Sometimes Alike (February 7, 2012)

…Opening To…

The book to read is not the one which thinks for you, but the one which makes you think. No book in the world equals the Bible for that. (Harper Lee)

…Listening In…

Jesus replied, “You give them something to eat.” But they said, “We have no more than five loaves of bread and two fish—unless we go and buy food for all these people.” (Luke 9:13; context) (also, Matthew 14, Mark 6, and John 6)

…Filling Up…

A question I’ve been asked several times in Bible studies is this: “Why are the Gospels so alike in some ways and so different in others?” When I am asked this, I first do my broken record spiel about there being only one Gospel (Jesus Christ’s), of which we have four accounts (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John). Then, when the members of the class are done rolling their eyes at me, we get down to tackling the question. So, why are the accounts of the Gospel so alike and so different?

We’ll tackle “alike” today and “different” tomorrow. The most obvious reason that the accounts of the Gospel are alike is that they tell the same story. Jesus was a real guy who walked around, got his feet dirty, ate meals, and made a lot of people angry and a lot of other people joyful. The children’s education program Godly Play opens its parable stories with: “Once there was someone who said such amazing things and did such wonderful things that people followed him.” This introductory sentence describes the bulk of the Gospel pretty well. Many of the stories are different, but the theme is the same.

Of course, there are some “big” parts that all four accounts hit, the most notable being the events surrounding Jesus’ crucifixion (known as the “Passion narrative”). As each account nears its bloody climax (well, what we think is the climax until the real one with the resurrection), the accounts begin to speak with a voice that nears the unison. Because the events in Jesus’ last week are so important, the four writers each focuses in on telling that part of the story.

But there are other reasons that the texts are so similar in places, especially Matthew, Mark, and Luke. In fact, these three are known as the “synoptics,” meaning “through the same eyes.” Mark was written first, and his style is rather breathless, jumping from one event to the next with an immediacy that precludes much description or dialogue. Scholars tell us that Matthew used Mark as a basis, but expanded it quit a bit to include several long sermons of Jesus. Much of this material comes from a theoretical source called “Q” (which stands for the German word Quelle, which means “source”). Luke apparently also had access to Q, which explains why Luke and Matthew share so much that the other two don’t.

John tends to be the outlier (though John and Luke share some curious similarities) because John is concerned with telling the same story in a different way. All in all, the accounts of the Gospel tell the same story through different eyes – sometimes the story lines up and sometimes it doesn’t. And that’s what we’ll tackle tomorrow.

…Praying For…

Dear God, your Son encountered all sorts of people in his ministry who told us about him. Help me to tell others about my experience with Jesus in a way that is inviting and humble. In Jesus Christ’s name I pray. Amen.

…Sending Out…

I leave this moment with you, God, having faith that you have touched my life with your Word, knowing that I can read it in my heart and speak it on my lips.

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