By Fr Munachi E. Ezeogu, cssp
Homily for 27th Sunday in Ordinary Time - on the Epistle
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Perfected Through Suffering

Genesis 2:7-8,18-24 Hebrews 2:9-11 Mark 10:2-16

We do see Jesus, who for a little while was made lower than the angels, now crowned with glory and honour because of the suffering of death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone. 10 It was fitting that God, for whom and through whom all things exist, in bringing many children to glory, should make the pioneer of their salvation perfect through sufferings. (Hebrews 2:9-10)

The saying that Jesus was made perfect through suffering can be misleading. Some Christians have inferred from this verse that self-inflicted suffering or pain is good. As a result, this verse has been invoked to justify self-flagellation and other forms of self-punishment. Whatever the merits of such self-imposed disciplinary measures, the author of Hebrews is making a different point here.

One reason why we misunderstand the statement that Jesus was made perfect through suffering is the understanding of perfection that we bring to the text. We often come to the text with a Greek philosophical understanding of perfection, where to be perfect means to be ideal in every respect, to be altogether excellent, to be absolutely free from any flaw or defect. The Hebrew understanding of perfection, which is behind the Epistle to the Hebrews, is somewhat different. In this Hebrew understanding, to be perfect means to be ideally suited for a particular purpose. Here perfection is understood as relative to an end, and not absolute as in Greek thought. Therefore, the statement that Jesus was made perfect through suffering should be understood as saying that on account of what he suffered, Jesus became ideally suited for the purpose for which he came, namely, to be "the pioneer of our salvation" (verse 10). Here is a story to illustrate how suffering made Jesus the ideal architect of our salvation.

A man put up a sign in front of his house that read: "Puppies for Sale." Soon after, a young boy came in to inquire.
"Please, Mister," he said, "I'd like to buy one of your puppies if they don't cost too much."
"Well, son, they're $25."
The boy looked crushed. "I've only got two dollars and five cents. Could I see them anyway?"
"Of course. Maybe we can work something out," said the man.
The lad's eyes danced at the sight of those five little balls of fur. "I heard that one has a bad leg," he said.
"Yes, I'm afraid she'll be crippled for life."
"Well, that's the puppy I want. Could I pay for her a little at a time?"
The man responded, "But she'll always have a limp."
Smiling bravely, the boy pulled up one pant leg, revealing a brace. "I don't walk good either."
Then, looking at the puppy sympathetically, he continued, "I guess she'll need a lot of love and help. I sure did. It's not so easy being crippled."
"Here, take her," said the man. "I know you'll give her a good home. And just forget the money."

In this story we see a young lad who has been made perfect to be the ideal caregiver of the crippled puppy through what he suffered, namely his personal handicap. Because he has experienced lameness, he is now in the best position to understand and help the lame puppy. In the same way, Christ, by embracing the human condition and experiencing the hardships, weaknesses and temptations of human life, became the perfect candidate to help us along the way of salvation. "For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who in every respect has been tested as we are, yet without sin" (Hebrews 4:15).

This is good news for us struggling sinners. Sometimes, we are tempted to despair, like Judas, thinking that our Lord, Jesus will not understand and forgive us after we have betrayed him once again. But he will understand and he will forgive if, like Peter, we refuse to give up on ourselves. The Letter to the Hebrews leaves us, then, with these words of encouragement, "Let us therefore approach the throne of grace with boldness, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need" (Hebrews 4:16). When last did you approach God's throne of grace with confidence to receive the mercy you need in your sinfulness and the grace you need in your weakness?

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