It was a big day for little Emily. She had just received her First Holy Communion, and now she was back at home with her family for a party to celebrate the event.
With everyone gathered in the living room, Emily walked in confidently in her beautiful new white dress. In front of everyone, she recited the Hail Mary and the Our Father, with her dad videotaping the moment. She was quick on her feet as she answered questions from her parents and grandparents about the Mass and the Ten Commandments, about Jesus and about Mary. Everyone was so proud of her that they gave her a round of applause before cutting the cake and giving her presents.
As proud as everyone was on that special day, it would be a sad and disappointing thing if, twenty years later, this recitation of prayers and simple answers to simple questions were all that Emily knew about her faith. This is the point that the author of the Letter to the Hebrews made as he urged his readers to keep their eyes fixed on Jesus.
In this article, we want to look at the way the Letter to the Hebrews talks about milk versus meat in the Christian life. If we look specifically at Hebrews 5:11-14, we can see that the author of this letter is concerned that his readers have not made the kind of progress that they could have made in the Christian life. But he also offers a way out for them—and for us. So let’s take a look at three pitfalls that the author of Hebrews warns us against so that we can grow more fully into meat eaters.
Open Your Ears. You have become sluggish in hearing. (Hebrews 5:11)
We all seem to have a shut-down mechanism that goes into action when we feel overloaded. Think of a student in class who just doesn’t want to process any more information. Or think of a losing sports team who have heard more than enough from their disappointed coach. In situations like these, there comes a point when any further discussion is useless. It seems that this is what the author of the Letter to the Hebrews was saying. He was trying to tell his readers that their faith had to extend beyond a basic understanding of the gospel. There was so much more he wanted to tell them, but they had shut down. “About this we have much to say,” he wrote (Hebrews 5:11). But they weren’t ready to hear it.
Much to say about what? About Jesus, the great high priest who is the radiance of God’s glory. He wanted to tell them about Jesus, who is far superior to Melchizedek, Moses, and even the angels. He wanted to tell them about Jesus, who sustains the whole of creation and is the fulfillment of God’s perfect plan for his people. (Hebrews 1:3-4; 3:3; 4:14-15; 5:8-10). He wanted his readers to open their eyes and see Jesus in a whole new light.
We all should ask ourselves: “Are my eyes open? Are my ears open? Am I eager to hear? Or am I content to come to Mass with no expectation that God will work powerfully in my life?” It is tempting to want to hear the same things over and over again—God is good, Satan is bad, we have to try harder, we have to help each other—and not try to plumb the depths of who Jesus is. It is tempting to be satisfied with a superficial knowledge of our faith. But it is far more rewarding to dive into the Scriptures, to dive into the love and mercy of God and lose ourselves in him!
The author tells us that God’s word is “living and effective, sharper than any two-edged sword, penetrating even between soul and spirit, joints and marrow, and able to discern reflections and thoughts of the heart” (Hebrews 4:12). Let’s all decide to open our eyes and ears to the Lord. Let’s allow his word in Scripture to search our hearts and show us how to put aside anything that is not of him, even as we strengthen our grasp on the gifts he has already given us.
Time Does Not Equal Maturity. You should be teachers by this time. (Hebrews 5:12)
Anybody who has made wine knows how important it is for a vintage to ferment over time. The longer a wine sits in its cask, the more mature it becomes and the better it tastes. All the winemaker has to do at this point is watch and wait. If only this were the case with the Christian life as well! But time does not equal maturity. Change does. And change can be hard.
The author of Hebrews told his readers that with all the teaching and help they had received—and with all the time they had been believers in Jesus—they should be mature enough to teach other people. But they weren’t. It’s like the story of two men who were vying for a certain job. One had twenty years of experience, while the other had only ten. You would think that the one with more experience would get hired, but he didn’t. The fellow with only ten years under his belt had made the most of that time, learning his skill inside and out, while the man with twenty years hadn’t applied himself. And so, ironically, the one with less experience was better qualified.
Similarly, the author of Hebrews told his people that they were passing the time instead of practicing their faith. Let’s try our best not to fall into the trap of living day-to-day. Instead, let’s use our time wisely so that we too can become teachers for Jesus.
The Gift of Discernment. Solid food is for the mature, for those whose faculties are trained by practice to discern good and evil. (Hebrews 5:14)
The world is filled with a wide variety of philosophies, methods, and theories about life. Many of them promise happiness, entertainment, good health, and the like. But Paul warns us to “test everything” and learn how to separate the good from the bad (1 Thessalonians 5:21; Romans 12:2). Likewise, St. John urges us: “Do not trust every spirit but test the spirits to see whether they belong to God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world” (1 John 4:1).
God wants us to be shrewd and alert to these philosophies. He wants us to learn how to discern the good ones from the bad ones. The author of Hebrews was concerned that his readers were soaking up whatever philosophies the world had to offer without sifting through them. He was concerned that they weren’t guarding their minds and testing these philosophies against the truths of the gospel.
How often do we entertain philosophies and theories that run counter to our faith? How often do we accept what God condemns and reject what God approves—sometimes without even knowing it? Movies and television shows, billboards and popular music, Web sites and chat rooms are filled with so many different opinions and perspectives, and the world encourages us to simply soak it all up. But God wants us to learn how to “take every thought captive in obedience to Christ” (2 Corinthians 10:5). He wants us to continue to press on in our faith so that our minds can be “trained by daily practice” to sort out the bad from the good (Hebrews 5:14).
“Lord, I Believe!” If we want to grow into “meat-eating” Christians, we need to practice our faith. Christian maturity comes as we step out of our comfort zones and work to build a strong and deep foundation in Christ. The author of Hebrews warned his readers against taking for granted all that they had received. He warned them not to fall into sin again, lest they face an even harsher judgment (Hebrews 6:4-8). Instead of being put off by these warnings, let’s turn this passage into a prayer of faith and commitment to the Lord:
“Jesus, I know that I have been enlightened. My eyes have been opened, and I have tasted the amazing, heavenly gift of your salvation.
“I believe, too, that you have given me a share in your own Holy Spirit. I believe that the Spirit wants to be more than just an occasional influence in my life. I want him to become my companion, my comforter, and my guide.
“Lord, I have tasted the good word of God, and it is sweet. I know that as I ponder your word, I can begin to experience the power and grace that will be mine fully when you come again in glory. Lord, I believe that heaven is here right now, even if only as a glimmer.
“Jesus, because of all that you have done for me, I am prepared to learn the truths of my faith. I am ready to begin sharing that faith with other people, too. I want to absorb your grace every day just as the ground absorbs the rain. To the best of my ability, Lord, I want to bear fruit to the glory of your name!”