If you think back to last Sunday’s reading from the Book of Deuteronomy, you will remember that the children of Israel asked Moses to assure them that there would always be a prophet in their midst. The experience of Sinai had been altogether too much for them. They had been frightened by the smoke, the thunder, the fire and earthquake that accompanied the theophany of God. They were grateful that Moses had been the one to speak to God for them because they maintained that they would not have been able to do it for themselves. This experience taught them that they need to have someone in their midst to be their prophet, to be the person through whom God’s word was delivered to them. God tells Moses to assure the people that their request has been heard and that there would always be someone in the community, their own kin, who would bear God’s Word and speak it to them. You might remember that this promise carried with it the fact that the people were therefore responsible to listen and heed God’s Word as it came to them through the prophet, and that the prophet was responsible to deliver God’s Word rather than his own.
That background information is important if we are to understand the passage from the Letter to the Hebrews which we hear today. “You have not approached that which could be touched and a blazing fire and gloomy darkness and storm and a trumpet blast and a voice speaking words such that those who heard begged that no message be further addressed to them, for they could not bear to hear the command: “If even an animal touches the mountain, it shall be stoned.” Indeed, so fearful was the spectacle that Moses said, “I am terrified and trembling.” No, you have approached Mount Zion and the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and countless angels in festal gathering, and the assembly of the firstborn enrolled in heaven, and God the judge of all, and the spirits of the just made perfect, and Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and the sprinkled blood that speaks more eloquently than that of Abel. See that you do not reject the one who speaks. For if they did not escape when they refused the one who warned them on earth, how much more in our case if we turn away from the one who warns from heaven.” (Hebrews 12:18-25)
The sacred writer is assuring his readers that there is still a prophet in our midst in the person of Jesus who is the Word made Flesh and who has sent the Spirit to live among us. In other words, we still have access to the Word of God even though Jesus has returned to the Father. At the same time, the sacred writer assures us that we have nothing to fear, that our experience of the New Covenant was not accompanied with fire, with thunder, with smoke, or with earthquake. We have approached God through One who is like us in all things except sin. At the same time, we have been warned that we must listen to the Word made Flesh just as surely as the children of Israel were so warned. Failure to do so on their part merited them a forty year sojourn in the desert. Failure to do so on our part will merit us a fate even more serious.
We are nearing the end of the Letter and, at the same time, nearing the Season of Lent which is just a little less than two weeks away. The Season of Lent has traditionally been a time for us to pay closer heed to God’s Word. The Letter to the Hebrews is a fine preparation for that season as it has shown us that Jesus is the fulfillment of the promises made in the Hebrew Scriptures and is the future for which we long.
Fr. Lawrence Jagdfeld, O.F.M., Administrator