Curse of the Gradebook (Hebrews 2:2)

For since the message spoken through angels was binding, and every violation and disobedience received its just punishment (Hebrews 2:2)

I have taught English composition for almost my entire adult life. Doing so, one encounters a vast range of people with a vast range of ability and desire to do the work. Some of them complain that they don’t get to write about whatever they want. (Because professional life allows us to do whatever work we want to do, of course.) Some think it unreasonable that they have to continually write papers for a writing course. My favorites, though, are the ones I call the grade accountants.

A grade accountant comes to my office, graded paper in hand, and prepares to do battle. Or, to maintain the metaphor, to do an audit. The exchange usually begins something like this: “What is wrong with my paper?” Having counted up the red marks on the page, they attempt to convince me, the guy who has taught the class since before their births, that this collection of misplaced modifiers, run-on sentences, and other mechanical glitches does not warrant a C+. To their minds, every paper begins as a 100 with each mistake deducting points.

My point, more often than not, is that we should not be looking at “what is wrong” with the paper but “what is right.” Fairly frequently, I’ll encounter a virtually error-free essay that bores me so silly that it deserves a fairly poor grade. There’s nothing wrong with it except that there’s not enough right with it. In other words, every paper begins as a 0 with each positive move adding points.

The Law of Moses, referred to in the verse today, was a deduction system. The average person was assumed to be clean and blameless at the top of the morning. Touching a dead animal, eating the wrong thing, coveting your neighbor’s toaster oven, or any of a million other missteps could leave the person in a virtue deficit.

Frankly, I don’t want to live that way. Today’s verse is a sentence fragment, completed by the verse for next time. Today’s verse speaks of the lesser law and lesser message, the one spoken by angels. That message bound those who lived under it. The problem with it came in the grading system. A 99 out of 100 was failing grade. My grade accountants wouldn’t like that system.

I have no interest in grading in that manner, and I praise God that I don’t have to live under such a law. More on that next time.

Up Where We Belong (Hebrews 1:4)

So he became as much superior to the angels as the name he has inherited is superior to theirs. For to which of the angels did God ever say, “You are my Son; today I have become your Father”? Or again, “I will be his Father, and he will be my Son”?
(Hebrews 1:4-5)

At the end of one of the great chick-and-guy flicks of all time, An Officer and a Gentleman, there’s a scene that always sticks in my mind. After weeks of serving as a drill instructor to a group of naval officer candidates, Sgt. Emil Foley (Louis Gossett, Jr.) stands outside the barracks and salutes each newly minted ensign in turn. The man who had held the power of success and failure over these trainees, who could make them miserable physically or mentally, suddenly found himself addressing his former charges as “Sir” and snapping off a perfect Marine Corps salute.

It seems to me that it would take a special person and an abundance of self knowledge to serve in such a capacity. Training enlisted recruits would be fairly simple by comparison, but working with those whom you know will be above you in the chain of command is another matter. Still, Sgt. Foley seemed to be at peace with his place in the universe, and we all know that Hollywood does a great job of portraying reality.

This, it seems to me, is the role of the angels. They spend their existence–is it really a life?–exercising great power in the service of God, often on behalf of the pitiful and hapless humans. And then a human–granted a very special one–takes up a position far superior to theirs. In a sense, they found themselves saluting not just God the Son, but the man Jesus. And that’s not the end of the story. Jesus is the firstfruits of the resurrection. One day, all believers will take a place not a little lower than the angels but a little lower than Jesus. We’ll gather in the presence of God as joint heirs with Christ.

And the angels, like good Marines, will stand back happy with the entire arrangement. We won’t see Debra Winger or Richard Gere on a motorcycle, but that day will definitely be a moving one. Congratulations, Ensign Christian.