Updated: Jan 31, 2021
In the reading from the letter to the Hebrews, we are told, “Since God’s children share flesh and blood, Jesus himself likewise shared the same things.” I think that is a statement that needs some deeper reflection.
If one goes and types in “flesh and blood” into a search engine, one can find that “flesh and blood” is an idiom. Literally, those three words together mean, “A living human body, especially with reference to its natural limitations; a human being.” Figuratively, the saying means, “the quality of being alive.”
One source says it bears the meaning, “if you say that someone is flesh and blood, you mean that they have feelings or faults that are natural because they are human.”
We read what Paul wrote and seeing his words causes our conditioned minds to think in terms of an idiom. Then, when we read and hear, “Jesus himself likewise shared the same things,” we think Jesus had flaws and faults because he was human, just like us.
Then, when we read and hear of Jesus being taken to the temple for purification, we tend to jump to a conclusion that Jesus was impure and needed to be cleansed.
To a small degree all of that is true; but there is a deeper meaning that can easily be missed.
The word “flesh” alone bears the meaning of flawed, of being human, of being alive. The word “blood” is where we overlook the obvious.
Think about the times when you use the words “flesh and blood.” You talk to your children using those words. Your parents use those words to you. It means more then, as the statement, “You are my human being,” because it is a statement of relationship. To say, “You are of my own flesh and blood,” you are referring to an offspring, someone who sprang from your loins, sharing flesh that looks like you, sharing blood that came from you.
The word “blood” bears a definition that means, “Descent from a common ancestor; parental lineage. Family relationship; kinship.” We need to see that in the readings today.
Paul wrote, “Since God’s children share flesh and blood.” Therefore he was not talking generally, but instead making reference to a link through family relationship, a parental lineage, as children descended from God.
This is then not a statement about the whole of the human race. It is referring to a select subset of humanity. Thus, this statement is put into a letter addressed to “Hebrews.” That was a distinction that separated a part from the whole classified as “human,” being those human beings who routinely communicated with the language of Hebrew. Today, those people are generally called Jews. Jews, while sharing a common religion, are a race of people too. The Hebrew people are related to one another, through flesh and through DNA … blood.
Jesus, being a descendant of the house of David, as a Jew, shared the same things as other Jews. He shared a heritage, tradition, and culture with the Hebrew speaking people. “Therefore he had to become like his brothers and sisters in every respect, so that he might be a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God.”
That statement says that Jesus was destined to lead the Jews, where the Temple priests had failed to lead. Thus, as Paul wrote, God had to send his Son as a Jewish human being, “to make a sacrifice of atonement for the sins of the people.”
The Day of Atonement is a Jewish holy day, called Yom (Day) Kippur (Atonement). One of the ceremonies that takes place on Yom Kippur is the release of the scapegoat. A goat ceremoniously takes on the burden of the sins of the people, and it is then outcast into the desert. In a way, Jesus was also outcast by the Jewish people. However, it is more the other way around, where Jesus has outcast the Jews, although he still took their sins upon himself.
The sins of the Jewish people were their failure to be dedicated priests for God. Since the beginning, when they were given the land promised them, they wanted a king – so they could be like other people. A king would allow only one to be responsible to God as a priest, so all the rest could go and play like special children. They too were chosen to be priests, but they wanted all the benefits of being a priest, with none of the testing.
Paul wrote, “Because (Jesus) himself was tested by what he suffered, he was able to help those who are being tested.” Those who “are being tested” (in the present tense of Paul’s time), were those who were the first Christians. Those consisted of Jews and Gentiles; but in the letter to the Hebrews, he was talking directly to the Jews of Christianity.
In today’s time, Paul’s words still apply. Those who “are being tested” now are us, and all Christians. Today, only a small portion of Christians are Jewish, maintaining their laws in addition to the amendments of the New Covenant. That means Gentiles are now to be tested, with testing meaning suffering, as Paul wrote.
The prophet Malachi wrote of testing that comes from God’s messenger. We read that from the Old Testament today, because we believe Jesus was that messenger.
Malachi asked, “Who can endure the day of his coming, and who can stand when he appears?”
Jesus came around 4 BC, and then he left around 29-30 AD (give or take). However, Jesus said he would return, so Malachi’s questions still apply.
Who can endure the day of his return? – Who would still be there in 2000 years?
Who can stand when he reappears? – Who will rise when Jesus returns?
Malachi said, “He is like a refiner’s fire and like fuller’s soap.” He said, “He will purify the descendants of Levi and refine them like gold and silver, until they present offerings to the LORD in righteousness.”
This is metaphor for Jesus returning value to God’s priests. They will be tested by fire, so their precious metals separate from the dirt, rock, and other metals of lesser value, which lesser priests will have allowed to be attached to them. They will be washed in lye soap, beaten on rocks, and made soft and full as fine linen robes should be.
Jesus will make worthy priests, ones that “will be pleasing to the LORD.”
Thus, we need to ask ourselves: Are we tested? Are we worthy?
In Luke, we read of Jesus being presented in the Temple, as required by the law in Leviticus. The “purification process” is for Mary and her first born son, due to the discharge of blood during Jesus’ birth. Both are deemed sinners, where the sins of the child are due to it having the blood of his mother inside it. That is a statement of mitochondrial DNA association, where lineage is traceable through blood and tissue … flesh and blood.
Simeon, whose name means “He who hears,” came into the temple to serve in the purification process. Mary, according to the Law, could not touch any holy thing or go into any sanctuary, until 40 days had passed after childbirth. Jesus would have been circumcised on day 8 (according to Law), and Simeon would then make inspections and ask pertinent questions, with everything being part of a ritual ceremony of cleansing – making the rough wool full and soft. However, when Simeon took Jesus in his arms, he immediately knew Jesus was special for the world.
Simeon said to a baby only 41 days old, whom he had never laid eyes or hands on before, here is “a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel.” If the name holds true, then Simeon spoke the words he heard, as a priest for the One God. The voice of flesh and blood, sourced in the divine mind.
Then, there was a widow who had lived in the temple for many years, continuously worshiping, fasting, and praying, who overheard Simeon and his conversation with the amazed parents, Joseph and Mary. Her name was Anna, a name that means “compassion.” She began praising God, and telling others about having the Messiah now among them. She told this “to all who were looking for redemption of Jerusalem.”
Mary was supposed to bring a lamb for sacrifice, but we read two turtledoves were sacrificed instead. The Law stated that if one cannot afford a lamb, then turtledoves (or pigeons) could be substituted. They would have been purchased from the vendors on the steps outside the Temple. That was what was sacrificed as part of the purification process for Mary and Jesus.
The reason Mary did not bring a lamb is the family had traveled “up to Jerusalem” from Egypt, where then had fled to avoid the death decree ordered by Herod I, or Herod the Great. Herod had died, thus making their return safe. The exclamations made by Anna, to all who came into the temple compound, would not endanger the family. Thus, when the required purification process was finished, “they returned to Galilee, to their own town of Nazareth.”
In this season of epiphany, we are not called to remember that Jesus was a Jew and lived by the Law of Moses. We are not related to Jesus by blood. We would not know Jesus from Adam, if it had not been for acts of Jews who were first filled with the Holy Spirit, who were led to become true priests for God, causing them to reach out to us Gentiles, allowing our ancestors to receive the Holy Spirit, becoming Christians too.
That is the significance we recognize with our Communion, our Eucharist. As human beings we share the flesh of Jesus, the body of Christianity, through a physical wafer. Beyond that physical relationship, we spiritually share the blood of Jesus, through the wine that enters our bloodstream, making us symbolically related to Jesus in spirits. We become of the lineage of priests that the children of God were created to be. We become linked to Jesus through the Holy Spirit.
Jesus was sent to redeem the children of God who failed to live up to the standards God set. They were only the flesh, and while they had the genes of Adam in their blood, they were not willing to receive the spirit of purpose, of intent to lead the world as God planned.
The saying goes, “What goes around comes around.” We are the latest version of the children of God. Therefore, the warnings of the prophets apply to us, the same as they applied to them. Are we failing to serve God as He intended, as priests, who not only use words to spread the news of Jesus Christ, but also live in the spirit of Christ.
Are we leading by example?
Or, are we a reflection of those needing redemption?
May Christ give us all strength to accept the testing of suffering, so that we may live in the glory of God’s people.