GOSPEL, FIRST READING & PSALM TRANSCRIPT (Subscribe or Login for Full Transcript):
...so that’s what’s going on, that’s what swirling around behind these otherwise cryptic words of Jesus.
And then the third thing he says is, “Do you think I’ve come to give peace on the earth? No, I tell you, but rather, division.” And the Greek word there for division means division, divided; diamerismos
, to kind of cut things into portions or to divide into parts. And in this case, he focuses on divisions within families, within a household. So he says, “I tell you, rather division. In one house there will be five divided: three against two, two against three.” And then he goes and lists all the different relationships. Now, you don’t have to know anything about Judaism or about the Old Testament to know that what he’s saying here is “I’m going to pit family members against one another.” And even just through a reading of the gospel you can see how this might play out. In an earlier video we saw Jesus tell a young man, “Leave the dead to buy their dead” when he asked if he could go back and bury his father. I mean, talk about a division. If he had left his family and followed Jesus and failed to attend his own father’s funeral (failed to bury his own father), what do you think the effect of that action would be with his brothers, his sister, his mother? How would they feel about the cost of that man’s discipleship and how it affected their family? Well obviously, that would be a serious point of division between the young man that Jesus was calling to discipleship and his family. So, even if you just know about the way Jesus calls people to come and follow him and the kind of effect that might have on their families, you can pick up on the meaning here of what Jesus means. In other words, “my mission is not going to bring a state of earthly peace to the households of everyone who becomes my disciple. In fact, because some people are going to refuse the call and others will accept, I’m actually going to bring division into this world.”
So I think that’s kind of a plain sense of the text. I think most people can just pick up on that and infer that from reading it. However, as always is the case with Jesus, there’s always something more going on here. Whenever Jesus says something strange or weird, like “I’m going to set father against son, son against father, mother against daughter, mother-in-law against daughter-in-law”, when he says something that seems odd, oftentimes he’ll be alluding to an Old Testament text. And of course, in this case, that’s exactly what he’s doing. In fact, he’s not just alluding, he’s actually quoting from a prophecy of the book of Micah. Now it would have been really cool if this prophecy were the 1st
reading for today’s mass because then you’d actually be able to see it more clearly, but it’s not. There’s a different reading for today. And I’m in sales, I’m not in management, so I don’t get to decide which passages go in the lectionary for the day. But I will take you back, nevertheless, to the book of Micah 7. So that’s where this passage comes from that Jesus is quoting. Micah 7 is a prophecy of the coming age of salvation, and I as I explored in my dissertation, it’s a picture of the fact that over and over again, the prophets would say, before the age of salvation began, there would be a time of tribulation, there would be a time of trial. There would be a time of testing and division within the people of Israel.
The Greek word they’ll use for this time of testing and tribulation is actually often peirasmos. We actually saw that in an earlier video looking at the Lord’s Prayer: “Lead us not into peirasmos (temptation, testing, trial)”. That Greek word can be used to refer to the final tribulation that would take place before the resurrection of the dead and the final judgment. So this theme of tribulation before salvation, division before restoration, is a standard expectation in the prophets. And here Jesus is quoting Micah’s prophecy of tribulation and division that precedes the age of salvation. So this is what Micah the prophet says. This is Micah 7:6-7 and then I’ll skip down to v. 12 and 15. Micah says this:
for the son treats the father with contempt,
the daughter rises up against her mother,
the daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law;
a man’s enemies are the men of his own house.
But as for me, I will look to the Lord,
I will wait for the God of my salvation;
my God will hear me.
So pause there. What Micah’s doing is he’s describing this time of tribulation and strife within Israel, in which Israel will be so divided that it will cut through even down to the family itself, and that a person’s enemies are going to be the members of his own household. But the prophet says, “I’m still going to wait on the Lord for God to bring his salvation”, and if you keep reading, that is what’s described next. In v. 12 it actually says:
In that day they will come to you,
from Assyria to Egypt,
and from Egypt to the River...
As in the days when you came out of the land of Egypt
I will show them marvelous things.
I’ve talked about this before in other videos, but remember the hope for the ingathering of the exiles and the lost ten tribes of Israel? How the Jews were waiting for the ten lost tribes that had been scattered among the nations to come back together, to be reunited and to come back to the Promised Land in a new exodus that would be inaugurated by the Messiah? Remember that? We’ve talked about it elsewhere. You can see it in Isaiah 11, or Jeremiah 23, or Ezekiel 36 and 37. It’s all over the prophets. What Micah’s describing here is that he’s saying that before the new exodus takes place, before the ingathering of the twelve tribes of Israel and the coming of the kingdom, before that happens, there’s going to be a time of division. There’s going to be a time of tribulation. There’s going to be a time of strife and a time of judgment. And a prophet is called to endure through that time of tribulation and make it to the day of salvation. And the image he gives for the tribulation is “father against son, daughter against mother, and mother-in-law against daughter-in-law.” In other words, members of a household. So what does Jesus do? He says, don’t think that I’ve come to bring peace. I didn’t come to bring peace. I came to bring division. For a man’s enemies are going to be members of his own household. Father’s going to be set against son, mother against daughter, mother-in-law against daughter-in-law. In other words, “I’m going to fulfill the prophecy of Micah. I’m going to unleash the tribulation and the time of division that will precede the coming of the kingdom of God.” In other words, what Jesus is saying is, “There’s not going to be any salvation without tribulation first. There’s not going to be any kingdom of peace without a time of division first. I have to cast a fire of judgment upon the world and go through the waters of the cross before we can reach the resurrection.” Does that make sense? There’s no resurrection without a cross. There’s no kingdom without tribulation. There’s no restoration without division. He’s correcting an overly optimistic eschatology, or expectation that his disciple might be thinking. They might be thinking, “Hey, one day the kingdom’s just going to come down from heaven, all is going to be peace, all will be well, it’s just going to be peace, and love, and brotherhood of men, and fatherhood of God that’s going to spread throughout the world.” And Jesus is saying, “That’s not how it happens. I’ve got to go through the baptism of the cross first, and I’m anxious for it to be accomplished.” Because what Jesus is effectively doing in the cross is taking that tribulation upon himself, and through his suffering he’s going to unleash the power and the glory of the kingdom of God in this world and in the world to come.
SECOND READING TRANSCRIPT (Subscribe or Login for Full Transcript):
Okay. What's going on here? Well, Hebrews 12 — this is very important — comes right after Hebrews 11. And the reason that's so significant is in Hebrews 11, you have the famous catalog of all of these various saints and figures from the Old Testament who exemplified the virtue of faith. And so what's happening in chapter 12 is a kind of summary statement that follows from the catalog of the Old Testament saints and the witness of their faith, of what the implications are for the readers of the letter to the Hebrews.
For our purpose here, I want to hone in and focus on, most important of all, the image of the “cloud of witnesses,” that's a very well-known image, but it's also somewhat nebulous. Sorry about that, it’s just I couldn't pass up the pun. All right. So what is he referring to here? Well, in Greek, when he says a cloud of witnesses, the Greek word is martyrōn. ,
Now we might think he means, "Oh, cloud of martyrs," but he doesn't mean a cloud of people, a group of people who've been put to death for the sake of Christ. Remember, martyreō
in Greek means to bear witness or to give testimony, so what he's describing there is the list of all of those Old Testament saints that he's just finished cataloging in chapter 11. He's describing them as a cloud of witnesses, of souls, of people who give testimony to faith in God, who bear witness to God and to the truth of his promises.
And what Paul seems to be describing here, this is really powerful, is the fact that although all of the people that he's mentioned in chapter 11 are dead, they’ve all passed away, they are still not only alive to God, but they somehow surround the members of the church on earth, like a cloud descending from heaven to envelop them and surround them even in the present, although they've already passed away.
So what the author of Hebrews is describing here is it's a description of all of the figures from the Old Testament and from salvation history that he's just cataloged chapter 11, all of whom are dead. It's an assertion that they are somehow not just still alive to God, but that they surround the saints on earth like a cloud of witnesses, just like a cloud might descend from heaven and surround us. Think here of, for example, the transfiguration where the cloud overshadows Peter and James and John. You have these two Old Testament saints, Elijah and Moses, appear and are conversing with Jesus. So too, the letter of the Hebrews here is saying that we are surrounded by this cloud of witnesses from the Old Testament.
Now, where does the author of Hebrews get this idea that even though the saints of the Old Testament are dead, they can somehow still surround Christians on earth, believers on earth. And the answer is he gets it from Jewish tradition. In this case, from the Catholic Old Testament, but not from the Jewish Scriptures. So there's a very important passage that frequently gets overlooked from the second book of Maccabees, which is in the Catholic Old Testament, but not in the Protestant Old Testament and not in the contemporary Jewish Bible either. In 2 Maccabees 15, there's a description of two figures from Jewish history who had died, but who continued to be aware of what the Jewish people were doing on earth. And not just to be aware, but to be present to them, to intercede for them and to even be able to communicate with them. In other words, it's a description of the communion, or we what we would call the communion of the saints — although this is the communion of the Old Testament saints. So in the book of 2 Maccabees 15:12, listen to this description of a vision that was had by Judas Maccabeus, one of the leaders of Maccabean Revolt, of two deceased figures, Onias, the high priest and Jeremiah, the prophet. This is what it says:
What he saw was this: Oni′as, who had been high priest, a noble and good man, of modest bearing and gentle manner, one who spoke fittingly and had been trained from childhood in all that belongs to excellence, was praying with outstretched hands for the whole body of the Jews. Then likewise a man appeared, distinguished by his gray hair and dignity, and of marvelous majesty and authority. And Oni′as spoke, saying, “This is a man who loves the brethren and prays much for the people and the holy city, Jeremiah, the prophet of God.”
What 2 Maccabees is describing here, and this is written by a Jewish author during the second temple period, so it would reflect the beliefs of Jews at the time of Jesus, is that the High Priest, Onias, and the Prophet Jeremiah, who were both righteous men, are not only aware of what's happening to the Jewish people on earth, but they are actively praying for the Jewish people on earth through intercession, and able to speak to certain representatives of the Jewish people, like Judah himself, and be encouraged in the face of the trials and tribulations that they were going through at the time of the Maccabean Revolt. So what this text bears witness to, this is very important, is an Old Testament foundation for the Catholic belief and Orthodox as well, that although figures from the Old Testament have died, they still are alive to God, and not just alive to God but able to intercede for the saints on earth. So we have an Old Testament scriptural foundation for the intercession of the saints.
So if we take that basic idea back to the letter to the Hebrews, and we go back to Hebrews 12, we can then see what Hebrews is doing with it. So what the letter to the Hebrews is doing here is saying that because we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, in other words, because the saints of the Old Testament who lived lives of faith themselves while they were on earth, continue to be present to us and surround us, therefore, “let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us.” In other words, just as the Old Testament saints exhibited not just faith, but perseverance in following the path that God had laid out for them, so too we who are surrounded by the saints, must follow the path of perseverance, the path of faith, and run the race that is set for us.
Now pause here for a second, this is a fascinating use of a metaphor because the letter to the Hebrews appears to be describing the relationship between the saints in heaven, or the saints who have gone on, and the saints on earth like the participants in a race at an amphitheater. It was very popular in the 1st century AD. You had chariot races and so the stands would be filled with all of the fans, and then you'd have the racers who were in their chariots. If you've ever seen Ben-Hur or one of these films, you would get a kind of visual idea of what I'm talking about with the chariot races. They were very popular, extremely popular. And so what Hebrews is kind of doing here is comparing the saints on earth…they’re like the charioteers. They're running the race. And then the saints who have gone before us, the cloud of witnesses, are like the crowds cheering us on and encouraging us, interceding for us so that we too might run with perseverance the race that is set before us. So it's kind of an interesting image there, and the chief charioteer of them all is Christ himself, looking to Jesus, “the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.
Christ was the first one to run the race. He did it with perseverance, and the goal, the victory that He achieved, was resurrection from the dead and His ascension to the right hand of the Father. So that's the ultimate destination. That's the goal of our race as well, according to the author of the letter to the Hebrews. For full access subscribe here >