We’re reading the Letter to the Hebrews at length these days in our liturgy at Mass. Why was this written? When and to whom was it written? Interpreters of the Letter to the Hebrews ask these questions because they help us understand this writing better.
Obviously Hebrews is written to Jewish-Christians. Some interpreters think they live in Rome, which had a substantial Jewish-Christian population in the 1st century. Today’s reading indicates it was written after a time of persecution, perhaps when the Emperor Claudius banished Jewish Christians from the city in 49 AD because they were causing riots in Rome’s synagogues in disputes over Jesus Christ.
Did that stir cause the followers of Jesus there to tamper down their efforts and embrace their faith less fully? Perhaps. The writer of Hebrews warns his hearers against “drawing back” and “losing confidence” in the faith they profess. Were they losing their enthusiasm? That sounds like something that happens to us too.
Keep before you the heroes of faith, beginning with Jesus, the author of Hebrews says as he draws up for them a lengthy list of inspiring believers.
“For, after just a brief moment,
he who is to come shall come;
he shall not delay.
But my just one shall live by faith,
and if he draws back I take no pleasure in him.”
To that list of Old Testament heroes we can add the saints of the New Testament and saints of our times. They can inspire us too.