Hb 5. 1-10; Ps 110; Mk 2. 18-22
Homily of Fr. Paul Panaretos, S.J.
Aesop, Aeschylus and Jesus
The Letter to the Hebrews encouraged faith. Its preacher surveyed scripture and was convinced that God calls humans in each age. The word of God is God,/1/ who invites humans through Jesus, God’s son, our brother, our high priest, who sympathize[s] with our weaknesses... because he shared our frailty, tested in every way [we are], yet without sin./2/ First, the preacher gave attention to a high priest’s qualities.
A high priest is taken from among humans for their sake in things pertaining to God, to offer gifts and sacrifices for sins. For this role a high priest is appointed by God. The preacher called it an honor to atone for sins, another high priestly function. Jesus’ sacrifice for our sins was not his goal, but that by his sacrifice Jesus transfers us from the limitations of human existence to God’s own life.
The preacher encourages us to open ourselves to the gift Jesus offers us by reminding us that being clothed with our weakness, Jesus deal[s] patiently with our ignorant straying--our rebellion against God just as the Israelites rebelled against God in the wilderness, which the preacher earlier recalled./3/
The preacher encouraged his hearers to restore their faith--he encourages us to deepen ours--by recalling that Jesus was faithful to his mission to be the sacrifice. Jesus’ fidelity was marked by a reverence for his Father, who gave him his mission and who save[d] him from death. Yet remaining faithful meant for Jesus that when he was in the flesh he suffered.
We deny suffering; we bristle at the thought of it. As a result the way God perfected God’s son--that is, raised him from death and made him our pioneer of faith--may be the preacher’s most difficult phrase to hear: he learned obedience from what he suffered.
The ancients did not have the revulsion to suffering we have. Their common wisdom included the saying, to suffer is to learn. By common wisdom, I mean that it was a moral of one of Aesop’s fables: “This shows that in suffering/experience [pathein] someone may draw learning [mathein] and take heed.”/4/ Aeschylus put it on the lips of Zeus in one of his plays./5/ It echoes today, and you know it: No pain, no gain. The point is suffering can be positive--athletic training and childbirth for example--and faithfulness modeled by Jesus is not only positive, it is our hope and way to live God’s life.
1. See Hebrews 4. 12-13, read last Saturday.
2. Hebrews 4. 15.
3. Hebrews 3. 7-14--the selection read last Thursday.
4. “The Butcher and the Dog.” My translation of the Greek.
5. his Agamemnon has received this English poetic expression in which suffering was substituted with affliction:
‘Tis Zeus alone who shows the perfect way
Of knowledge: He hath ruled,
Men shall learn wisdom,
by affliction schooled.
Wiki-image of Melchizedek is in the public domain.