Tag Archives: Hebrews 5

Mysteries Within Mysteries

Son though he was, he learned obedience from what he suffered and, once made perfect, [Jesus] became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him and was designated by God to be high priest in the order of Melchizedek.
Hebrews 5:8-10 (NIV)

The further I have progressed on this life journey the more I have come to understand that I must embrace mystery if I am going to progress spiritually in certain places. This flies in the face of a system of reason in which I was raised and educated. Our culture is one that places what I have come to understand as an undue premium on knowing. Theories are stated as certainties quite frequently whether they come from the institutions of religion, education, politics, or science. I find that our culture has lost sight of the value of embracing the knowledge of knowing that we do not know or cannot know.

I have found that the desire to try to replace mystery with false certainty is a fool’s errand. I see this repeated over and over again in history. It leads down all sorts of silly and hurtful paths. Minor issues become major battlegrounds, honest exploration is sacrificed on the altar of exclusionary social litmus tests, and institutions make all sorts of embarrassing mistakes (sometimes with deadly consequences). Embracing mystery, on the other hand, has pushed my heart and mind to new avenues of possibility, exploration, discovery and faith. I love how Catholic mystic Richard Rohr puts it: “Mystery is not something we can not understand. Mystery is something we can endlessly understand.”

The letter to Hebrew believers has always been shrouded in mystery, not the least of which is the identity of the author. Two centuries after it was penned we are still not certain who wrote the letter. My fundamentalist Bible professors taught me that I must believe it was Paul who wrote it. Textual critics in education laugh at such a claim, telling me it certainly couldn’t be Paul. Arguments have been made for a host of first century figures (i.e. Luke, Apollos, Barnabas). More recently, some scholars have argued that it was most certainly a woman, Priscilla, who was among Jesus larger circle of 70 disciples and travelled with Paul. I find this possibility fascinating and stimulating. It has led me to discover more about this amazing woman through whom God did amazing things. I know, however, at least one of my fundamentalist professors would have said it most certainly wasn’t Priscilla and would certainly have marginalized and subtly punished me educationally had I steadfastly held to the possibility in his class.

I do not know who wrote the letter to the Hebrew believers, and that’s perfectly fine for me. It is a mystery that has much for me to discover in its exploration of possibility.

In today’s chapter we encounter yet another mystery in the revelation of Christ as eternal High Priest. The Hebrew believers who first received this letter would have intimate knowledge about how the Hebrew priestly system worked as prescribed by the Law of Moses. Only descendants of Aaron (Moses’ right-hand man) were to be priests, and the High Priest could only come from those genetic ranks. According to the prophets, however, the Messiah was to come from the tribe of Judah and the house of David as Jesus did. Remember Christmas? Mary gives birth to Jesus in Bethlehem, the “City of David.” Joseph and Mary had to go to Bethlehem for the census because they were both descendants of David in the tribe of Judah.

But now the mysterious author of Hebrews lays out a claim that Christ is our eternal “High Priest,” the cosmic conduit between God and man. But the Hebrew readers would know that Jesus was not from the line of Aaron, so how could He be High Priest? The author reveals Jesus as High Priest “in the order of Melchizedek.” In Genesis 14:18 Abram (who would soon be known as Abraham) meets a mysterious King of Salem named Melchizedek who was “priest of God Most High.” He serves Abram bread and wine (remind you of anything?) and blesses Abram. Abram in return presents the priest Melchizedek an offering of a tenth of everything.

That’s all we know about Melchizedek. This mysterious person was “priest of God Most High” before Abram was Abraham, before Israel was a people, before the Law of Moses was given, before the Hebrew priesthood was defined as descendants of Aaron. It’s a mystery, and the author of Hebrews attaches the mystery of Christ the cosmic High Priest to the lineage to the mysterious Melchizedek who appears within the Hebrew tradition but outside the system of Moses.

This morning I’m once again perplexed, stimulated, and inspired by the mystery of Melchizedek, of Jesus, and of Hebrews. As I humbly embrace the mystery I push deeper into that which can be endlessly understood and so take another step forward on the path of faith and Spirit.

Chapter-a-Day Hebrews 5

Playing guitar on the back porch with Dad.

You have been believers so long now that you ought to be teaching others. Instead, you need someone to teach you again the basic things about God’s word. You are like babies who need milk and cannot eat solid food. For someone who lives on milk is still an infant and doesn’t know how to do what is right. Solid food is for those who are mature, who through training have the skill to recognize the difference between right and wrong. Hebrews 5:12-14 (NLT)

I often refer to myself as a “back porch musician.” I can play the guitar and love to do so, but you’re not going to find me gigging at your local club this weekend. I’ve written a few songs just for the creative fun of it. I like to strum and pluck along with those who really know the craft, and Wendy will tell you that I get jazzed when asked and given the opportunity to play.

I had a few years of piano and drum lessons in elementary school and learned some of the rudimentary basics about music. I taught myself how to play the guitar in high school, then taught myself to play bass as an adult. I can still look at a sheet of music and tell you where a particular note is on the keyboard (just give me a second to think about it).

For over 30 years I’ve been an elementary musician. When it comes to being fluent in the language of music, I have not progressed much beyond the same knowledge I had when I was playing in the Woodlawn Elementary School band (I’m sure that was a treat for my parents). I have pangs of wishing I was a better musician. I try to play well and make small improvements, but at the end of the day I’m okay with being a back porch musician. I’ve focused my time and energy on other creative expressions. It’s all good.

What’s not all good is to think that the same stunted growth and rudimentary knowledge could or would apply to things of the Spirit. Spirit is like a muscle. Spirit is like a craft or an art form. Our spirit does not grow, mature, and develop without regular stretching, exercise, and nourishment. Without seeking we don’t find, Without knocking doors won’t open for us, without asking we don’t receive.

Our spiritual life is a journey, but only when we consciously make the effort to step up, step out, and press on. Throughout our lives we are given the choice to exit the journey at any number of comfortable rest areas along the path. There we can sit for the rest of our lives if we so choose, though we do so at our detriment. My musical knowledge and maturity will not count for much when this life is over, but my spiritual knowledge and maturity will have eternal consequences.

Feel like you’ve been sitting at a spiritual rest area since you were a kid? The entrance ramp is right there. Step up, step out, and join us. If you need some encouragement, give me a shout (tomvanderwell@gmail.com).