Therefore, my friends, since we have confidence to enter the sanctuary by the blood of Jesus, by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain (that is, through his flesh), and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us approach with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold fast to the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who has promised is faithful. And let us consider how to provoke one another to love and good deeds, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day approaching.
When I was much younger, there were times when I was pretty annoying. I would pester my brother until he turned to me in anger and took a swing at me. Never hard enough to hurt anything except my feelings, but a resolute “get out of my way” gesture. This is what I think of when I hear the word “provoke.” It is a strong word describing actions meant to cause a negative reaction more damaging than my brother’s. One dictionary defines “provoke” as “to deliberately make someone annoyed or angry.”
The scripture passage for today uses the word “provoke” in a very unconventional way. It links the word with the very positive Christian virtues of love and good deeds. The author of Hebrews turns the meaning and intent of the word “provoke” a full 180 degrees, to remind those who follow Jesus that by our deliberate actions, we must encourage others to be life-giving, affirming and uplifting.
What must we do to provoke that kind of loving, peaceful living? That is asking much of us. In the face of violence, hatred, and evil we must become even more resolute to live our lives faithfully. In spite of words and actions that exclude others in the name of the Church, we must not cease to witness to the Gospel message of Jesus’ invitation to all persons to full participation in the body of Christ.
One more definition to ponder. The word “provoke” is derived from the Latin for “to call forth.” This means that because of the way we live, we call forth from others certain values or virtues. In other words, a life well-lived inspires others. May our lives call forth from others an all-inclusive love for everyone in the name and spirit of Jesus Christ.
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