Pauline reflections

8 Aug

I have been reading Paul’s epistles as entire literary units, rather than half-heartedly plucking a verse or chapter here and there. I have been astounded by each epistle’s thematic coherence and by thematic continuities among the epistles. The epistle to the Hebrews was the first I read in this way.

Reflection 1: I loved the transformation of the high priest’s office into the office of Jesus Christ. As the high priest, Christ replaced stale legalism with a new covenant, one that was not built on the performance of particular rites but upon the “better testament” of Christ’s blood: “But Christ being come an high priest of good things to come, by a greater and more perfect tabernacle, not made with hands, that is to say, not of this building; Neither by the blood of goats and calves, but by his own blood he entered in once into the holy place, having obtained eternal redemption for us” (9:11-12).

I love this graphic illustration of the liturgy of the tabernacle. Through Christ’s blood, and not through ritual sacrifice, we are enabled to metaphorically enter the Holy of Holies and to literally enter the presence of God. Christ’s descent through the veil of flesh led the way for his ascent by forsaking the same, re-robing himself in glorified flesh by the power of God. He consecrated this way for us, which enables us to follow him (see Hebrews 10:19-20) and which enables us to have “a full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience, and our bodies washed with pure water” (10:22).

Reflection 2: Abraham is an important figure for me. I have been told to give special heed to my forefathers. Thus, I pay careful attention to any mention of Abraham and Sarah and their children. Paul refers to them often. In Hebrews 11, his discourse on faith, Paul gives what are, to me, some of the most stirring words on what it means to be a believer by referring to the shared Jewish and Christian sacred history:

[8] By faith Abraham, when he was called to go out into a place which he should after receive for an inheritance, obeyed; and he went out, not knowing whither he went.
[9] By faith he sojourned in the land of promise, as in a strange country, dwelling in tabernacles with Isaac and Jacob, the heirs with him of the same promise:
[10] For he looked for a city which hath foundations, whose builder and maker is God.
[11] Through faith also Sara herself received strength to conceive seed, and was delivered of a child when she was past age, because she judged him faithful who had promised.
[12] Therefore sprang there even of one, and him as good as dead, so many as the stars of the sky in multitude, and as the sand which is by the sea shore innumerable.
[13] These all died in faith, not having received the promises, but having seen them afar off, and were persuaded of them, and embraced them, and confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth.
[14] For they that say such things declare plainly that they seek a country.
[15] And truly, if they had been mindful of that country from whence they came out, they might have had opportunity to have returned.
[16] But now they desire a better country, that is, an heavenly: wherefore God is not ashamed to be called their God: for he hath prepared for them a city.

I feel as though God interacts with me as he did with Abraham. My decision to go to divinity school was based on the answer I found in the scriptures which urged me to have faith and go. I went to a land I knew not of and found myself in the wilderness. While there, I lost faith; I despaired. But, these verses offer me such hope. By faith, Abraham received the promise of posterity more numerous than the sands of the sea and the stars of the sky. I love that Paul says Abraham was “as good as dead.” I have experienced the near death of my faith (not the near death of my body, thank goodness), and it is something I still struggle with daily. Yet, if I believe, God will fulfill his promises to me, as he did for Abraham and Sarah. They hoped for something beyond their everyday existence, beyond the narrow scope of their vision. They hoped for a city that God would build for them. Even if they did not find the city in their lifetime, even if they were strangers and pilgrims as they dwelt in the promised land, they had an eternal hope.

2 Responses to “Pauline reflections”

  1. Larrin August 8, 2011 at 1:48 pm #

    The only problem with your approach is that more than likely Paul didn’t write Hebrews.

  2. Liz August 8, 2011 at 2:02 pm #

    Of this I am aware. Just using it as a classification/pseudonym for whoever did. Doesn’t matter to me whether he wrote it or not.

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