This article was originally published by Mennonite World Review

Bible: The high priest and the foundation

Heb. 1:1-9 sets the tone for the entire letter to the Hebrews with its focus on Christ, the great high priest.
God “has spoken to us by a Son,” the text says, “whom [God] appointed heir of all things, through whom [God] also created the worlds.”

Meghan Florian

Instead of opening with some sort of greeting, as one might be used to when reading epistles, the unknown author immediately jumps in on the topic: God has spoken to the people in many ways in the past, and now God speaks through God’s Son, the one through whom God made the whole world.

This Son is an imprint of God; this Son sustains the world by his word.

The language in these first few verses echoes language used for the female figure Wisdom, who is described in Proverbs 8 and elsewhere as present at creation, firstborn, before the springs, the mountains, the earth and heavens existed.

Wisdom was there beside God, working, from the beginning. In drawing on this language, the author of Hebrews indicates that Christ too is present with God throughout time, the firstborn, begotten not made, the “exact imprint” of God’s being, glorious and majestic.

Heb. 3:1-6 continues in this vein, emphasizing that Jesus is both “the apostle and the high priest of our confession,” who is “worthy of more glory than Moses.”

Hebrews has a high Christology — that is, the epistle’s understanding of Christ is especially concerned with his divinity, with his priestly identity, which may feel like a more lofty subject than other, more human-focused Christologies.

In trying to think about Jesus as both human and divine — two incompatible things somehow made compatible — the New Testament writers often focus on one aspect or the other: Jesus is human; Jesus is divine. Yet, while Hebrews emphasizes heavenly glory, this passage also employs an earthly metaphor.

“The builder of the house has more honor than the house itself,” the text says. “For every house is built by someone, but the builder of all things is God.”

Building something means doing physical labor, hard work, getting dirty and sweaty and tired. The builder can create something through this work — four walls and a roof, a house. And we are the house, according to Hebrews, “if we hold firm the confidence and pride that belong to hope.”

Matt. 7:24-29 picks up this metaphor and carries it further. Jesus tells his listeners that houses need firm foundations if the inevitable storms of this world are not to wash them away.

Rain will fall, flood waters will rise, winds will blow and beat against the side of the house. If the foundation is sandy, even the most solid wall wouldn’t remain vertical, with nothing to hold it up against the gusts and gales. A strong foundation, though, will hold it all together.

What is this metaphor trying to teach us? Like so many stories, it is not merely about the house. It’s about God, the builder as well as the foundation of the building.

In teaching these things, Matthew tells us, Jesus spoke as one with authority — God’s authority. “Everyone then who hears these words of mine and acts on them will be like a wise man who built his house on rock.”

To build on God’s foundation, one must not only listen to God’s words — to the high priest’s words — but act on them. A foundation is just a foundation, and what is a builder without something to build?

Allow yourself to be built on rock instead of sand, confident and proud, because of God’s faithfulness since the beginning, since before the worlds were made.

Meghan Florian, of Durham, N.C., works in the Center for Theological Writing at Duke Divinity School. She is a member of Chapel Hill Mennonite Fellowship.

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