Monday, October 31, 2011

Hebrews 1: guest preacher at the synagogue

Of the authorship of Hebrews, the church father Origen wrote sometime after 200 A.D. to Eusebius:

“For not without reason have the men of old handed it down as Paul’s. But who wrote the epistle, in truth God knows.”

Which about says it all, I suppose. Hebrews contains words, people, and ideas both familiar and foreign to Paul. And anyway the “tone” is just not Paul. Paul’s sheep know his voice, and few of them seem to have heard it in the book of Hebrews. Whoever wrote it did so before the destruction of the temple in 72 AD, based on the discussion of temple sacrifices in the present tense.  Best bet: influenced by Paul, someone else wrote it. Barnabas the encouraging Levite? The learned Appollos, the Jew with the Greek name and training? “In truth God knows.”

Hebrews is a sermon packaged into a letter. I “hear” Hebrews most authentically when in my mind’s eye:

I am sitting in a dusty, hot Mediterranean synagogue. We have sung Psalms 2 and 45 and have chanted the Shemah (“Hear O Israel, the Lord your God is one God”) and now we await the sermon. After an introduction by the president of the synagogue, the learned visitor steps forward. He addresses us:

“In the past, God spoke to our forefathers through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom he made the universe.”

That our esteemed visitor knows Greek oratory and the Greek translation of the Holy Scriptures is obvious, but the man is no showman. He is a great “moreh”, a master teacher, full of Spirit and truth. I sit transfixed as he explains that Christ is greater than the angels. There is grumbling from some fools in the back who say the Archangel Michael will lead Israel in the Kingdom of Messiah.  

The moreh anticipates the grumblers and shoots them the rhetorical question: “to which of the angels did God ever say, ‘sit at my right hand until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet’?”

Not a one of them, I answer silently.What the grumblers think I cannot say for they too are silent.

Unrelenting the moreh continues, “are not all angels ministering spirits sent to serve those who will inherit salvation?”

And I answer silently, I see, Moreh, I see. Angels serve. Christ reigns.

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