”I have no faith in human perfectibility. Man is now only more active - not more happy - nor more wise, than he was 6000 years ago.” ~ Edgar Allan Poe
Biblical scholars believe that the Letter to the Hebrews was most likely written before the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem. Some believe it was composed during the latter half of the year 63 AD or perhaps even the beginning of 64, this according to the Catholic Encyclopedia. Others hold to a later date of composition, somewhere between 70 and 100 AD. For years it was generally understood and accepted that Saint Paul was the author of this letter, however that’s now up for debate amongst those same biblical scholars and many others who have painstakingly researched its origins.
In any event, the intention of whomever it was who authored this letter was clear. He sought to demonstrate that faith in Christ is the culmination and perfection of the faith of Israel. Whereas Moses was considered a mediator, a bridge between God and man, the author of Hebrews asserts that Jesus Christ is the mediator. Moses pointed to what Jesus Christ came to establish, but Jesus Christ is always the fulfillment, the true perfection of all things.
“Son though he was, he learned obedience from what he suffered, and when he was made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him.” These are the controversial words that close today's passage from Hebrews (5:1-10), controversial at least during these early centuries of Christianity. How could Christ, who is God the Son, learn obedience from what he suffered? Lest we ignore the even more obvious question: How could God be “made” perfect? Was he not perfect before, as God?
It’s important to point out that Jesus Christ was indeed always perfect in himself. He always obeyed the Father, always listening and acting upon the Father’s command. Christ was always morally perfect in his actions, his teachings, and in his life. But as Father John Paul Mary points out in his morning homily for EWTN, “It is not until Christ takes on everyone’s sin and expiates it through his suffering that he accomplishes the goal for which he was sent.”
Christ was sent by God the Father to take on our sins, he who was sinless, the Immaculate Lamb. As Saint Augustine explains, “God had one son on earth without sin, but never one without suffering.” He did so to reconcile us to God, to become the bridge so to speak, between God and man. The one mediator. This was Christ’s purpose. No mere human could take on this task, to offer pure and perfect atonement for sin. Only a divine person could bridge that gap. The one to accomplish this was Jesus. Jesus’ suffering and death was the culmination of his perfect obedience to the Father.
Jesus was always obedient to the Father and therefore had no need to learn this virtue. In becoming perfect through suffering, it was the completion of his obedience. It was not yet complete until he put it into practice in his life by the offering of his life. Herein lies our hope as we go forth into a world where crosses and sufferings await us. We have a God who fully identifies with us. He experienced the human condition while possessing full knowledge of it. This should be a source of enormous consolation. We have a God who sees the human condition for what it is. Jesus Christ identifies with every single person on the face of the Earth, past, present and future. He knows you.
Christ’s transformation, by which his perfection is fulfilled through his passion, was not just for himself. It has consequences for us, for all mankind. Jesus is the truth, the one truth. He is, as the author of Hebrews puts it, “the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him.” (Hebrews 5:10). I leave you with the words of the aforementioned Saint Augustine, who of Jesus said “He died, but he vanquished death; in himself he put an end to what we feared; he took it upon himself and he vanquished it, as a mighty hunter he captured and slew the lion.”