From Chris Stroup
“Why do superheroes wear their underwear on the outside?” my four-year old asked a few nights ago. I started to laugh; I had never really thought about it. I told him that I didn’t know, so he should ask his mom (a veteran dad-move). Mom didn’t know either. Over the last few days, he’s asked “his question” to whomever would listen. No one seems to have a serious answer for him.
Superheroes just wear their underwear on the outside. We are so used to the thought of it, that it no longer strikes us as odd. Because we don’t see it as odd, we don’t really think about it. But, I don’t care what you think, it’s just weird that superheroes wear their underwear on the outside.
There are so many aspects of our Christian life that go unexamined like my son’s question. To the seasoned Christian, Hebrews 10:19-31 offers some familiar phrases: “we have a great high priest” (10:21) “let us draw near with a true heart” (10:22), “let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works” (10:24), and “do not neglect meeting together” (10:25). The first two verses of today’s passage, like my son’s question, caused me to pause when I reexamined them.
“We have boldness, brothers and sisters, to access the holy places by the blood of Jesus. This access opened for us a new and living way through the curtain, which is his flesh.” (Hebrews 10:19-20)
Here, the author of Hebrews suggests that Jesus’ blood gives us access to God. We’re familiar with phrases like this; in fact, they are rightfully central to Christian theology. But why is blood the metaphor? Why all this flesh talk? And, wait a minute, did he say that we pass through a curtain made of Jesus’ flesh? Christians are accustomed to talking about Jesus’ blood, but the curtain of flesh is just weird. Both metaphors are so visceral, so fleshy (and a little gross).
Those of you who know the larger context of Hebrews, realize that the author uses such “fleshiness” to contrast the sacrificial death of Jesus (the “true form”) with the sacrifices stipulated in the law of Moses (the “shadow”), among other things. But I don’t think this “simple” answer should minimize the weirdness of the images and give us pause. I don’t care what you think, it’s just weird that Christians have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus, but unlike superheroes’ undergarments, it’s a weirdness that’s worth reflecting on.
I live in the Back Bay with my wife, three children, and twenty international students. When I’m not answering my kids’ questions, I teach early Christianity and edit a journal.