In the days of his flesh, Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to the one who was able to save him from death… Although he was a Son, he learned obedience through what he suffered; and having been made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation…
In his now-classic, 1953 work, The Hero: A Study in Tradition, Myth and Dreams, Lord Raglan suggests that there is a pattern to which all hero’s lives adhere, a pattern that stretches across time and cultures. From Krishna to King Arthur, from Romulus to Robin Hood, Raglan writes that heroes tend to share some of the following characteristics:
- The hero’s mother is royal and a virgin, and
- the circumstances of conception are unusual, and
- the hero is also reputed to be the offspring of a god.
- At birth an attempt is made to kill the hero, but
- the hero is spirited away and
- reared in a far country.
- We know little of the hero’s childhood, but
- on reaching adulthood the hero returns to his future Kingdom.
- After a victory over the king (and/or a giant, dragon, or wild beast),
- the hero marries, often a princess, often the daughter of his predecessor
- and himself becomes king.
- For a time the hero reigns uneventfully, but
- later loses favor with the gods and/or his subjects, and
- is driven from the throne and city, after which
- the hero dies a mysterious death,
- often at the top of a hill.
- The hero’s children, if any, do not succeed him.
- The hero’s body is not buried, but nevertheless
- he has one or more holy sepulchres.
(Thanks to the Monmouth College Classics Department for the above summary of Lord Raglan’s pattern!)
Sound familiar? Jesus shares 18 of the 22 characteristics in Lord Raglan’s “hero pattern.” Moses share even more.
Even though none of our readings this morning mention Moses, I bring up Moses because connecting Moses and Jesus is something that not only Lord Raglan might have done, but it’s something the letter to the Hebrews does do, placing Jesus alongside of – and interpreting him through – the “heroes” of the Old Testament: Abraham and Melchizedek, Moses and Aaron. And if we would understand Hebrews – from which we’ve been reading, and from which we will continue to hear for several more weeks – it helps to appreciate Hebrews’ connection between Jesus and the heroes of the Hebrew scriptures.
As we consider the letter to the Hebrews in light of the heroes of the Hebrew scriptures, it is important to note a key difference between heroes from other cultures and biblical heroes: Whereas it is customary in other cultures and traditions to focus on the hero’s deeds (Hercules strangling serpents in the cradle) or his cunning (Odysseus outwitting the Cyclops) or his fatal flaw (Achilles’ heel), the biblical tradition focuses on relationships: how the hero shares in the life of his people – AND – how the people share in the life of the hero.
For example, Moses shares with his people
- that he is one of them; he was born a Hebrew.
And the people share in the life of Moses –
- just as Moses lived in the wilderness after he left Egypt (caring for the flock of his father in-law Jethro), so will the people live in the wilderness after they leave Egypt.
Moses shares with his people
- that, just as the patriarchs Isaac and Jacob met their wives at a well, so does Moses meet his wife at a well.
And the people share in the life of Moses –
- just as Moses met God in fire at Mt. Horeb (at the burning bush), so will the people meet God in fire at Mt. Horeb (when God gives them the Ten Commandments).
Unlike other cultures’ heroes, Hebrew heroes are not about strength or cunning or fatal flaws. Hebrew heroes are about relationship: sharing in the life of their people – AND – their people sharing in their life.
True to the form of Hebrew heroes, one of the major themes of the Letter to the Hebrews is how Jesus shares in the life of his people. For example:
Since… the children share flesh and blood, he himself likewise shared the same things… 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. (from Hebrews 2:14-17)
AND true to the form of Hebrew Heroes, the people share in Jesus’ life.
- Just as Jesus entered God’s “rest,” so will we enter God’s “rest” (ch 4)
- Just as Jesus approaches the throne of God with boldness, so can we approach the throne of God with boldness (4:16)
- Just as Jesus enters “the inner shrine behind the curtain” (6:19), so does Jesus give us hope that we can enter
- Just as Jesus participates in a new covenant, so can we participate in a new covenant (12:24)
- And so forth…
If we would better understand the Letter to the Hebrews, perhaps it would be helpful to think in “hero terms.” Not Classical heroes with their deeds or cunning or fatal flaws, but Hebrew heroes who are in relationship: who share in the lives of their people, and whose people share in their lives.
The Letter to the Hebrews is Good News, for it suggests that, if we would know what it means, not just to be Christian but to be human, we need but look to Jesus our “Hero.” The freedom and fullness that marks Jesus life is the freedom and fullness that can mark our life. The “rest” that Jesus has in God is the “rest” that we can have in God. The intimacy Jesus has with God is the intimacy we can have to God; the boldness that Jesus has with God is the boldness we can have. And – perhaps most importantly – the love that Jesus has, and His joy, is the love and joy that, in Him, is ours.