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The Concept of Discipline in the Letter to the Hebrews

The Concept of Discipline in the Letter to the Hebrews

When I was a high school teacher, every school year began with “in service” days for the entire faculty before the students arrived.  Invariably one part of those “in service” days would be about the question of classroom discipline. 

Today’s reading from the Letter to the Hebrews raises the issue of discipline as it pertains to our relationship to God.  The specific references in this reading speak of the discipline that a father uses to raise his son.  In today’s climate and in the quest to use more inclusive language in proclaiming the Scriptures, I am sure that there will be some who will substitute the gender neutral words – child and parent – in proclaiming this reading.  Unfortunately, those who do so will really be confusing the situation.  The discipline that a father used to raise his son in the culture of Israel was peculiar to the relationship between father and son and does not apply to daughters and mothers.

Once again, let us review quickly the family situation in Israel at the time of Jesus.  The male children of the father brought their wives to live in their father’s house.  All of the sons and all of their wives lived together.  The children born to these families lived in the women’s quarters while the men lived in their own area of the house.  When a male child reached the age of puberty, he was sent to live in the male quarters having spent the first twelve years of his life in the women’s quarters.  While living with his mother, he was invariably spoiled.  Male children were the insurance that a woman had become an integral part of the family.  As long as she had a son, her future was insured even if her husband were to precede her in death.

Once the boy was sent to the male quarters, his father would use very strict discipline and corporal punishment to teach the boy how to be a man in this culture, able to withstand pain and privation without complaint.  In view of the fact that he had probably been spoiled while living with the women, his teenage years would be a difficult time as he matured into manhood.

The sacred writer uses this cultural understanding of discipline to explain what is expected of a person of faith.  “You have also forgotten the exhortation addressed to you as children: My son, do not disdain the discipline of the Lord or lose heart when reproved by him; for whom the Lord loves, he disciplines; he scourges every son he acknowledges.  Endure your trials as "discipline"; God treats you as his sons.  For what "son" is there whom his father does not discipline?  At the time, all discipline seems a cause not for joy but for pain, yet later it brings the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who are trained by it” (Hebrews 12:5-11).

Each of us experiences difficulties in this life.  CUSANS know this very well.  As we bear the cross of chronic illness or disability, some may ask, “Why me?”  The Letter to the Hebrews attempts to address that question.  The answer is really quite simple.  God knows that we need discipline to strengthen our faith as we face a faithless world and culture.  Jesus is our example in this regard.  He faced his accusers, Caiaphas, Pontius Pilate, and Herod and bore the weight of their false accusations as well as the punishment that was meted out in silence, without complaint, knowing that this was the will of the Father.  Fair?  No, it isn’t.  However, life simply isn’t fair.  We will be rewarded for our faithful attention to God’s will not in this life, but in the next. 

Fr. Lawrence Jagdfeld, O.F.M., Administrator

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