives are all too fragile and short? Of course, for the people, the exile was a stark reminder of the vulnerability and brevity of human life in general (see Psalm 89:45, 47-48; Isaiah 40:6-8).

Before our lection picks up at verse 12, the contrast between humanity’s limited time and God’s enduring time has been drawn very sharply (see verses 3-6). Moreover, human time unfolds in the shadow of God’s “anger” (verses 7, 11) and “wrath” (verses 7, 11; “wrath” in verse 9 is a different Hebrew word). Although the mention in verse 8 of “iniquities” and “secret sins” suggests that divine wrath is punishment for sin, God’s anger can be understood more broadly as “a linguistic symbol for the divine limits and pressure placed against human resistance to his sovereignty … Death is the final and ultimate ‘no’ that cancels any pretension to autonomy from the human side.”2 In any case, even the longest human life “is only toil and trouble” (verse 10). Not a pretty picture! In fact, it is downright discouraging, depressing, and devoid of hope!

But Psalm 90 is not over at verse 10. Even though verse 11 repeats “anger” and “wrath” from verse 7, its mention of “the fear that is due you” hints at something more positive.

The possible wisdom orientation of Psalm 90 reminds us that, according to the sages, “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom” (Psalm 111:10; Proverbs 9:10; see Proverbs 1:7; Job 28:28). Thus, verse 11 anticipates verse 12, which marks the transition from the thoroughly depressing verses 3-11 to the much more hopeful verses 13-17.

But what is it that constitutes a “wise heart”? The NRSV’s “to count our days” is an accurate literal translation; but what good would derive from simply keeping track of one toilsome, wrath-filled day after another? In this case, a more paraphrastic rendering is helpful. Following the lead of Martin Luther, James Limburg captures well the sense of verse 12: “Lord, teach us to make each day count, to reflect on the fact that we must die, and so become wise.”3

In other words, “a wise heart” involves the disavowal of autonomy; and it means the entrusting of life and future fully to God. Such “fear of the LORD” offers the courage and energy to live each day to the fullest, quite literally, for God’s sake!

Such disavowal of autonomy in favor of daily dependence upon God recalls another Mosaic connection—namely, Exodus 16 and God’s daily provision of manna in the wilderness. In this regard, it may not be coincidental that the three consonants in the Hebrew word for “count” are the same ones that compose the word “manna.”

In any case, daily dependence upon God is capable of transforming the human perception and experience of the passage of time. When we entrust life and future to God, then we can experience the passage of time as something other than an oppressive reality to be endured.

The concluding verses of Psalm 90 reinforce this conclusion. The “morning” can bring the fulfilling and joyful experience of God’s love (verse 14; compare verses 5-6 and Psalm 89:49). Our “days” and “years” can bring gladness (verse 15; compare verse 9), not merely “toil and trouble” (verse 11). Entrusted to God, even our human “work” (twice in verse 17) can endure, insofar as it contributes to God’s “work” (verse 16).

By way of God’s “compassion” (verse 13) and “steadfast love” (verse 14), human time partakes of eternity. In short, when life and future are entrusted to God, there is hope.  Isaac Watts’s famous metrical version of Psalm 90 captures well the trajectory of verses 13-17: “O God, our help in ages past [see verses 1-2], our hope for years to come.”

For the psalmist, the recognition of human finitude and fallibility is not finally cause for despair, but rather an occasion for prayer. And in humble, honest, faithful prayer, the psalmist arrives at the good news that the hope of the world is grounded in God’s “compassion” and “steadfast love” (verses 13-14).


  1. Commentary first published on this site on Oct. 14, 2012.
  2. James L. Mays, Psalms (Interpretation; Louisville: John Knox, 1994), 292.
  3. James Limburg, Psalms (Westminster Bible Companion; Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 2000), 310.

Second Reading

Commentary on Hebrews 4:12-16

David A. deSilva

The second in this series of readings from Hebrews focuses on two very rich passages: the first is a declaration of the awesome power of God’s word and of our fear-inspiring accountability before the God who has spoken (4:12-13); the second is an invitation to make use of all the sustaining power and help to persevere in faithful witness and obedience that God will provide (4:14-16). The lectionary has, however, joined together the conclusion to one segment of this sermon (3:7-4:13) and the introduction to the next major part of the sermon (4:14-10:18).

Nevertheless, the selection preserves a juxtaposition of rhetorical strategies that are characteristic of this author’s sermon—arousing fear in his hearers in connection with the path of breaking faith with Jesus and seeking to conform once again to the practices that their neighbors would approve and instilling confidence in connection with the path of continued allegiance, obedience, and witness (compare 6:4-8 alongside 6:9-12; also 10:26-31 alongside 10:19-25). 

The lectionary selections from Hebrews manage to avoid giving airtime to any of the author’s warnings apart from 4:12-13, so—in all fairness to the integrity of the author’s thought—it might be well in a sermon to set the stage more fully for hearing these two verses. The author begins this previous section with a lengthy recitation of the second half of Psalm 95 and will dwell, refrain-like, upon its solemn summons: “Today, if you hear [God’s] voice, harden not your hearts” (Psalm 95:7; Hebrews 3:7-8; see also 3:13, 15; 4:7). He seeks to impress upon his hearers that the greatest threat to the well-being of his hearers is not their non-Christian neighbors’ hostility; it is not their loss of status, economic footing, nor even physical safety. It is the possibility that they will cease responding to God’s call, cease ordering their steps so as to walk toward God’s promise.

This is precisely, the author argues, what led to the downfall of the generation of Hebrews that Moses led out of Egypt. At the very threshold of entering into the land God promised them, they placed greater weight on the strength and fortifications of the inhabitants of Canaan than on the good will and power of God. As a result, they refused to advance on God’s order, revolting against Moses’ leadership instead. The consequence was that they would wander in the desert until that whole generation had died off (Numbers 16; Hebrews 3:16-4:2). 

Hebrews 4:12-13 presents a rationale for the author’s exhortation to his hearers, who have received God’s promises in Christ, to persevere in faithful obedience and not make the same mistake that the Exodus generation did. Those who do not continue to live responsively to God’s word throughout their lives will encounter its piercing sentence on the day of judgment—the day on which all will give account to God. The picture of Hebrews 4:13 is one of utter vulnerability: the verb rendered “laid bare” more fully evokes the image of a condemned person whose throat is pulled back before the executioner’s blade!

The tone and content of Hebrews 4:14-16 are stunningly different. Suddenly the author casts off the shadow of fear and invites the hearers to draw near God’s throne with confidence, assured of receiving all the help they will need to complete the journey on which God set them when they first responded with trust to the word announced through—and concerning—God’s Son. As one of many grounds for assurance, Paul had once spoken of Jesus interceding at God’s right hand on our behalf (Romans 8:34). The author of Hebrews goes much further, interpreting Jesus’ death and ascension in terms of a high priest’s mediation between God and human beings (this will be the focus of 7:1-10:18, though it is intimated in 2:17 and begins to be developed here in 4:14-5:10).  

A large portion of Hebrews is dedicated to laying out the advantages of having Jesus, the Son, as our mediator—our “inside man”—with God the Father. He is the best mediator in the history of go-betweens, beginning with the angels (who during the period between the testaments increasingly play a role in carrying prayers from the faithful to God and executing God’s instructions), moving through Moses, the mediator of the first covenant, going on through the priests of the tribe of Levi, the mediators appointed under the first covenant. 

As the author will later celebrate, Jesus as our high priest offered the most effective, single sacrifice where the sins that separated people from God’s full presence were concerned, opening for all who believe in him the way not merely into the Holy Place of an earthly temple, but into the eternal Holy Place, God’s realm beyond the created heavens, which Jesus has now entered—but specifically as our forerunner (6:19-20). And as “Son,” he enjoys greater intimacy and connection with God than any servants in God’s household, whether the angels (1:14) or Moses (3:5-6): those who approach God through Jesus have every reason, therefore, to trust that he will secure for them all that they need.

Since the believers have such a privilege, the author urges, they must hold onto it by standing firm in their profession of Jesus in the witness of their speech, their associations (with the local Christian assembly), and their actions (including their fidelity to the one God in the midst of a society that equates honoring many gods with being a pious and reliable citizen). But, since they have such a privilege, they also have every resource they could need to hold on.  

Here the full humanity of Jesus comes to the fore as critically important (as it did in 2:14-18 and will again in 5:7-10). Jesus experienced all the trials of being human. More particularly, he faced the utmost in terms of hostility, pain, and degradation, discovering all that it took to persevere in obedience on the path set for him by the Father. His experience, the author assures his hearers, gives Jesus deep sympathy for the “many sons and daughters” who likewise struggle to persevere in the face of temptation and trial. Knowing this, however, believers have every reason not to succumb, but rather to seek from God through Jesus the daily, the hourly help they need to persevere. Or, in the words of the much-loved hymn, “Jesus knows our every weakness; take it to the Lord in prayer.”

As a two-edged sword, the word of God cuts both ways. It reminds us of our complete and unmitigated accountability to God, who calls us to “live no longer for ourselves but for him who died and was raised on our behalf” (to borrow an image from 2 Corinthians 5:15), to “pursue peace with everyone, and the holiness without which no one will see the Lord” (Hebrews 12:14), to “continually offer a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that confess his name” while also not forgetting “to do good and to share what you have” (Hebrews 13:15-16). 

If we keep this firmly fixed before us, what realignment of our energies, resources, and practices might ensue? The word also gives assurance to those who persevere in grateful obedience and allegiance to Jesus that God will supply them with all the sustaining help they require to attain God’s promises and not “fall short” (Hebrews 4:1; 12:15). Do we believe the promise of 4:14-16, that God can indeed empower—and reward!—such things as God’s word summons us to do?