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)
Jesus said to the servants, “Fill the jars with water,” and they filled them to the brim. Then he told them, “Now draw some from them and take it to the headwaiter,” and they did. The headwaiter tasted the water that had become wine. He didn’t know where it came from, though the servants who had drawn the water knew. (John 2:7-9; context) (This story appears only in John)
Yesterday we talked about how and why the accounts of the Gospel are alike. Today, we’ll talk about how and why they are different. For some, the fact that the accounts of the Gospel differ is a source of consternation: if they are telling the truth, then why don’t they say the same thing, these folks wonder. It’s a good question. For starters, if they all said the same thing, we wouldn’t have four to begin with; we’d only have one account, and we wouldn’t be having this discussion.
But furthermore, the variety in the storytelling is, in my view, a reason to trust the stories, not the other way around. Think of eyewitness testimony of a crime, perhaps on Law and Order or a show like that. If several witnesses all say exactly the same thing, it means they have rehearsed their stories to get them straight and are therefore playing the cops and lawyers a bit false. It is when eyewitness accounts differ on the details but paint the same general picture that the cops and lawyers know they are close to the truth.
The same holds for the accounts of the Gospel. Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John are written for different communities going through various strains and strife. These communities are made up of Jews or Gentiles, those close to Jerusalem or those farther away, those nearer the time of Jesus or those who live later on. Each of these contexts leads to the story being told for each community in the way that best allows for each to hear it.
Isn’t this the same in our time? We tailor our speech to be well received by the listener. When our messages fall on deaf ears, it is most likely because we didn’t reach the other where he or she lived. The accounts of the Gospel tell the same story to different sets of people, and each is tailored to be heard by that group. This personalized nature of the texts don’t make them false – on the other hand, it demonstrates to us how best to proclaim the good news. We are heralds of the Gospel just like Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John were. When we tell the story of the Gospel in our own lives, we share a theme, but may vary the details depending on what hits home for us. This is how the Gospel writers shared the good news: they made it personal, intimate. We are called to do the same.
Dear God, the witnesses to your Son’s life, death, and resurrection took to heart all that he did and said and then passed on to others what they thought most important. Help me to pass on the good news in the same way. In Jesus Christ’s name I pray. Amen.
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.
One thought on “Sometimes Different (February 8, 2012)”
Adam, my sermon from last Sunday addresses the issue of communication as the Apostle Paul could appear to flip-flop for political expediency to modern eyes and ears when he seeks to be intimate with various groups such as Jews, to those under the law, to those outside the law, as well as to the weak (1 Cor 9:16-23). The sermon is posted at balconyperspective.com. Dad