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Lenten Devotions from Fourth Presbyterian Church

Monday, November 12, 2018

Today’s Scripture Reading | Hebrews 9:11–14

But when Christ came as a high priest of the good things that have come, then through the greater and perfect tent (not made with hands, that is, not of this creation), he entered once for all into the Holy Place, not with the blood of goats and calves, but with his own blood, thus obtaining eternal redemption. For if the blood of goats and bulls, with the sprinkling of the ashes of a heifer, sanctifies those who have been defiled so that their flesh is purified, how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish to God, purify our conscience from dead works to worship the living God! (NRSV)

The driving force behind these verses in Hebrews, perhaps in the entire book, is purity. Words like “perfect” and “without blemish” and (of course) “purify” evidence the author’s concern to establish Jesus’ death as our ticket to perfect, spotless purity.

Hebrews is a unique book in the New Testament canon. It displays an intimate familiarity with the Jewish law and prescriptions for temple worship, and it appropriates that knowledge to make the case that Jesus does not oppose or nullify those strictures but fulfills them. It’s intense. There’s blood involved.

I think we have to ask what’s behind this passion for purity. A historical and contextual understanding of ancient purity laws reveals a troubling equation of “impurity” with women and people with physical and mental illness. Yet these are the people with whom Jesus spent most of his time. The church follows Jesus’ example, sometimes better and sometimes worse.

Still, the yearning for what the author of Hebrews calls purity is easy to relate to, isn’t it? It’s a desire to be completely with God in spirit as well as in body, to have our desires, our intentions, and our actions align with integrity all the time. We long to be pure in our relationships, our diets, our worship, our language, our economic activity; are we not motivated in our best moments to be all-in with God’s intentions for the world? I think that’s purity.

The good news of Hebrews, then (the good news of the gospel), is that our yearning for purity has found fulfillment in Jesus. Because of who he was and how he lived, our longing to be perfect and pure will not, in the end, be frustrated. There’s nothing stopping us from working to be better, but our improvement is a consequence of Jesus’ love for us, not a precondition.

Eternal God, who in Jesus of Nazareth has purified all your children, may we so yearn for the perfection of Jesus that our lives are a constant enrichment to all your children, and may we so delight in Jesus’ purity attributed to us that we are freed, body and spirit, to worship you in all we do. Amen.

Written by Rocky Supinger, Associate Pastor for Youth Ministry

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