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Lenten Devotions from Fourth Presbyterian Church

Thursday, October 18, 2018

Today’s Scripture Reading | Hebrews 5:1–10

Every high priest chosen from among mortals is put in charge of things pertaining to God on their behalf, to offer gifts and sacrifices for sins. He is able to deal gently with the ignorant and wayward, since he himself is subject to weakness; and because of this he must offer sacrifice for his own sins as well as for those of the people. And one does not presume to take this honor, but takes it only when called by God, just as Aaron was. So also Christ did not glorify himself in becoming a high priest, but was appointed by the one who said to him, “You are my Son, today I have begotten you”; as he says also in another place, “You are a priest forever, according to the order of Melchizedek.” In the days of his flesh, Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to the one who was able to save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverent submission. Although he was a Son, he learned obedience through what he suffered; and having been made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him, having been designated by God a high priest according to the order of Melchizedek. (NRSV)

The concepts of obedience and submission can be stumbling blocks in Christian faith. Unfortunately they have both been used in some Christian settings to reinforce systems of domination and subservience. These abuses make it hard to find in today’s reading the truth and beauty that I search for in the scriptures. But I still believe it is there.

The scholarly translation called the Common English Bible replaces “reverent submission” with “godly devotion,” an equally legitimate translation of the original Greek. How does it change our understanding of this scripture if we believe that Christ’s prayers were heard because of his devotion, not because of his submission?

We need a better understanding of obedience, too. Consider how the trees obey the seasons. When the days grow shorter and the winds turn colder, the trees begin to pull in their sap and their leaves crumple and color—yellow, orange, red, brown. In the spring, warmth and water course through the trees and new life presses out through buds. Trees obey the seasons because the seasons are part of who they are.

In a similar way, we obey God when we understand that God is part of who we are, or we are part of who God is. Just as light and darkness, warmth and cold, water and sap are the essence of life for trees, God is the ground of our being. Christ is “the exact imprint of God’s very being” (Hebrews 1:3) and is given the excellent name of “Son.” We too are called children of God, brothers and sisters of Christ, who share the same flesh and blood (Hebrews 2:14).

Being obedient to God, obedient to love, obedient to the essence of life and the ground of our being—that is very different from allowing harm to ourselves or to others by those who would dominate us. Obedience to grace is not subservience to domination.

God of power and grace, help me to imbibe and obey your steadfast love. Wrap me in the cloak of Christ, so that I might embody Christ’s conviction for justice and devotion to compassion. Amen.

Written by Nanette Sawyer, Associate Pastor for Discipleship and Small Group Ministry

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