Hebrews 5:8-9
Son though he was, he learned obedience from what he suffered; and when he was made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him.
We are already in the final weekend of Lent. It seems to have gone by… almost too fast. But…
I hope your Lent has been a real challenge!
I do not think we have been challenged enough, none of us! Especially when you look at the readings this weekend and begin to anticipate next weekend with the reading of the Passion and all of Holy Week.
Let us begin by looking at the last line of the reading from Hebrews. What does the writer mean when he says that Jesus was made perfect? I thought he was God! In his divinity he is and always has been perfect. But in his humanity, he had to grow to perfection. That does not mean his imperfection was sin! It means that he grew in his humanity like we do. He gained knowledge of the world around him, and how it related to everything he knew in his divinity.
But the growth toward perfection in Jesus was different than it is in us, and yet it is the same. Do not ask me to stop speaking in riddles, because this whole mystery of the Incarnation is a riddle from God that we are still trying to understand, each in our own way. Thankfully, we have the fullness of the revelation that teaches us what it means. We see this in the very last phrase from today’s reading: Jesus “became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him.” He did that through his suffering and death.
In my opinion, the foremost point of perfection that is being referenced here is the final step of conversion that happens in us when we die. I do not think God intended us to spend eternity here on earth, but to spend it with him. Because of sin, that was not possible. Because of salvation, that is perfectly possible.
The stark difference between the perfection of Christ and the destruction of death should not be brushed past as though it were some inconsequential part of the mystery of the life of Christ. [Let me repeat that.] This is the purpose for his coming. He came that he might die and in dying give us life.
But our reading from Hebrews reveals so much more. The level of prayer that Jesus offered while he was “in the flesh” was far more intense than any of the prayers we have ever offered… EVER offered. We see that in the garden of Gethsemane, we hear it in his words from the cross: “Father, forgive them…” And it was from the cross that he was saved from death by going through death – and the grave – to the resurrection.
Now, he is calling us to follow where he has led. This is how we are made perfect. Death no more has, please pardon the pun, a death grip on us. Jesus took death captive by his death. He destroyed the power of the grave. But we still need to follow after him in what he did. We need to die. This happens in God’s time not ours.
There are many deaths that need to happen in our lives and they take many different forms: the death of pride, the death of sin, the death of desire for this world, the death of attachment to anything or anyone other than Jesus, I could list many other types of death that are necessary. But I think the death that is most necessary is the death that leads us to obedience. This is what it means to follow Christ: to be ready to die in order to live in the kingdom of God for all eternity.
Is not this what Jesus was saying to us in the gospel today? “Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will preserve it for eternal life.”
This is what drove the martyrs. They understood that perfection cannot be in this world, though we pursue it and long for it and maybe even attain some part of it. But ultimately, perfection only happens when we fully die to ourselves and live for Christ. I know, these are pious platitudes that you have heard many times. And that is part of the problem.
God is calling us to a radical commitment to perfection. But this perfection cannot be attained here in this life. All we can do here and now is prepare for that perfection to transform us. This is what made the martyrs so willing to die for Christ. There was one martyr in the second century who said that he longed to be ground by the teeth of the beasts into the flour for the body of Christ – or something very close to that. ????
Finally, I want to mention the crowd’s reaction to the voice of the Father. They said his voice was like thunder. Others said they thought it was an angel. Still others, probably the apostles, heard the words directly – we know this because the words are recorded in the gospel. I think this indicates different levels of understanding and expectation.
Those who heard thunder were the farthest away from understanding who Jesus was, and is. Those who heard an angel where those who were seeking some answer to who God is and how he would choose to show himself to us. Those who heard the voice, understood the words, and chose to follow Jesus are the ones who are on the way of perfection.
So, let me close by asking you one simple question: do you hear thunder, an angel, or the voice of the Father calling you to holiness and perfection by being ready to die in Christ?
Remember our verse before the gospel that was also part of the reading of the gospel as well: “Whoever serves me must follow me, says the Lord; and where I am, there also will my servant be.”
Jesus, every Lent we are reminded of your passion and death and the call to holiness that you have given to us. Help us to pursue this perfection in our lives here. Help us to be witnesses now to your perfection growing in us that we may lead others from just hearing thunder to the blessing and grace of hearing your words.
Help us in these final days of Lent and preparation for the great celebration of Easter to be fully ready to die to ourselves that you may live in us and that we may live in you for all eternity.