By Father John P. Cush
In the epistle, the second reading of todays’ Mass, we hear from the Letter to the Hebrews. It is always amusing to hear lectors at Mass state: “A Reading from the Letter of Saint Paul to the Hebrews,” and I must admit that I have at private Masses when I have no readers and I have to proclaim the epistle myself, I also have slipped into this!
We are so used to all the epistles being written by Saint Paul the Apostle, but, to be honest, no one really knows who exactly was the Divinely Inspired author behind this text.
Some, like Saint Jerome, hold that it is indeed Saint Paul. Other Patristic writers like Origen call that into doubt, and still others who have studied the text claim the Pope Saint Clement of Rome or Saint Luke the Evangelist or even Priscilla, mentioned by Saint Paul in his Epistle to the Romans might be candidates as the author of the text.
In the long run, it really doesn’t matter. We do know that, ultimately, God is the real author, working through the Divinely Inspired anonymous author, using the talents, knowledge, and style of the human author to communicate what God intended and only what God intended. Most likely, this epistle is one of the earliest biblical texts of the New Testament, written around 63-64 AD.
Why was this epistle written? It was written for those believers in the Hebrew scriptures and in Christ Jesus who were beginning to doubt whether or not Jesus Christ could be the Messiah. This was because Jesus was just so different than what the majority of the faithful people of Israel had expected.
The Divinely Inspired author of the Epistle to the Hebrews tries to encourage his listeners by reminding them that the long-awaited Messiah of Israel was also meant to be not only a king, but a priest, one far greater than the Levitical priests who have to stand at the altar in the Temple and offer sacrifice day after day.
No, the Lord Jesus by his one, single, sacrifice on the altar of his cross, shows himself to be the priest, the victim, and the altar himself. He is priest and he is also the king who is to come; therefore, these Hebrew Christians need to have patience and faith that the Lord’s coming is not a delay, even though we might view it as a delay.
With all of this information in mind concerning the author and the purpose of the Epistle to the Hebrews, a question for us today — who is the Jesus whom we await? Is he the just judge who will reward us for our fidelity and punish us for our unrepented inequity? Is he the gentle Good Shepherd who searches in mercy for each of us who are lost sheep, longing to bring us back to his fold? Is he the newborn King, gently laid in a manger, no crib for his bed, under the protective gaze of Saint Joseph the Just Man and his Blessed Virgin Mary, the Help of Christians? Is he the Man of Sorrows whose arms are stretched out on the Cross in an embrace of love for you and me, permitting the red rain that is his Most Precious Blood to wash us clean of our sins?
The answer to all of these questions and more is yes. Jesus Christ is Lord. Jesus Christ is the incarnation, the taking on of flesh of the Second Person of the Most Blessed Trinity. He is God himself coming down to us on a mission to save us. Jesus is the priest, he is the altar, and he is the victim.
He is the Lord God of all and we await him in only a few more days at Christmas.
Readings for the Fourth Sunday of Advent
Father Cush is a priest of the Diocese of Brooklyn who serves as Academic Dean of the Pontifical North American College in Rome, Italy, and as a professor of Theology and Church History at the Pontifical Gregorian University, the Pontifical University of St. Thomas Aquinas, and the Pontifical University of Santa Croce, also in Rome.