Father Callan’s Commentary on Hebrews 12:1-13

AN EXHORTATION TO CONSTANCY
A Summary of Hebrews 12:1-13

The Apostle now applies to his readers what has just been said in the preceding Chapter. He exhorts them to remain steadfast in their faith, thus imitating those illustrious examples of the past, and especially Christ Himself (ver. 1-3). Our sufferings are a sign of God’s fatherly care for us as His sons; He knows that discipline is good and necessary for us, and He wants to lead us to perfection (ver. 4-13).

1. And therefore, we also having so great a cloud of witnesses over our head, laying aside every weight and sin which surrounds us, let us run by patience to the fight proposed to us;
2. Looking on Jesus, the author and finisher of faith, who having joy set before him, endured the cross, despising the shame, and now sitteth on the right hand of the throne of God
.

1-2. The writer describes the Christian life as a race, like the contests often witnessed in the Greek amphitheater. The metaphor is a familiar one with St. Paul (1 Cor 9:24-25; Phil 3:12-14; 2 Tim 4:7-8). The racers in the games were surrounded by spectators. They put off all superfluous clothing and reduced their flesh by training, so as to be able to exert their maximum strength and gain the greatest speed, and they kept their eyes steadily fixed on the goal.

In a similar manner the runners for the prize of eternal life must act. They are in the arena of life, and the heroes enumerated in the previous Chapter are watching their struggle. They must put away all the entanglements of sin and run with patient steadfastness the way before them, looking to Jesus as their goal, who is the author and perfecter of their faith, and who, for the joy that would be afforded by our redemption and His own glorification as man, gladly endured the sufferings and shame of His passion, and now sits in triumph at the right hand of the Father in heaven.

Which surrounds us, like an encircling robe. The Greek word for “surrounds” means, more literally, “easily besets.” It is found only here and is of uncertain meaning, but it surely refers to the internal and external encumbrances of sin, to the hampering effect of sin on the soul.

Now sitteth on the right hand, etc. This is the glorious reward which our Lord’s sufferings merited for His humanity. Note the difference in time of the verbs which express our Lord’s sufferings and His glorification, “endured,” “sitteth.” The former expresses something that was passing and that came to an end, while the latter (in the perfect tense in the Greek) signifies that Christ has taken His seat for all future time at the right hand of the Father.

3. For think diligently upon him that endured such opposition from sinners
against himself; that you be not wearied, fainting in your minds.
4. You have not yet resisted unto blood, striving against sin;

3-4. Meditation on the passion and sufferings of Christ would give greatest encouragement to the readers of the Epistle who were tempted to falter in their Christian loyalty and devotion under the pressure of persecution by their enemies. The writer has already shown in 2:10 and 5:8-9 that Christ Himself was made perfect and learned obedience by the things which He suffered. He, therefore, now exhorts his readers to follow the example of their Master. Surely their sufferings have not yet equalled His.

5. And you have forgotten the consolation, which speaketh to you, as unto
children, saying: My son, neglect not the discipline of the Lord; neither be thou wearied whilst thou art rebuked by him,
6. For whom the Lord loveth he chastiseth; and he scourgeth every son whom he receiveth
.

5-6. The writer now bids his readers remember what God has said in the words of Prov 3:11-12, where suffering is described as the chastening of the Lord; the Lord admits no one to His love whom He does not chastise and subject to discipline. Of course, it does not follow from this that all who suffer are beloved of the Lord, because sin brings its own punishment here and now, and the sinner is often scourged by the results of his sins without being moved to better ways. But the way of the cross and of suffering is the only road to heaven.

7. Persevere under discipline. God dealeth with you as with his sons; for what son is there whom the father doth not correct?
8. But if you be without chastisement, whereof all are made partakers, then are you bastards, and not sons
.

7-8. Persevere under discipline. The Greek means: “It is for the sake of discipline that you have to suffer.” God is treating the Christians as sons, and suffering is necessary for the upbuilding and perfecting of character. Hence, if they had not to endure these hardships, it would be a sign that they were not in God’s favor as sons.

9. Moreover, we have had fathers of our flesh for instructors, and we reverenced them: shall we not much more obey the Father of spirits and live?
10. And they indeed for a few days, according to their own pleasure, instructed us; but he, for our profit, that we might receive his sanctification
.

9-10. Here the Apostle tells us that we all have had our earthly fathers who chastised and instructed us in our youth, and yet we revered them. How much more then should we reverently accept the discipline of the Father and Creator of our spirits and spiritual life who is training us for eternity! Those human parents were preparing us for this present brief life and according to their own conceptions and standards, which were sometimes erroneous; but
God’s discipline is always perfect, and the end He has in view is our sanctification, to make us partakers of His own holiness herethrough grace and hereafter in glory.

11. Now all chastisement for the present indeed seemeth not to bring with it joy but sorrow; but afterwards it will yield, to them that are exercised by it, the most peaceable fruit of justice.

11. All discipline seems hard and irksome at the time, but when it comes from God its final issue is always peace and holiness; everything good has to be purchased at a price proportionate to its value. As athletes are hardened and strengthened by physical exercise, so Christians by moral discipline are developed, strengthened and perfected in their character and made ready for the life to come.

12. Wherefore lift up the hands which hang down and the feeble knees,
13. And make straight steps with your feet, that no one halting may go out of the way; but rather be healed
.

12-13. There is a reference in ver. 12 to Isaias 25:3, and in ver. 13 to Prov 4:26. In view of what has just been said, the writer tells his readers to take courage in their sufferings and tribulations. They must not let their hands hang listlessly down nor their feet grow weak. They must have regard for the fainting souls of their brethren and try to smooth the path for them, so that legs which are already lame may not be put out of joint by the roughness of the road they have to walk, but may rather be healed. Such is the meaning of the Greek of verse 13, which our version and the Vulgate do not clearly bring out.

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One Response to Father Callan’s Commentary on Hebrews 12:1-13

  1. Pingback: Commentaries for the Twenty-First Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C | stjoeofoblog

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