The picture of a surgeon with a scalpel poised brings mixed feelings. The scalpel is no toy, not to be left lying around. There is a fear of pain, and perhaps of needing to undergo pain as a result of necessary surgery. At the same time it may be a relief that someone is prepared, and trained, to do something which needs to be done.
When the letter to Hebrews ( Hebrews 4:12-16 ) speaks of something sharper that a double edged sword, we might not have been expecting the image as describing the Word of God. The point is the failure of those who, though invited, do not enter the rest that God has promised. There is no escape, no way of hiding or arguing the outcome.
We are indeed laid open, even dissected, in the presence of God. God’s knowledge and understanding are far more profound than our own. We easily fool ourselves, tell stories in excuse, fail to notice what does not fit with what we want to think and do. It is one of the reasons why having children can be good for parents – their straightforward honesty can spoil many poses and tear down illusions.
Our short reading continues past a natural break, to speak of a sympathetic High Priest. It may not be for us a natural comparison, but we can understand it. Here is someone on our side, with a sympathetic understanding of all our problems and temptations. More than sympathy, here is one with the responsibility and ability to bring us to God, as he also brings God to us and to our limited understanding.
It is an important balance. Jesus has clear identification with human life and trouble, as well as with God and the authority that only God can wield. At the same time, Jesus – the word of God in human form – is no softie. He is able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart, even when we cannot do so accurately. This is a Saviour in whom we can have confidence, but of whom we should remain in awe.