An overarching point of Hebrews chapter four is that we are destined for a sabbath rest: "so then, a sabbath rest still remains for the people of God; for those who enter God's rest also cease from their labors as God did from his" (Hebrews 4:9-10 NRSV). This is a heavenly image, especially for a world and its people who increasingly seem to run to and fro, sometimes without purpose. This promise, however, is preceded by what seems to be a warning: in order to gain this sabbath rest, we must not fail as "those who formerly received the good news failed to enter because of disobedience" (4:6 NRSV). The second reading for this Sunday follows on this promise, and it, too, is a warning, but it is not, as I once thought and felt, a threat.
Indeed the word of God 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.
No creature is concealed from him,
but everything is naked and exposed to the eyes of him
to whom we must render an account. (Hebrews 4:12-13 NAB)
I thought this passage might be a threat because the "word of God," both the Scripture and Jesus, the word made flesh, know my inner thoughts. Nothing is concealed from Jesus, as the word penetrates "between soul and spirit, joints and marrow." Everything is naked and exposed before Jesus Christ. This used to chill me as a young man because I thought of my sins and failings as beyond repair, shameful and embarrassing.
Some years ago, though, while working in suicide prevention, I began counseling men who had been sexually abused as children. They had such shame in their hiddenness, embarrassment over the abuse, but also the ways in which they had responded to the abuse. What they needed most was someone to hear them, to give them a place where they could know their stories would be heard and they would be accepted. That took place in our group sessions. We knew their hidden secrets and they were accepted. We were clear about behavior that was unacceptable, but they knew they were accepted.
We were just other people, ordinary people, with our own hurts and shames, but we were able to comfort others in need. Think of what it means to have Jesus Christ, who knows our sins, our pains and our repentance, and to be accepted and loved by him. I no longer think of this passage as a threat, but as a promise, that the one who knows my sins, also knows my sufferings, my yearnings and my struggles to fulfil the Gospel. He knows where I have fallen, but also the attempts to stand up, dust myself off and move closer to him. He loves each one of us, and he knows everything about us. What a comfort to know that we are loved just as we are as we move forward to the sabbath rest.