Let the Scriptures Speak

Jesus, Perfecter of Faith

Let us … persevere in running the race that lies before us
while keeping our eyes fixed on Jesus, 
the leader and perfecter of faith. (Heb 12:1-2)

How can the Prince of Peace, the preacher of the message of nonviolence that we hear in the Sermon on the Mount—how can he speak the hard words of today's Gospel? “Do you think that I have come to establish peace on the earth? No, I tell you, but rather division.” Then Jesus proceeds to promise the most painful kinds of division—within households, even between parents and children. Can these sayings be reconciled? They can, when we recognize that those words of division do not describe Jesus' mission but rather some of the side-effects of that mission.

That his mission should have divisive results should not surprise us. Recall the prediction of Simeon at the Presentation: “Behold, this child is destined for the fall and rise of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be contradicted. … ” (Luke 2:34). And such indeed was the effect of Jesus' public life—from the rejection at the synagogue of Nazareth to the divided response of the bandits crucified on either side of him.

The creation of the new family of the Church would continue to provoke as much rejection as acceptance—even to the splitting of households and families. But even as today's readings confront us with this hard picture of prophetic mission constantly rejected—from Jeremiah, through Jesus, down to us—the bit from the letter to the Hebrews is there to console us.

Here, the author of Hebrews presents Jesus himself as a model for the Christian persevering through tough challenges “for the sake of the joy that lay before him.” He dares to call Jesus the “perfecter of faith”—in other words the one whose own faith showed what true faith is. This phrase is so startling that some translations (e.g., KJV, NIV, NRSV, NAB [1970]) add the possessive pronoun “our” (apparently to avoid imputing faith to Jesus). But other versions—notably the Rheims, the New American Standard, and the NAB (1986)—stay close to the Greek and support the meaning demanded by the context, namely that it really is Jesus’ own trust in the Father that we are called to imitate. That faith sustains us through any and all rejection.

 

Dennis Hamm, SJ

Fr. Hamm is emeritus professor of the New Testament at Creighton University in Omaha. He has published articles in The Catholic Biblical Quarterly, The Journal Of Biblical Literature, Biblica, The Journal for the Study of the New Testament, America, Church; and a number of encyclopedia entries, as well as the book, The Beatitudes in Context (Glazier, 1989), and three other books.

 

**From Saint Louis University

Kristin Clauson