Wednesday, 24 March 2010
Letter to the Hebrews
I have always been wary of Hebrews. A vicar I know (doesn't narrow it down very far!) told me that it barely made it into the New Testament and they refused to read from it because it was so confusing!
At the time that I first heard this I interpreted that as meaning that it was of dubious value. Having been reading it again through morning prayer recently I have come to see what that vicar meant in a different light. If you understand ancient Jewish practice then you can understand Hebrews as a masterful piece of inculturation, taking those ancient practices and explaining the importance and meaning of Jesus in terms of them. Or to "proclaim afresh in each generation" His truth.
However I have two concerns about how we might use it today. I recently saw a poster which said something like "We are saved by Jesus blood" - the train was travelling too fast to read it - the problem is that to anyone outside the church this is a meaningless statement unless they know about Jewish sacrifice and the comparison being made - it doesn't scratch where people are itching. My second concern is that as a piece of inculturated writing the only way it is helpful is if we have the context explained to us first - but for me the beauty of metaphor is that it doesn't have to be explained. And if we have to have the context explained there is less opportunity for people to own it for themselves rather than to adopt someone else's interpretation.
As a result I won't be terribly keen on public readings of it - without a sermon explaining the context - but my reasoning is very different from my previous understanding. I have even been tempted to study it a bit more - any recommendations for a good guide?