Thursday, May 07, 2009

Hands up!

Today's first reading (from Acts) gives us pretty much the standard picture of St. Paul: one hand held high in the conventional pose of a professional rhetor. Luke even alludes to it: "Raising his hand, Paul spoke..." Had you ever noticed that posture in images of St. Paul?
I think Luke gives us even more in today's reading. He reports on a sermon St. Paul preached in a synagogue. Granted, Luke wasn't there taking notes, but it does seem that he accompanied Paul on at least some travels, and Paul stuck to his principle of bringing the Gospel to Jews first, and then the Gentiles. So Acts could very well be giving us Paul's standard introductory sermon for a Jewish audience. In fact, I find a little clue inside the sermon that hints that Luke is giving us the "ipsissima verba" (a direct quote) of Paul himself. Because Luke tells us that Paul's given name, his Jewish name, was Saul, like the first king of Israel, a member (like Paul, according to the letter to the Philippians) of the tribe of Benjamin. And in Paul's sermon we find the only reference in the entire New Testament to King Saul of the tribe of Benjamin. Paul really went out of his way to work King Saul into that sermon; I think that's a little hint of Paul's Jewish pride at being named for history's most famous (up to that point!) Benjaminite.

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