Commented Bible Passages

These Bible meditations are meant as a way of seeking God in silence and prayer in the midst of our daily life. During the course of a day, take a moment to read the Bible passage with the short commentary and to reflect on the questions which follow. Afterwards, a small group of 3 to 10 people can meet to share what they have discovered and perhaps for a time of prayer.

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Hebrews 5:7-10: Jesus, Son and Brother
During the days of Jesus’ life on earth, he offered up prayers and petitions with fervent cries and tears to the one who could save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverent submission. Son though he was, he learned obedience from what he suffered and, once made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him and was designated by God to be high priest in the order of Melchizedek. (Hebrews 5:7-10)

Our image of Jesus is not of a person who is anxious, but rather as someone who knew the meaning and purpose of his life. In the Gospel of John, Jesus says: “I know where I came from and where I am going” (John 8:14). Often he was the one who liberated those who came to him filled with fear and anxiety. He would say to his disciples and those he met, “Do not be afraid”.

So it is surprising to read that Jesus “offered up prayers and petitions with fervent cries and tears to the one who could save him from death.” As the Son of God, who lived in constant communion with his Father, could it be possible that Jesus experienced anguish? This text seems to say that “yes,” Jesus had to struggle in order freely to accept the plan of God in his life. This does not take anything away from Jesus’ greatness. In fact, this is what makes him closer to us. Jesus is the Son of God, but he is also a son of humanity.

Jesus did not just experience anguish in Gethsemane and at the moment of his death on the cross but at other times during his life. In the Gospel of Luke, Jesus already foretells the stress he must undergo: “I have a baptism to be baptized with, and how great is my distress until it is accomplished!” (Luke 12:50). John’s Gospel also tells us that before the tomb of his friend Lazarus Jesus was deeply troubled (John 11:33). This struggle intensifies until it reaches the moment on the cross where Jesus cries out: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46).

In Jesus the “Word has became flesh and made his dwelling among us” (John 1:14). This is what Christians call the mystery of the incarnation. As the author of the Letter to the Hebrews puts it: “Jesus had to be made like his brothers and sisters, fully human in every way. (...) Because he himself suffered when he was tested, he is able to help those who are being put to the test.” (Hebrews 2:17-18). This is a message of hope. The person who experiences anguish and trouble is no longer alone. God is with them at every moment.

Through his life Jesus teaches us that worries and troubles are part of existence. Today the message that we receive in many different ways is that happiness is a life without problems, a state of well-being we have to obtain at all costs. When we contemplate our human existence, nothing seems further from the truth. Life is beautiful, but it is also complicated. To consent to what our life is, to welcome even those parts of our life that we will never understand or be able to change, is perhaps the first step in the transfiguration of our existence.

This passage also teaches us another important and difficult lesson: obedience. This is not an easy word for our post-modern ears. Obedience often is seen as submission and subordination. We also know that, in the name of “obedience”, many injustices have been committed. In a culture where equality, respect for human rights, and being yourself are highly valued, how can we speak about obedience? Does God want to crush Jesus under his will? Is Jesus forced to accept this plan so that his prayer may be heard?

It may help if we look at the etymology of the word “obedience.” It comes from the Latin word ob-audire, which means “to hear, to listen well”. In the Bible listening is a very important element in the journey of faith. Every day Jewish believers say this prayer: “Hear, O Israel, the Lord your God is one” (Deuteronomy 6:4).

Jesus also needed to listen in order to understand God’s plan in his life. Listening requires openness of mind and heart. It requires comprehension and reflection. Jesus did not just do God’s will automatically. Progressively, Jesus understood what it meant to be an true son of God, how to live out the inner decision to love. In choosing to love Jesus says “yes” to God’s plan of love. But he also becomes vulnerable. When you choose to love you open yourself to the possibility of suffering. Jesus’ vulnerability leads him to the cross, where he is truly himself, the compassionate and loving Son of God.

As Christians, we are now invited to “obey” Jesus (Hebrews 5:9), that is, to listen to him. We too must gradually learn what it means to become children of God. We are invited to mature and progressively understand what it means to love so we can constantly choose to love freely.

The gospel does not give us an abstract theory as to why we suffer or why God does not intervene. Rather, the gospel shows us the life of a human person. Fully human but also fully Son of God. Fully obedient to God and in total solidarity with humanity. Thus, as the author of the Letter to the Hebrews says: “Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith” (12:2).

- The prayer of a Christian is rooted in the prayer of Jesus. Does Jesus’ way of praying described in this passage give you a new perspective on prayer?

- Some say that we have the right to be happy. What is happiness? What does the gospel say about happiness and what it means to have a full life?

- Have you ever been in a situation where suffering has been transformed into something positive?

- How do you understand the word “obedience”?

Other bible meditations:

Last updated: 1 December 2022