Homilette for Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Wednesday of the First Week in Ordinary Time

(Hebrews 2:14-18; Mark 1:29-39)

For centuries the Church believed that St. Paul wrote the Letter to the Hebrews. There were a few dissenters in early times, but only in the sixteenth century did the great Erasmus begin to persuade the majority of scholars that Paul could not have authored the document. As a preeminent theologian of the third century put it, “everyone who is able to discern differences in style” would know that the letter did not come directly from the pen of Paul. The identity of the author remains unknown today.

Determining authorship is only one of the difficulties in studying the Letter to the Hebrews. It is also full of obscure terms that challenge the modern mind. In today’s passage, for example, we scratch our heads trying to interpret the meaning of how humans “through fear of death had been subject to slavery all their life.” Is the letter trying to say, like Prince Hamlet in his “To be or not to be” soliloquy, that humans are not free to do what they want because they fear death?

No, it is not that. Such a fear would at least have us doing what is right. The fear to which the letter refers is a deeper anxiety that would paralyze us from doing any good at all. It is a fear that would so preoccupy us with the terror of death that we could not love God or neighbor. The letter tells us, however, that Christ has eliminated this kind of fear by his resurrection from the dead. Now we can, in the words of Cardinal Joseph Bernardin, “befriend death” because it only unites us securely with God, the object of our living.