The second reading for the 27th Sunday in Ordinary Time raises a couple of questions even prior to an examination of content. One is the reading itself as presented in the lectionary which omits what seems to be a crucial phrase from verse 9. Two is how the reading fits in the context of the Old Testament and Gospel readings which are directly concerned with the creation and relationship of man and woman and the bond of marriage.
The reading as presented in the lectionary – as found at http://www.usccb.org/nab/readings/100409.shtml– is as follows:
He "for a little while" was made "lower than the angels," that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone. For it was fitting that he, for whom and through whom all things exist, in bringing many children to glory, should make the leader to their salvation perfect through suffering. He who consecrates and those who are being consecrated all have one origin. Therefore, he is not ashamed to call them "brothers." (NAB Hebrews 2:9-11)
What is missing is the phrase "But we do see Jesus "crowned with glory and honor" because he suffered death" (NAB), which is translated in a similar manner by the NRSV ("now crowned with glory and honor because of the suffering of death") and the NIV ("Now crowned with glory and honor because he suffered death"). Why it is missing from the lectionary reading is not clear, since it is an integral part of verse 9, and of the passage as a whole, and makes clear that the death which Jesus suffered on our behalf leads to glory, both for him and for humanity. Suffering is the means by which we are redeemed and, indeed, through Christ suffering itself is redeemed. It is an essential part of this short passage and, to my mind, makes sense not only of the passage in hebrews, but perhaps its palcement in this Sunday's readings.
For the second question is how does this passage "fit" with Genesis 2:18-24 and Mark 10:2-16, in which the creation of man and woman and their complementarity, especially in marriage, is described and enjoined? Especially powerful is the focus on the man and woman in marriage becoming "one flesh," their embodiment serving each other in God’s creation. Is it that Christ in becoming "lower than the angels" also shares in this embodiment through the Incarnation? Is it that the embodiment of man and woman is not the final end, but a means by which Christ calls men and women to their true end and glory? Is it that even in the role of husband and wife, through whom children, new creation, are brought into being, we still remain always children of God, called to glory as Hebrews states, or that like the children brought to Jesus in Mark 10:13-16 we must always remain aware of our dependence upon God to be prepared for glory? As Hebrews says, "For the one who sanctifies and those who are sanctified all have one Father" (2:11 NRSV). Our common origin is not in question. Perhaps it is all of these things and the juxtaposition of these passages is intended to create in us these very questions, but the missing phrase from Hebrews 2:9 is also essential for these readings.
As to the content of the passage, it is clear that it is through Jesus’ atoning act on the cross that we are able to share in glory, but a theological issue that is often raised has to do with the fact that "the pioneer of their salvation" was made "perfect through sufferings" (2:10 NRSV). Why does Christ, who as Hebrews states elsewhere was without sin (see 4:26, cf. 7:26, 9:14), have to be made perfect? Does this imply that he moved from a state of imperfection to perfection? Does it mean that Christ was lacking something in himself? The Greek verb teleioô, here translated as "made perfect," and not improperly, has a sense in the original Greek of that which is brought to wholeness or completion. The word does not have within it a sense of moving from a prior state of imperfection to perfection, or from sinfulness to sinlessness, but of Christ bringing to completion his redemptive mission for which he took on human nature. The goal is not suffering in itself, but the glory to which Christ calls us and which was prepared for us via his suffering. In a profound way, Christ’s suffering was a sign of solidarity with humanity.
There is another translation that is possible for teleioô in other contexts: to make or bring to maturity. Christ calls us to endure suffering not as masochists or fools – suffering in itself is not a good – but to teach us the way to the Father, our common origin and goal, as we grow in spiritual maturity. The perfection for which we yearn, the home to which we are called, this path has been prepared by the Son, who teaches us how to return to the place of wholeness and completeness.