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2 posted on 02/04/2013 10:55:36 PM PST by Salvation ("With God all things are possible." Matthew 19:26)
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From: Hebrews 12:1-4

The Example of Christ


[1] Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us al-
so lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with per-
severance the race that is set before us, [2] looking to Jesus the pioneer and per-
fecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, de-
spising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.

[3] Consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that
you may not grow weary or faint-hearted. [4] In your struggle against sin you have
not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood.

*********************************************************************************************
Commentary:

1-3. After recalling the exemplary faith and fidelity of the righteous of the Old Tes-
tament, a moral lesson is now drawn: Christians should be no less faithful—parti-
cularly since they have as a model not only patriarchs, kings and prophets but
also Christ Jesus himself, “the pioneer and perfecter of our faith”, in other words,
he is the perfect example of obedience, of faithfulness to his mission, of union
with the Father, and of endurance in suffering.

Christ is depicted as the strong, generous athlete who runs a good race (cf. 1
Cor 9:24; 1 Tim 6:12; 2 Tim 2:6), who starts and finishes well, who does not flag
and who wins the race. A Christian should live in the same way (cf. Gal 2:2; Phil
2:16; 5:7). It is as if we were listening again to what St Paul says in Philippians
2:5-9: “Have this mind among yourselves, which was in Christ Jesus.” Christ’s
example helps us to overcome contempt and it reminds us that we should not be
surprised to meet up with humiliation and hostility rather than success and rejoi-
cing (cf. Mt 10:24; Lk 6:40). “Cross, toil, anguish: such will be your lot as long as
you live. That was the way Christ went, and the disciple is not above his Master”
(St J. Escriva, “The Way”, 699).

1. This verse contains three remarkable expressions which stress the need to be
faithful in spite of difficulties. The first is the “cloud of witnesses”, a reference to
the multitude of holy people in the course of the history of Israel who stayed faith-
ful to God (cf. 11:2, 4, 5, 39); they are a cloud, a huge number filling the sky. In
classical literature one often finds an army advancing in battle array being com-
pared with a storm forming in the sky. Also, the image of the cloud suggests
that these witnesses are high up, near the sun, a sign of their spiritual stature.

They are “witnesses”, that is, active spectators of the combat in which Chris-
tians are involved. This evokes the idea of spectators at the Games who follow
the events from the stands, applauding, shouting and gesticulating.

“Sin which clings so closely”: one interpretation of the original is “sin which wat-
ches us closely, like an enemy, to see where he can attack us”. It is the same
kind of idea as occurs in 1 Pet 5:8, where it says that the devil prowls around
like a roaring lion seeking whom he may devour, and as in Gen 4:7 where God
describes sin as couching at the door (like a hungry wild animal ready to pounce).
The verb used to describe sin indicates it is something which surrounds one on
all sides (cf. RSV) and can easily get a foothold and is persistent. “We may have
here an allusion to occasions of sin, to the fact that sin is present all around us,
that is, in the world, in the flesh, in our neighbor and in the devil” (St Thomas,
“Commentary on Heb.”, ad loc.). Sin is also a “weight” which hinders our move-
ments and reduces our agility; there may also be a reference here to being over-
weight. The athlete needs to shed any surplus weight and keep to a strict trai-
ning schedule involving many small renunciations (cf. 1 Cor 9:25). His only hope
of success in the Games depends on this.

Finally, Christians are invited to “run with perseverance”. Theirs is not a short
race but a long test which calls for endurance and an ability to cope with pain and
fatigue. “Just as in a race and in combat we need to shed everything that cramps
our movements, the same happens in the struggle of tribulation. ‘I have fought the
good fight, I have finished the race,’ St Paul says (2 Tim 4:7). So, he who wants
to run well towards God in the midst of tribulation should shed all useless weight.
The Apostle describes this encumbrance as ‘weight, and sin which clings so clo-
sely’. This weight is the sins we have committed, which pull the soul downwards
and incline it to sin again” (”Commentary on Heb, ad loc.”).

Essentially, the verse emphasizes the need for detachment if one is to win in the
struggle of life: “Anything that does not lead to God is a hindrance. Root it out
and throw it far from you” (St J. Escriva, “The Way”, 189).

2. The Christian should fix his gaze on Jesus, in the same way as a runner, once
the race has begun, lets nothing distract him from his determination to reach his
goal.

“If you want to be saved,” St Thomas writes, “look at the face of your Christ. He
is the pioneer of our faith, in two senses. He teaches it through his preaching
and he also impresses it on our heart. In two senses also is he the perfecter of
our faith: he consigns faith by his miracles and it is he who gives faith its reward”
(”Commentary on Heb, ad loc.”).

Christ is the “pioneer” of our faith in the sense that he has marked out the path
Christians should take. He is the captain and guide of all the faithful, the cham-
pion who takes the lead and opens the way, setting the pace. The reference
evokes what Hebrews 6:20 says about Jesus being our “forerunner”.

Christ is the “pioneer” of our faith, the cause of our faith; it is he that we first be-
lieve in and, as author of grace, it is he who infuses this virtue into our souls. The
title of “pioneer”, initiator, may also indicate that Christ is for the Christian—and
for the universe—beginning and end, alpha and omega (cf. Rev 1:17; 2:8; 22:13).
In the same line, Jesus is also the “perfecter” of our faith, for it is he who will
lead us to perfection in faith and will transform it into the perfection of glory. He
will crown his work in us (cf. St Augustine, “Letter 194”, 5), for if we believe it is
because he has moved us to faith, and if we are glorified it will be because he
has helped us to stay true to the end.

Everything Christ did in his life is a perfect example for us to follow particularly
the way he underwent his passion. “In the passion of Christ there are three things
to consider: in the first place what he gave up, then what he suffered, and thirdly
what he merited. As far as the first is concerned, (Hebrews) speaks of his leaving
‘the joy that was set before him’, that is, joy or happiness here on earth, as when
the crowd sought him out to make him king and he fled to the mountain despising
that honor [...]. Then describing the happiness of eternal life as his reward, he ‘en-
dured the cross’: that is the second thing, namely, that he suffered the cross. ‘He
humbled himself and became obedient unto death, even death on a cross’ (Phil
2:8). In this the terrible severity of his suffering is manifested, for he was nailed to
the cross by his hands and feet, and the opprobrium of this death, for it was an
ignominious death [...]. The third thing, that is, what he merited, is being seated
at the right hand of the Father. Thus, the exaltation of Christ’s human nature was
the reward for his passion” (”Commentary on Heb, ad loc.”).

Christ is the pioneer of our faith by his death on the Cross, and its perfecter by
his glorification. Only those who share in Christ’s sufferings will be raised up like
him in glory (cf. Rom 6:8). The Christian life begins in Christ and finds its climax
in him.

To bring about our redemption any form of suffering would have sufficed; but such
was our Lord’s love for us that he accepted the ignominy of death on a cross.

“By now they have fastened Jesus to the wooden cross. The executioners have
ruthlessly carried out the sentence. Our Lord, with infinite meekness, has let
them have their way.

“It was not necessary for him to undergo so much torment. He could have avoi-
ded those trials, those humiliations, that ill-usage, that iniquitous judgment, and
the shame of the gallows, and the nails and the lance.... But he wanted to suffer
all this for you and for me. And we, are we not going to respond?

“Very likely there will be times, when alone in front of a crucifix, you find tears
coming to your eyes. Don’t try to hold them back.... But try to ensure that those
tears give rise to a resolution” (St J. Escriva, “The Way of the Cross”, XI, 1).

3. “What does Christ teach you from the height of the Cross, from which he
chose not to come down, but that you should arm yourself with valor against
those who revile you, and be strong with the strength of God?” (St Augustine,
“Enarrationes in Psalmos”, 70, 1). The difficulties Jesus had to contend with
were quite exceptional: Jews and Gentiles opposed him; he suffered every kind
of humiliation, to the extreme of his passion and death; but what pained him most
was the hard-heartedness, spiritual blindness and impenitence of those who had
come to save. The “sinners” who proved “hostile” to Jesus are not only Caiaphas,
Herod, Pilate, etc. but also those who continue to sin despite his redemptive sa-
crifice. Yet our Lord bore all this patiently and exhibited to a supreme degree the
virtues and qualities he asks of his disciples.

In Christ, and in Christians, weakness becomes strength, humiliation and glory.
“(Jesus) dies nailed to the Cross. But if at the same time in this weakness there
is accomplished his “lifting up”, confirmed by the power of the Resurrection, then
this means that the weaknesses of all human sufferings are capable of being in-
fused with the same power of God manifested in Christ’s Cross” (John Paul II,
“Salvifici Doloris”, 23).

The sacred text seeks to inspire the faithful with hope and strength by sugges-
ting that they contemplate Christ’s sufferings. That in fact has led many Chris-
tians to turn over a new leaf. St Teresa of Avila describes how it changed her:
“By this time my soul was growing weary, and, though it desired to rest, the mi-
serable habits which now enslaved it would not allow it to do so. It happened that,
entering the oratory one day, I saw an image which had been procured for a cer-
tain festival that was observed in the house and had been taken there to be kept
for that purpose. It represented Christ sorely wounded; and so conducive was it
to devotion that when I looked at it I was deeply moved to see him thus, so well
did it picture what he suffered for us. So great was my distress when I thought
how ill I had repaid him for those wounds that I felt as if my heart were breaking,
and I threw myself down beside him, shedding floods of tears and begging him
to give me strength once for all so that I might not offend him” (”Life”, IX, 1).

4-13. Following Christ’s example, Christians should struggle to avoid sin; they
should put up with tribulation and persecution because if such adversity arises
it means that the Lord permits it for our good. The letter’s tone of encourage-
ment seems to change here to one of reproach. It is as if the writer were saying,
“Christ gave his life for your sins, contending even to the point of dying for you;
how is it that you do not put up with suffering, out of love for him? It is true that
you are being persecuted: God is disciplining you as a Father disciplines his
children. But you are children of God and therefore your attitude should be one
of abandonment to his will even when it seems hard. That is the way a Father
brings up his children.”

The main point is that the only important thing is fidelity to God, and that the sin
of apostasy is the greatest of all misfortunes. “Don’t forget, my son, that for you
on earth there is but one evil, which you must fear and avoid with the grace of
God: sin” (St J. Escriva, “The Way”, 386).

*********************************************************************************************
Source: “The Navarre Bible: Text and Commentaries”. Biblical text from the
Revised Standard Version and New Vulgate. Commentaries by members of
the Faculty of Theology, University of Navarre, Spain.

Published by Four Courts Press, Kill Lane, Blackrock, Co. Dublin, Ireland, and
by Scepter Publishers in the United States.


3 posted on 02/04/2013 10:56:32 PM PST by Salvation ("With God all things are possible." Matthew 19:26)
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