Signposts, 18 August 2013, 20th Ordinary Sunday: Isa.5:1-7; Heb.11:29-12:2; Luke 12:49-56; Ps. 80:1-2, 8-19.
“In the olden days” the Vicar of St. Peter & Paul church, West Wittering, Sussex, had four services to celebrate on Christmas Day before lunchtime. What with a sermon at two of them, and a good number of communicants to give the bread and the wine to at three of them, his voice was overworked, and he would take any opportunity to give it a rest. I remember the first time that he did it by asking his server at one of the communions (his son, me) to read the epistle. I knew, word perfect, how to announce the text as printed in the Prayer Book, which included “The Epistle of Paul” (or who wrote it) “to the…” (whoever that was). Now, in the 1662 and 1928 Prayer Books the Epistle for Christmas Day is the “Epistle to the Hebrews, chapter one, beginning at verse one”. The King James Bible that we used in those days has at the letter to the Hebrews the words, “The Epistle of Paul the Apostle to the Hebrews…” That’s all printed in the Prayer Book, but I knew it by heart and that’s how I announced it.
In the vestry after the service, my father said, “We don’t say, ‘The Epistle of Paul…’, because we now know that Saint Paul didn’t write it. We don’t know who it was, but we’re quite sure that it wasn’t Paul.”
I suppose that event must be the real beginning of the long, and sometimes painful, process that got into gear about 18 years later, when he gave me the Jerusalem Bible to read the first lesson at Evensong in the same church. I’ve explained that event in a recent Signpost. (Now why does this silly moo goes on and on about it?) Because the Bible is an amazing collection of writings from thousands of years ago, collected and edited by different people with different intentions, different outlooks, different distraints, different editors, and all what did they thought was with good intent.
We really don’t know who wrote Hebrews, but one suggestion in my Jerusalem Bible (2nd edition) says Apollos is a likely possibility. Now I’ve heard the name Apollos before, but I didn’t know anything about him. Luke did, and the note said Acts 18:24-28. If I had ever read that before I’d forgotten, and if I did, I feel sure I would have remembered its importance. They opened to me a completely new line of thought.
In the first of, say, twenty to thirty years after Jesus’ crucifixion, when his followers were expecting the end of the world as he had foretold, lots of people like Apollos would have been hurrying around with the good spiel (gospel) so that as many as possible of willing people could become citizens of the new regime.
Well then, Apollos or not, let’s look at what the writer of Hebrews was getting at in today’s Epistle. There’s a long list of events where it was the faith of God’s precious special people that they “come out on top”. I feel sure that I could find as many cases in the First Testament where God’s people get the dirty end of the stick, sometimes deserved and others not. The situation is like when a toddler goes to the kitchen where Mummy’s busy at the sink, and wails, “Mummy, Johnny’s (an older brother) gone off with my teddy, and won’t give him back.” But Mummy’s too busy cooking Daddy’s evening meal, and it’s not fair. The only clear solution to such a situation in the Bible is given twice by Luke, eleven words in his Gospel (23:34), and eight words at Acts (7:8). Reference of other cases in the Bible will be gladly received at email@example.com
P.S. Sorry, too many “I”s, “me”, and “mine”. Naughty! Please tell me off if I do it again too soon.