Hebrews 1:1-4, 2:5-12

Artists put themselves into their paintings. The things artists choose to paint, the lighting, the colors they use all tell us something about the artists. Art allows us to see the world through the artist’s eyes. Some artists put themselves into their work metaphorically, and others do so quite literally. Dutch artist Rembrandt’s paintings seem to grow up just as he does – moving from paintings full of action and worldly living, to the tender embrace of the elderly father welcoming the prodigal son home. In Norman Rockwell’s “Triple Self-Portrait,” he shows not only his own interpretation of who he is, but also injects the humor and whimsy that made his paintings so relatable.

When I think of famous art and artists, I can’t help but think of Michelangelo painting the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. Michelangelo spent four years painting that ceiling, but he did not enjoy his work. Quite the contrary, Michelangelo considered it torturous. He wrote a poem about how much he struggled to work on this painting, and his descriptions are both vivid and hilarious. He writes things like: “My brush, above me all the time, dribbles paint so my face makes a fine floor for droppings!” And he concludes with this powerful sentiment: “My painting is dead. Defend it for me, Giovanni, protect my honor. I am not in the right place – I am not a painter.” [1]

Though a brilliant painter, Michelangelo considered himself a sculptor, and he found himself doing something he had no desire to do. His work tortured him.

Interestingly enough, Michelangelo included his own self-portrait in his rendering of The Last Judgment. And, it’s hardly a flattering picture. In the painting of the Last Judgment, St. Bartholomew is pictured holding a flat, grotesque, hollow shell of a person. This is to represent the gruesome way St. Bartholomew was martyred. Michelangelo put his own face on the lifeless body held by St. Bartholomew. Michelangelo pictured himself tortured.

In Art History class, my professor wondered if maybe this was how Michelangelo pictured himself before God. Perhaps. Or, maybe he was weary of a job that was one he never wanted to do. Who knows? But, the way Michelangelo pictured himself teaches us something about who he was.

The author of Hebrews says that Jesus, “is the reflection of God’s glory and the exact imprint of God’s very being” (Hebrews 1:3). The word used here for “imprint” is the same word used for the image printed on a coin. When we look at Jesus, we see the radiance of God’s glory, and the exact imprint of God’s very being. The mysterious, unknowable, intangible God became tangible, knowable, and visible in the person of Jesus. We may not “see everything in subjection” to God just yet, but we do see Jesus.

In this world where darkness and violence and hatred are far too prevalent, we turn our eyes to Jesus. When we feel hopeless, we look to Jesus for our hope. Though things are not as they should be, the author of Hebrews reminds us that we can see Jesus, and in seeing Jesus, we see God.

In the person of Jesus, we see what is important to God. We see who God chooses to spend time with. We come to understand what is close to God’s heart. We learn that God loved the world so much that God sent his Son – as it says in one communion liturgy – to “assume our flesh and blood” so that “we might be accepted of God and never be forsaken by him.” [2] Every time we gather around the Lord’s table, we remember this truth that we see in Jesus – that God chose to be visible, tangible, and knowable in Jesus out of love for the world.

Hebrews 2:6-8 leans on Psalm 8 to teach us something about Jesus and the importance of the incarnation, his death, and resurrection. It reads:

But someone has testified somewhere, “What are human beings that you are mindful of them, or mortals, that you care for them? You have made them for a little while lower than the angels; you have crowned them with glory and honor, subjecting all things under their feet.”

The Greek here is singular: “What is man that you are mindful of him, the son of man that you care for him.” Perhaps you’ve heard it translated that way before, too. The difficulty with translating these verses from the Greek has to do with how these verses from Psalm 8 are understood. The Psalms were written in poetic form, and even though they are often highly personal and emotional, they were also used in corporate worship.

Many of the psalms, though written from the point of view of one person, are intended to be applied more universally. For example, in Psalm 51, when David writes, “Create in me a clean heart,” we can relate to his prayers asking for forgiveness and renewal. We pray this psalm, too. It’s true for us, too.

In Psalm 8, when David is in awe that God would care for a human being, one who is like a small speck of dust when compared to the grandness of the whole world, his words resonate within all of us. His experience, though personal, is also universal. It is true of all of us, and so the biblical translators make that clear by translating David’s words in a way that gives them a wider reach.

When these words are quoted in Hebrews, in order to make the connection to Psalm 8 clear, it is essential that the verses are translated just as they were in Psalm 8. This translation is not wrong. We know from the book of Genesis that God does, indeed, give people authority over the world in some way. In Genesis 1:28, God tells humankind, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it; and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air and over every living thing that moves upon the earth.”

Is that what the author of Hebrews is talking about here? The authority God gave to people over creation?

I think there’s more going on here than that. Not only does Psalm 8 speak to what is true of humanity, it speaks more directly about something that is true about Jesus. Right after this passage, the author Hebrews continues,

For it is clear that he did not come to help angels, but the descendants of Abraham. Therefore 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, to make a sacrifice of atonement for the sins of the people (Hebrews 2:16-17)

Though Jesus is “the reflection of God’s glory and the exact imprint of God’s very being,” he became like us. Even though he “sustains all things by his powerful word,” he became lower than the angels. Jesus, who was above all things on earth, and was with God before the very foundation of the world, joins his voice with David as one who asks, “What are human beings that you are mindful of them?” And we, as people who stand in awe of God, join in with our voices, too.

We look at Jesus, and we can see God. We see who God is and who and what God cares about. Jesus came into the world so that we might know God.

On this World Communion Sunday, we gather around the table. We are fed and nourished by Jesus our host, and then we are sent out into the world to bring our small, incomplete images of God out into the world so that others might look at us as see Jesus. Jesus became like one of us so that we might catch a glimpse of who God is. And he sends us out – people from all kinds of backgrounds with different strengths and gifts – so that everywhere we go, we might share glimmers of light with a world God loves.

I love the way Nate Pyle describes this part of our lives in Christ when he writes this:

“In other words, God has placed you where you are for the good of that place. God is calling you to the places you already are. Your home. Your workplace. Your gym. Your neighborhood. The Starbucks you go to. Actively seek the good of those who are in those places. Take responsibility for the kingdom of God, on earth as it is in heaven, wherever you find yourself.” [3]

When we are discouraged, brokenhearted, or dismayed because things are not how they are supposed to be, may God gives us the eyes to see Jesus.

When we look out into the darkness and wonder if the light will ever come, may God give us the eyes to see Jesus.

And as we leave this place and go to our jobs, our schools, our homes, and into our communities, may God grant us the grace to bring Jesus with us in acts of kindness, mercy, and love.

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