Today’s passage from the Letter to the Hebrews reveals a little more about the community to which this letter is addressed. The author is speaking to a group that has suffered abuse and affliction. Scripture scholars offer the opinion that the author could be talking about a group that is mentioned in chapter six of the Acts of the Apostles: “The word of God continued to spread, and the number of the disciples in Jerusalem increased greatly; even a large group of priests were becoming obedient to the faith.” This would explain why the author spends so much time connecting Jesus to the Jewish liturgy. These priests would have been part of the worship of the Temple. Now they would be participating in the simple Lord’s Supper, celebrated in the homes of the believers. Because they were Jewish priests, defecting to the Christian faith would have meant losing their families and their livelihoods. The Jewish elders would have held them in scorn.
The author suggests that this is not the time to shrink back from their commitment to the faith. Rather, he urges them to persevere, to endure the trials that have beset them. He reminds them that those who persevere will gain eternal life.
The Gospel parables revisit the analogy to seeds sown in the soil. As the Gospel of St. John reminds us, such seeds must die if they are to grow. Deep in the darkness of the soil, they break apart and produce a leaf, then a stalk, and eventually a large plant. This death in the darkness of the soil helps us to embrace the idea of dying to self in order to gain even more.
The mysteries of God are so vast that they develop only with time, but that time is usually a time of suffering and upheaval. It calls us to change, the most difficult of all human projects. It is through conversion and repentance that we will gain eternal life.
Fr. Lawrence Jagdfeld, O.F.M., Administration